Thirty years of classroom experience makes Mary Rose a teaching expert. We've asked her to answer some questions from new teachers. Read and hear her advice!

Question 1:
Dear Mary, I've just moved into a new school, and it does not have carpeting. I cannot believe the noise level in my classroom. Even though I have great kids, every sound seems to echo around like we're inside a drum. Do you have any ideas for controlling noise when you don't have a carpet?

Mary Rose's Answer:
Isn't that a great problem? Nothing is as bad as a noisy classroom. Children are noisy just by the sheer nature of being children. And so having all that noise in a classroom is really a problem, and it does affect your learning environment and the teacher's nerves. We had a similar problem in my classroom — in my whole building. Because our building is about 30 years old, they mandated that all of our carpet had to be removed to control the air quality. So several of us on my grade level went down to the city park where they give tennis lessons, and we asked them for bags and bags of old tennis balls. We brought them all back to school, took an X-acto knife, and cut an X in each ball and slipped it right on to the seat of the chairs right over the little slides.

It's great! Now my whole classroom is full of these little bright orange feet all over the classroom. And the girl across the hall did hers all in bright green. And the kids just love it; they think all their chairs have on feet. And if you can't carpet the floor, we just carpeted the chairs. And it has drastically cut down on the noise. If you are in a two-story building and you have noise upstairs or you're worried about bothering someone downstairs and you have to move your desks very often, get a bunch of extra ones and put them on the desk chairs too.

Question 2:
Dear Mary, My school is going through a lot of construction work. While it's going on my class is stuck in a small, dark, depressing storage space. I know we'll be here for several months. How can I make this a more pleasant experience for me and my class?

Mary Rose's Answer:
Well, you know, a lot of us endure some cramped spaces in less than ideal conditions while our rooms are being wired for the Internet or painted or whatever else — things that should have been done in the summer are always done during the school year. But somehow being in a storage space sounds really depressing. So I have a couple of suggestions to help this person to make the class be not just bearable but perhaps even more fun.

Number one, I wouldn't try to make the classroom look traditional because it's not going to be traditional — it's going to be cramped, and it's going to be, you know, not real pretty. So I would just try find a way to put all of your good, regular classroom stuff somewhere else. Take it home, put it in a storage space or somewhere. Also, if the space is really dark, get some permission perhaps to paint it a light color or see if parents can help you. Or try to get some lamps donated, just little desk lamps to help brighten the room a little bit so it won't be so totally depressing in there.

But the most fun thing I'd like to suggest is for them to have a theme for their little room. And the students can come up with something fun. They might be the Cave Dwellers. They might have a construction crew theme. They might be Gulliver in Lilliput, something fun like that. And let the kids help you decorate the walls and make a funny sign for the door. And just try to make light of it because these bad situations like this are best served if the teacher can keep a light and a good attitude about it.

And one last thing: you might want to try to have as many classes outside of your room as possible. If the weather's nice, go outside for your science experiments, read under a tree, go to the library, or even schedule field trips while you're still in that portable.

Question 3:
Dear Mary, I need a plan that will help me inventory textbooks in my class, keep track of which child has what book, and then account for all the books when we get to the end of the school year. I know it sounds simple, but it takes me an inordinate amount of time. Do you know of a good way to keep track of my textbooks?

Mary Rose's Answer:
Well, this is a problem for every teacher, and it becomes a bigger problem when we have to approach a parent to pay for a missing textbook or to explain to an administrator why the textbook was lost in the first place. This little system I have for you may require some coordinating with other teachers on your grade level, but try to divide your textbooks alphabetically and by number. Now, that sounds kind of funny, but if you think about it — let's assume that have three or four teachers on your grade level; give Mrs. Anderson books #1-25, give Mrs. Evans books #26-50, Mrs. Miller #51-75. Thus you're dividing the books numerically and alphabetically. Does that make sense?

Then, in my particular case, we give to each teacher 25 copies of the book to start each year — right now I have 24 kids, so this is still working. Because my name is Rose, I get books #76-100.
Step 2: Order your students alphabetically and assign each child a number. So in my classroom, my kids get numbers 76 through 100. Now, write that number on a sticker and put it under some clear contact paper on the child's desk. And that can be kind of a cute little sticker, but you don't want to stick it to the child's desk; just stick it under some clear contact paper so you can get it back off at the end of the year. Now, when you're passing out books you say, "Okay, this child is #79, so he gets math book #79, he gets reading book #79, he gets spelling book #79." When those books are found lying in the classroom on the floor or anywhere around the school or he left it in the lunchroom, we know immediately whose book it is. If any other fourth grader finds it — it's a fourth grade math book — we know immediately which classroom to return it to, and we know which child to return it to.

You can also use those numbers on the tops of your desks to have your kids line up for whatever in the classroom. Say, "All the even numbers," "All the odd numbers," "Everything that's divisible by three." You can use those numbers for fun things. Or you could also have you kids put that number beside their name on their papers. When you collect student papers, put them all in numerical order, and then as you grade them, they're immediately in the correct order to put into your grade book.