You’ll want to set up your classroom as quickly as possible, but consider these factors before you start.
CHECK SCHOOL POLICIES
Before designing your classroom, ask if there are any school policies that affect classroom displays. Some principals require you to post daily objectives. Many schools have fire policies that prohibit hanging paper signs on the door.
2. PLAN FOR INSPIRATION
Use a portion of your space to inspire students. This could mean hanging engaging posters about content or attitude. Or if you are planning to display student work, post a sign above the area that says “ALL of my students are capable of excellence. These really showed it on a recent assignment!” Make sure you print letters large enough for students to read!)
3. SAVE PLENTY OF SPACE FOR INFORMATION
If you need students to access certain types of information daily, create a consistent space for them to find it. For example, you could post permanent signs at the front of the room that say “Objectives,” “Warm Up Activity,” and “Homework” and use the area near these signs to provide details about each. Also have a space where the date is consistently posted, and make sure your name is posted at the beginning of the year.
I also recommend having a section of the room devoted to students who have been absent. If you decide to do this:
Label the space clearly. I have a sign that simply asks “Were you absent?”
Hang a calendar nearby to help students identify the day of school they missed.
Use a small filing cabinet to house an activity log (listing the work completed each day) and blank copies of all assignments (labeled with titles matching those in the activity log)
After you introduce students to the space, they become responsible for identifying days they miss, checking the log for work completed on those days, gathering the blank assignments, completing the work and submitting it to you.
4. PROTECT WHAT YOU POST
If you’re going to display any poster in your classroom for more than a month — or want to use a temporary poster again next year — laminate it before you hang it on your wall. Otherwise, you’ll need to recreate it after it is tattered and torn. Many of your schools will have laminating machines. If they don’t, other teachers will be able to tell you where the service is provided in your area. Make sure you check the school limits on use or prices at stores before making final decisions about what to laminate!
5. MAKE IT STICK
Ask other teachers in your building what adhesives work on the school walls. I once spent hours creating a display only to find it on the floor of my room the next day. Tape works on some walls. Others require putty. I have heard that hot glue guns work on the concrete walls in many schools. Finally, you can nail things into the walls. The nails are especially good for holding clipboards (if you want to clip a sign in sheet near your door) and bathroom passes (if you use anything larger than a paper pass).
6. LEAVE SPACE FOR COLLEAGUES
Leave space for other teachers who use the room. If you have your own classroom, but other teachers use it during your planning period or after school, leave them a drawer in your filing cabinet and sections of the board and wall. Have a conversation about what else they might need. This is important in order to preserve both your materials and your relationship with colleagues.
If you are a traveling teacher, initiate a conversation about space sharing with teachers you encounter in those travels. Get a copy of keys for each room in which you’ll be teaching and ask the administration if there is a quiet corner where you can have a desk and filing cabinet that is all your own.
7. ARRANGE DESKS THOUGHTFULLY
Consider your teaching style, management style and the needs of other teachers using the room when arranging the desks. You may decide to use rows, clusters, a circle or some other configuration. Design with a purpose in mind!
8. LOCK IT UP
Have at least one small closet or drawer in your classroom that can be locked, even if you have to add a small lock yourself. You’ll need this area for confidential files and personal items.
Learning this lesson cost me one camera and some priceless pictures on the roll of film inside it. It cost another teacher her grade book the week before our grades were due.
9. BE CHEAP
Save money on supplies! Ask a colleague what supplies are provided, how you can get them and if teachers are given a certain amount to spend on their classroom each year. If there are things you need to buy on your own, ask retailers if they have discounts for teachers. Office Max, Staples and Barnes and Noble all offer reduced prices on classroom supplies, and other stores in your area might too. For most, you will need evidence of your educator status — a school ID badge, union card or pay stub will work. Finally, save all of your receipts. If your school offers money later, you could be reimbursed for purchases if you still have the paperwork. Those receipts also help during tax season since purchases for work are tax-deductible.
10. KEEP TRACK OF TEXTBOOKS
Number your textbooks and create a system for loaning books out to students who forget theirs. Students have to pay up to $60 for lost books, so you don’t want any confusion about which book they had or whether it was returned to you. Track which books are assigned to each student by noting each student’s book number next to his or her name in your grade book. Create labels with your name and room number to place on every textbook so that lost books can be returned to you.
Also, decide whether you are willing to lend books to students who do not bring their own copy to class. If you do loan books, track them with a sign out sheet — I’ve created a sample textbook sign out sheet that you can use as a template. Finally, if you can, wait a few days to distribute the books. Students transfer in and out of classes at the beginning of the year, and when a student leaves, textbooks can disappear.
11. PREPARE FOR EMERGENCIES (BUT DON’T CREATE THEM)
Locate the emergency call button in your room and learn how to use the intercom system. You don’t want to accidentally signify an emergency when you’re trying to answer a page from the office on your first day!
12. BE READY TO FILE
Create your own filing system. You will need places to:
record and store your lesson plans and resources
file administrative materials such as: student IEP, notes from faculty meetings, a parent contact log, discipline log, a faculty handbook, student handbook, hall passes, sub plans, pass codes (for the computers and phones), and important contact numbers.
According to Evertson (2006), teacher reflection on the following questions helps to focus on the factors that contribute to the arrangement of the classroom and the kinds of activities that take place in the classroom:
What instruction activities will take place in the classroom? Considerations include age of the student, the subject area, learning activities, the physical restraints of the actual classroom, and the furniture.
What materials will students need for instructional activities? Many materials will be shared among students and certain activities will need special arrangements.
Does your class have students with special needs?
How much movement is necessary to meet the academic needs of students?
Will students need special materials like reference materials or computers?
How flexible is the classroom arrangement? Will it change during the day or the class period or will it remain the same for the entire day (Evertson & Emmer, 2009)?
I know it is overwhelming, but hopefully organizing your classroom now will save you time later. Doing it quickly will allow more time for developing your curriculum and management systems. Doing it effectively will create a space in which your students can thrive.