After documenting Taryn’s classroom makeover, I thought I better start to document changes to my new classroom.
There were cuts in our district this year which meant my innovation job evaporated, and due to really tight staffing, I had to leave the school I’ve been at for the last 8 years (2 years as a Literacy Support Teacher and then 6 years as a classroom teacher). I loved that school and we built an awesome framework that really works for all kinds of kids.
Most of all, I will miss the staff immensely. Just to give you an idea of what kind of people they are, they saw how much stuff I had to move and organized my move to the next school. If you’ve seen the pictures of my classroom, you know how much stuff I have. I boxed everything that needed to be boxed (50+ boxes), and my (former) staff got a team and a posse of vehicles, and moved everything over to my new school in FORTY-SIX MINUTES. I am so grateful to them.
We put the boxes into designated zones I set up in my classroom (e.g. classroom library, art cupboard, etc.), and then I went and had a great summer (Europe, Sunshine Coast, horseback riding, small day trips and visits). I ignored the slightly organized materials I left in my new classroom. Until the week before school started.
The New School
My new school is an old school in a rapidly expanding neighbourhood. It is about double the size of my former school. The school looks like it is about sixty years old with one wing that was renovated in the last ten years. My classroom is in the older wing.
Last June, when I learned where my new classroom was going to be, I took a few snaps to help me figure out where everything was going to go.
There are so many positives about this classroom.
- There is a cloakroom. I like having a real cloakroom. No, I don’t use it for cloaks, but for having coats, boots, umbrellas, and backpacks out of sight but still accessible, you can’t beat it. There is also plenty of shelving up top for my materials and resources (remember 50+ boxes?). The cloakroom is also a built in cave space for students who want to work in isolation, but still be in the classroom.
- It is a good size. Even with the cloakroom, it is a little bigger than my last classroom which was a bigger than a lot of classrooms I’ve seen.
- There are good high ceilings. The ceiling is a nice paneled natural wood.
- There is a wall of windows. The windows look out to a close greenbelt. The windows are north facing, so this does give some natural light that is reflected off the greenbelt. Under the windows is a bank of shelves for my classroom library and games.
- The bulletin boards are painted a gentle sky blue, while the shelves and cupboards are a slightly darker blue. A calm, cool colour.
- There is a sink. This means painting, hand washing, and espresso!
- Outlets. There are only two electrical outlets in the whole room on opposite sides; none in the middle or by the front whiteboard. I’d gotten a little spoiled by having a Smartboard and projector, but I think I can live without them. I don’t know if I can live without zone lighting, some kind of voice amplification, and said espresso machine. The lack of outlets also dictates where things like my teacher’s desk (yes, Lori, I have one) go.
- The Grate. In order to protect the windows from vandals, there is a heavy duty 2 cm grid on all of those beautiful windows. The grid gives a prison feel to the windows. It also gives me a constricting feeling because of the predominance of squares and right angles to the room. I can’t take down the grate, but I’ll need to do something to soften up the room.
- Lack of Organic. Apart from the ceiling, the wood teacher’s desk, and the paneled ceiling, there is nothing else that is natural feeling in the room. It feels a bit cold and lifeless.
My first instinct was to do nothing, and for two months during the summer, I totally acted on that instinct. My loose plan for the week before school was just to arrange my students’ desks so they’d have some place to sit the first day. My daughter came in and organized my classroom library. While she did that, I unpacked a few boxes, and just kind of stared at the room.
I started to think that what I did in my last classroom was not going to work in this one. The lack of outlets and therefore the lack of AV was going to change the focus. I couldn’t put my light draperies up on the windows to soften the space because I wasn’t sure what to do with the old ones.
And that’s the difference. In my last school, I did make radical changes to my classroom (i.e. getting rid of almost all of the students’ desks, replacing overhead lighting with spot lamps, eschewing borders and store bought posters, turfing my teacher’s desk and filing cabinet, bringing in the risers I built, etc.), but only after I’d been at that school a few years. By that time, I had built up a relationship with students, parents, fellow teachers, my administrator, and most of all the custodial staff.
I can’t tell you how important it is to forge a strong relationship with your custodians if you are going to make changes, especially unorthodox ones, to your classroom. They are the ones who are going to have to clean different or more surfaces. If you bring a carpet into a tiled school, they are going to make an extra trip to drag a vacuum down to only your room. Custodians will need the same access to electrical outlets. If you set up your room in different zones, they are going to have to navigate their way around to sweep. The custodians have been tremendous in cleaning my room and in their patience in the changes I made and the frequency of the changes I made.
But at my new school, it is a bit early to make really radical changes. If I get rid of my drapes, desks, and filing cabinet, is there a place I can store them? If I leave can the next teacher get them back? I can’t do things like get rid of student desks until I know it is going to work for them, and that I’ll have their support, staff support and parent support.
The Plan (for now)
But I can make small cosmetic changes.
As I said, I wasn’t going to do anything at first, but it turns out that part of the bonding process with my new school is putting my mark on my new classroom. It did not reflect me as a teacher. I needed it to be warmer, and more friendly feeling.
Here are some of the things I did to make the room more me:
- put down a couple of cozy carpeted areas for kids to meet, work, or play.
- put up some really big clocks to break up all of the right angles in the room.
- hung my window draperies, not by the windows, but around the room, like the entrance ways, to make the entrance more welcoming.
- put in a few area lamps to create some inviting spaces to limit the use of the life-sucking overhead fluorescents.
- hung some fabric under the big front whiteboard to hide some unpainted areas.
- arranged a couple of display areas.
- suspended just a couple of sheers to soften the space. I made sure to keep them out of the sprinkler’s spray area.
- hung the empty frames, waiting for students’ creations. I still may take them down as they add to the boxy nature of the room.
- set up the espresso station. This is purely for my own gratification.