Walking into my classroom for the first time, I was excited but totally unsure of what I was supposed to do with it. How was I supposed to arrange the furniture? I probably spent a good 2 hours trying to figure this out. What the heck was I supposed to cover the huge blank bulletin boards and walls with?
I am terrible at making posters. If this wasn’t enough, getting anything to stick to my walls was impossible; none of the zillion types of tape I tried seemed to work. Who knew taping could be so difficult? This all led to a lot of frustration, wasted hours, and a stressful week leading up to the start of school. To avoid these pitfalls, here are some tips I suggest for setting up your first classroom.
1. Befriend your school custodian. This person is an invaluable resource for any teacher. Whether it is getting your air conditioner fixed to finding a storage place for those broken computers in your room to getting you a comfy teacher’s chair, this is the person to talk to. Get to know them. Find out who they are, when their birthday is, and what their cell phone number is (I can’t tell you how many times this saved me when I left my keys at home!).
2. Be strategic about where you place your teacher’s desk. Where you put your desk depends on how you plan to use it. Some teachers use their desks as a central command station throughout the day. Others use it as just a workspace before and after school and during planning periods. Either way, you’ll want to ideally put your desk in a corner that students don’t pass by all the time. I would suggest putting brightly colored tape on the floor around your desk and make it clear to your students that they shouldn’t go beyond the tape.
3. Create a teaching station. You’re going to also want to designate a space as your teaching station. This is a place for you to arrange all of your teaching materials for that day (i.e. copies, pencils, paper, dry erase markers, etc.). This may in fact be your desk, but more likely it will be a separate space that is centrally located. Having a teaching station ensures you don’t waste instructional time and invite student misbehavior, having to hunt for something.
4. Set up your entry and exit way. Arrival and dismissal are perhaps the most stressful times of the day for teachers given the amount of stuff that has to get done during these times. To alleviate this stress, make sure your entry and exit way is open and that you are incredibly explicit about how you expect students to enter and leave your classroom. In addition, designate space for students to pick up materials, including pencils, calculators, and warm-ups, and drop-off work, including homework and exit tickets. This does not have to be one space but can be multiple locations that are clearly marked.
5. Figure out your classroom technology. Be prepared for the possibility that your classroom may not have any technology. If you’re lucky to have it, make sure everything works. If something doesn’t work, submit a work order to get it fixed ASAP. Turn on your computer(s) and make sure everything is updated. Figure out how everything connects (i.e. projector, SmartBoard, document camera, etc.) and spend some time getting comfortable with your technology, as you don’t want to have to waste instructional time and looking like a fool fumbling with cords on the first day like I did.
6. Be purposeful with posters and bulletin boards. As teachers, we often make the mistake of feeling proud of ourselves for making awesome-looking, themed posters or bulletin boards (and maybe even pinning pictures of them on Pinterest) but then never referring to them with our students. Don't get me wrong, Pinterest is a great place to look for classroom ideas, but posters and bulletin boards are only as effective as the teacher who uses them. I realized this halfway through last year when a student asked, “Mr. Clay, what does carpet dude mean?”, referring to a banner over my board that had “Carpe Diem” written on it. That said, posters and bulletin boards can be an awesome way to invest your students so long as you make sure to refer to and update them regularly. For student work boards, this is really easy if you use sheet protectors, which can also be used as whiteboards by sticking a piece of paper in them (great for class mastery trackers).
7. Go see other teacher’s classrooms. A great source of ideas of how to arrange your desks, how to cover up those huge white walls in your classroom, or what kind of tape sticks the best to your walls is to go see what other teachers in your school do. This is also a great opportunity to get to know your colleagues. Important note here, however: don’t get overwhelmed by what you see. If you’re anything like me, when you walk into a cool-looking classroom, you immediately want to copy everything. However, you don’t need extravagant bulletin boards to be an amazing teacher.
8. Prioritize what goes up front. Students spend most of the day facing the front of class. As such, be deliberate about what you put on the front wall. This is a great place to put important information, such as your classroom rules, consequences, big goal, motto, etc. Additionally, you’ll probably want to designate some board space for your daily lesson information (i.e. date, agenda, SWBAT, etc.). That said, be careful not to make it too distracting. You don’t want students to be confused where to look when you are instructing.
9. Minimize clutter. Classroom clutter can easily distract students. There scientific studies to support this – something about how multiple stimuli present in your visual field compete with one another for your attention, which limits your neural capacity. Regardless, minimize clutter as much as possible in your room to make your life easier. Create an effective filing system. Designate where students should turn in work and where they should put materials. Notice how I didn’t say eliminate clutter. A little clutter is okay.
10. Don’t be afraid to make changes. The set-up of your classroom is bound to change. If you are unsure about how to arrange your desks, where to put a certain bulletin board, or how to organize your whiteboard space, pick a way and run with it. If a week/month/quarter in, you see the need to change something, go ahead and do it. I was, and still am, constantly adjusting my classroom set-up to make it more efficient.