Well, I told myself I wouldn’t start blogging again until school got back in, but like most things in my life….I was wrong about that too.  Shocker.

I’ve read quite a few blogs lately about people designing their own classroom set up and it’s had me thinking for the past little bit.  Some are going full tilt by designing every square inch of their space to create a comfortable and “homey” environment for their new ones about to walk through the door,  Some have opted for the “wait and see” approach with their students.  Opting for blank walls….for now….

I’m somewhere in between.  These are the following guidelines I’ve always followed having taught Grade 8 for the past ten years and getting lots of feedback from them.  Grade 8’s will always tell you EXACTLY what they think….just ask them.

#1.  Show Yourself!

The kids like it when they take a look around the classroom and see you’ve brought a piece of yourself there as a PERSON, not just as a teacher.  They look at my photos that I have posted on the wall and ask me questions about my summer.  They think it’s funny that I have a Scentsy warmer but they all loooooove the smells and will help me pick out some scents they like too.

Afterall, at the end of the day these kids will grow up and leave this nest for another….and I will still remain.  I have a right to this space as much as they do.  I have lived in it for ten years.

#2.  Inject some Fun!

They like it when the room looks cool and funky on the first day of school.  I change what this means every year and I guess I’m lucky enough to teach in a small rural school where I generally know my class before they show up.  This year’s class still dresses in bright colours, will wear unicorn costumes to school, decorate with paint, sidewalk chalk and stickers, and practice self choreographed dance routines in their spare time.  As a result, here’s what I’ve created for them:

Notice that some of the walls are still blank?  Well that’s because…

#3.  Give them room for their own personality.

I’ve always given my class an opportunity to “leave a mark” within the room.  Some classes take this more to heart than others.  I’ve had kids bring in their own photos and claim a spot on a bulletin board.  Others have done it with artwork and some don’t do anything other than decorate their own desk area, but I always leave it open for them.

Some of the bulletin boards belong to me, usually the ones high up because (let’s be honest) the kids don’t really ever look there anyways.  The big ones lower down I usually leave for the kids.  Their work, pictures, artwork, whatever.  It’s where their eyes are most likely going to go so I figure they may as well have something of their own to look at.  The one behind my desk?  That’s mine to decorate with my stuff.  This is my “spot” and it’s important to me that I have a relaxing place I can sit down at when the day gets to be too much for me.

Last year’s class didn’t take advantage of the “design your own” classroom very much so I found myself filling the walls.  This class I have this year will be a completely different ball game.  I might have to hide the paint and the thumb tacks until I’m ready to give up full creative control…..

#4.  Make us feel welcomed on the first day….

“We’re nervous.  Even though we know you and we like you, it’s still the first day of school.”  This is what they tell me.  So I hide little things all over for them.  Funky pencils in their desks, notes in their mailbox.  A couple mini-play doh’s for an activity later on….

I’ve learned over the years that they also like name tags on their desks.  Though some grumble about this, I find the majority of them feel a huge sense of relief that they don’t have to wonder where they should sit.  Who will sit next to them.  Can I put my stuff here or will that make someone else mad?  Grade 8’s still walk on egg shells that first day, especially if they aren’t part of that “inner” circle.  So I do the name tags for the first week or so and then we start moving things around after that.

#5.  Please not rows!

Ah, yes….the ever on going battle over desk orientation and set up.  I waffle on this one.  Some classes I’ve started in rows because they are chatty and this helps me more than them.  Other times I’ve started in groups and this year I’ve chosen a horseshoe formation.  I have no answers for anyone on this because this is really all about your style as a teacher.


But at any rate……

In all honesty, don’t listen to anyone tell you how to set up YOUR classroom.  This is a space you have to live in for the next year at least.  Only you will know what feels right to you.  Are you a person who can wing it and let the kids design the space to suit them?  Or are you a bit of a Type A fanatic who needs a bit more control than that?  You have to be true to your personality.  What’s that saying about a leopard changing spots…?

If you are a first year teacher and looking for ideas, I suggest you take and borrow what feels right to you.  Follow one person’s suggestions, take a bit from multiple sources and mix in your own flair.  You can’t do this wrong.  And if you do….trust me, the kids will let you know and they’ll offer up their own opinions.

And please don’t let another teacher or parent tell you what to do!  Everyone has their own opinions about classroom set up.  This is great.  Diversity makes the world go around.  But when you read about how other people are setting up their rooms, don’t let them make you feel digitally guilty because you want to put up a Bruce Springsteen poster or a World Map.  Or if you want to leave your classroom as a completely blank space with nothing more than four walls and some desks.  Or because your classroom could be featured in a section of “Martha Stewart’s Education Spaces”.

Whether you are a first year teacher, a “seasoned” teacher (such as myself), or find yourself on the brink of retirement….I wish you all the best in your new year.  Happy decorating….or not, as the case may be.

Now that we’ve talked about set up, what do I do on the first day of school? Ah, that’s another blog post altogether.















About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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One Response to And….Reboot!

  1. Cherra-Lynne,

    I enjoyed reading your blog post. I have always believed that you included some of your personality in your class decor, after all you spend a considerable amount of time in your class. You also make a good point not to judge others, or feel you need to conform to others beliefs and standards. I will be entering my 19th year with grade 8’s and the one thing they are not is apathetic. I always make it a point to try and memorize everyone’s name by the end of the first day. It is nice to welcome them on day 2 by name as they start the day.

    Dan Chartrand

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