Real teachers share inspiration and creative tips that will help turn your classroom into a unique learning space.
You want to transform the barren box of your new classroom into an inviting, exciting learning space for your students, but you're running out of time. What's more, you must squeeze what you have to do into the dwindling spaces between already-scheduled staff meetings, orientation, and a welcome-back breakfast. As you're checking your classroom inventory, a couple of former students drop by to say hello. You are called to collect your cumulative records from the office and then must discuss scheduling with your team members. The 3:00 staff meeting is suddenly five minutes away and you haven't even had lunch. You realize you're down to only two days left! A mild panic sets in as your mind races. What absolutely, positively needs to be done before your students arrive? How can you pull it all off and still add those special touches that say "Welcome"? Draw on the following ideas to help you prioritize your lists and organize your time.
Make multiple student lists.
Create a quick-reference alphabetical list of your new students' names on graph paper. Skip a space between names to accommodate future changes, and add lines at the top for a date and a heading. Make multiple copies of the list and use it whenever you need it for things like lunch lists, transportation, attendance, special groups, and parent conferences. You can also use these sheets to write yourself notes and reminders about individual students.
Design your classroom desk arrangement.
As you arrange desks around the room, consider different possibilities. Map out how your room might look, feel, and function with desks in groups of four to six or a U-shape. Don't rule out conventional rows if they would work best for your space and students. Plan to rearrange desks periodically to add variety to your classroom.
Review cumulative records.
You may be tempted to spend all your time organizing and decorating your classroom, but getting ready for the students themselves should still be your first priority. As you read through their records, note basic family information on a student list. Then skim through to pick up any special notations about grades, tests, instructional needs, and so on. If a problem is indicated, take time to read samples of student work or other documentation more thoroughly. In most cases, however, this should be just a skim. There will be time for an in-depth review after you meet the students.
Add desktop names and numbers.
To each student's desk attach a name strip with a number. Then assign a corresponding number to each student and to your textbooks. When you pass out textbooks, match numbers you've written on the spines to students' numbers. Books found around the room can then always be returned to the right desk even when the student is absent. You can also use these numbers as creative organizers throughout the year.
Check your texts.
Count, number, and inventory your books. Make note of anything that is missing before any books get passed out. Use a copy of your class list to assign texts to students. You don't have to get all your texts organized now if you are running out of time, only those you will need during the first couple of weeks.
Post a "correctables" schedule.
Your students need to know what to expect, but remember the beautiful poster of your schedule that you created can quickly become out-of-date after the start of school. Use colored chalk to make a schedule on the chalkboard, or create a time-of-day chart and use stick-on notes that can be moved around to indicate subjects.
Decorate only one bountiful bulletin board.
It's easy to obsess about having every inch of your classroom beautiful when the students walk in. Be careful not to go overboard by buying commercially produced (and expensive) decorations. Instead, focus your limited time and resources on just one "Welcome to __ Grade" bulletin board. Here, students can find name tags to wear the first few days, then they can create self-portraits to fill the empty spaces. You can even have them interview one another and write up the results to display with the portraits. You have just created an art lesson; a get-acquainted, language, and writing lesson; and an authentic display and you've used up very little of your precious prep time!
Create box-trays for incoming and outgoing stuff.
Cover the lids of copy-paper boxes with adhesive paper and place them on a bookshelf near your desk. Use one box-tray for ungraded work, one for school announcements, and one for graded papers waiting to be returned. Another can hold those materials that require your immediate attention. You can remove the front end of additional boxes and turn them into stackable trays as your needs expand through the year.
Generate a first-week activity stash.
Run off at least five fun activities that can be passed out as fillers during the first week of school. Math puzzles, dot-to-dots, crossword puzzles, and so on work well. Store them in a box-tray (see above) so they are ready to pass out at a moment's notice or save them as a fun break for students during the hard working days ahead.
Gather those guides.
Choose a place within reach of your desk on which to organize and store your teaching guides. Consider which ones you will use all the time and the ones you know you'll hardly ever open, and set them up accordingly.
Time left over?
Create just one more display on your door where everyone will see it as they arrive. If your school or grade has a yearlong theme or mascot, consider using these as a basis for your decorations. Design something that not only says "Welcome," but that you can leave up for a while. Try covering the door with bright fabric or wrapping paper. Add a favorite poster and a welcome sign and you're all set! Now take a deep breath and treat yourself to something special before you greet your students.