Here it is August and many teachers begin to consider what things they need to do prior to the beginning of school. Since most school systems begin during the month of August, teachers will reach the point of rushing to get ready for that first day. After teaching for 25+ years and supervising pre-service teachers for the last 7 years, there are a few things I think should be considered when setting up a classroom for the school year. Although this list could be endless, I have narrowed it down to 10 things I think are essential.
1. Begin as soon as possible to set up personal relationships with your students. Ideas could include meeting prior to school with parents/children, sending a postcard to the child, having a back to school night before the first day, etc.
2. Arrange the classroom so it is comfortable and convenient for the CHILDREN. Negative behaviors can often be avoided when the setting is comfortable and convenient.
3. Post all teaching materials at eye level or below. Researchers often point out that materials on the wall become supportive to learning when they are posted at the children’s eye level or below. Materials posted higher become mainly decorations.
4. Provide a personal place for each child to store materials. I provided a tote tray for each child’s personal materials. I honored it as their personal place as I requested that they honor my personal spaces, like my materials closet. This makes the child feel important and gives them a feeling of trust.
5. Keep classroom rules short and simple. Rules can be extended or have ‘sub-rules’ at times, but the basic rules should be short, easy to understand, and only a few in number. Place the rules where they can be discussed easily when necessary.
6. Avoid extra clutter in the classroom. Although clutter doesn’t negatively affect everyone, extra-active children are often stimulated by a chaotic environment. Children thrive in a neat and organized classroom. Have the children help maintain the order.
7. Set up the classroom so that children can be as independent as possible. Try to have paper, crayons, books and other classroom supplies in easy-to-reach places so that children can independently get materials.
8. Post an encouraging quote to help stay on track. Post a saying, such as, “Remember the developmental level of your children,” in a place where you see it often. A little reminder can help bring your purpose back in focus when daily stress gets to you.
9. Set up a classroom that encourages collaboration. Providing opportunities for children to share responsibilities creates a feeling of community. I always had community crayons, pencils, and partner activities to create the scenario of collaboration. This helps children want to support each other.
10. Have fun! Begin the year with a positive attitude that you WANT to be there! Children can read you quickly and know if you are happy to be their teacher. Children respond when they feel nurtured by a friend.
What do you find essential when you set up your classroom for the school year? Share in the comments!
Every fall I supervise a group of student teaching candidates. Each candidate is hosted by a site teacher in an elementary school. I have 22 this year in 4 schools. Also every fall, including this one, I have needed to make some adjustments in the assignments as the teacher and the candidate begin working (or not working) together. I recognize that it is a critical situation. My students will be in the those classrooms for most of the school year. They will take over as the teacher for three months beginning in January. Sometimes I am challenged in deciding whether a student teaching candidate should be reassigned to a new setting or told to ‘give it some time to make the adjustment and learn to work together.’ Of course, I am also tempted occasionally to tell someone to grow up; and I’m not necessarily talking about the candidates. This year one site teacher told her candidate to “sit in the corner and be quiet.” She didn’t want her to “get in the way” while she was preparing the classroom for the children. I can’t even imagine telling another adult to sit in the corner and be quiet. The reason her student teacher was there was to learn about and help set up the classroom. Another issue was a teacher who expects the candidate to work 10 hours a day, like she does, at the school. This student teacher has a young family and is still in school, besides being in the classroom 2 days a week. Her expectations are on the level of a veteran teacher, not for a student who learning to become a teacher.
So, here I am working out the current issues with this group. My candidates have been marvelous, but a few site teachers are causing the problems. I tell my students that this is a life lesson about getting along with coworkers and building a strong grade level team. This is challenging when you are working with different personalities and different value systems. I do challenge my candidates to make the best of the situation and keep smiling. The most important factor in this equation is the student. When tension exists among the adults, it undermines the positive classroom atmosphere that should be created for the children. Every year I am tempted to tell everyone, “Can’t we all just play nice and get along?”
It is that season again when most school systems begin a new academic year. We started classes at the university last Monday, but most of the public school districts in our area begin in the next few days. I took the opportunity last week to visit my student teaching candidates as they were helping their site teachers with classroom setup. The old “beginning of the year” excitement was very evident in every school I visited. I remember that excitement well as I enjoyed setting up my classroom every fall for almost 25 years. Later this week, I will meet with my candidates and begin our semester-long course on classroom management. To me, effectively managing a classroom is the key to everything for the year. A teacher cannot teach successfully, or children learn successfully, without an effective classroom routine. Research tells us that it is the attitude of the teacher that is the key factor in teaching reading, math, and other academic subjects. My job this semester is to model for my student teachers how human development should be the foundation of that classroom management. Our educational system is so focused on academic teaching that teachers don’t receive a lot of support for meeting the needs of their students using developmental principles. Those principles are the key to understanding how students function. It is not just early childhood children who should reap the benefits of developmentally appropriate practice. Understanding the developmental stage of a 9 year-old will be a tremendous help for the teacher in a fourth grade classroom. My job is to help my group of future teachers understand those principles.