Imagine this scenario. Out by the back parking lot of Barfield Elementary stands a 4th grade classroom. A single wide portable shared by another 4th grade teacher. You've heard it is much smaller than the average classroom and feel sorry for those poor teachers that have to tolerate tight quarters, isolation, and the occasional tornado threat. Imagine this teacher will have 26 students this year. Your curiosity gets the best of you, and you decide to see the sad situation with your own eyes. You open the door to our room and understand why an option to come into the building was turned down. Welcome to our little oasis.

You see, our small living quarters can be mistaken for a small home on both the outside and the inside. Completely carpeted with real home touches of oriental rugs, picture frames for each student on the wall, nice lighting, six large book shelves, chairs and a couch, curtains, natural lighting, and a fish tank that sits in a corner, the words used most often to describe our room is calming and cozy. I am grateful to be teaching in small quarters, because the lack of space has really helped me determine what's important in a classroom and what has to go.

So how did I decide how to set up our room? Just like anything else, I learned through books and talk. I got rid of my teacher desk after listening to Sharon Taberski, author of On Solid Ground, explain why she got rid of hers. Now, roughly half my room is a comfortable open space for working, meeting, and talking. I took the idea of keeping one consistent color for all of my bulletin boards in the room, after listening to The Sisters, authors of The Daily Five Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades, talk about having the information on the boards be noticed rather than all the crazy patterns. And then there is my personal experience. I avoid leaving anything on the wall for too long as I have found that if I am not referring to it, how do I expect my students to do the same? 

Our walls change frequently and are most often decorated with anchor charts made during a mini-lesson or by the students from a guided reading session.  Chart paper and markers have served us well this year, and have helped curb costs towards commercial posters that sometimes disappear into our walls.  I've come to the realization that when you look good you feel good, and that applies to our classrooms too. I look forward to teaching in my room every day, and a large part of that comes from mindful decorating.

I end this with a kindergartner's perspective on learning out in the portables.  As a child walked with his teacher out on the track one day, he looks over at the distant portables and exclaims, "Wow, they're lucky. They get to go camping every day!" We are lucky. Life in the portables has treated us well - very well.