We have decided to participate in Reflective Teaching: A 30 Day Blogging Challenge for Teachers. This challenge was created by Te@chThought, and the daily prompts can be found here: Reflective Teaching questions. We encourage any teachers to join us in this challenge. Your responses do not have to be lengthy; a paragraph or two would suffice.
Here is our Day 5 prompt: Post a picture of your classroom and describe what you see … and what you don’t see that you’d like to.
Heather’s Response: Creating a Room That Feels Like Home
“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”
― Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye
One of the most exciting moments this summer was seeing my DonorsChoose.org project get funded for a classroom makeover, thanks to my parents and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Let me tell you, I was dancing in my living room! When the supplies arrive, I would like to meet with my students on a weekend and create a more homelike, less sterile environment for our classroom.
There is a Classroom Cribs challenge going on now, inspired by the hit show MTV Cribs. The idea for the challenge is for teachers to rethink and redesign brain-friendly learning spaces for the new school year. Over 3,000 teachers have signed up. The deadline to enter is September 14, so I hope we can complete our makeover in time to participate.
Here is why a classroom makeover is important to me, especially this year…
Last spring, I moved into a new classroom, Room 118. I transferred there from a middle school classroom, where I had only spent seven months. Before that, I had spent 11 years in Room 115 in the high school. I know it is odd, but I felt very attached to Room 115.
For one, I liked it because it is about twice the size of a typical classroom. When I first saw my room in August 2001, I thought I had hit the jackpot. Not only was it the largest classroom in the school, it also had a computer lab, a sink, a full-length mirror where girls would check themselves between classes, and even a phone (which other classrooms didn’t have at the time).
Another reason I felt attached to the room was because I spent so much time in there. I didn’t have the Internet at home in the early years, so I did a lot of my grading and lesson planning after school in that room. When I was hired, my daughters were four and two. They would bring their toys and play in the classroom while I finished my work for the day. They loved to dig papers out of the recycle bin and play school.
When my daughters got older, they both became involved with sports. Because we live about 20 miles away from the school, I didn’t want to waste gas by driving back and forth after school for practices and games. While the girls were practicing, I would wait and work in my classroom. Oftentimes, I would bring a crockpot meal, and we would eat dinner there. It became our second home. The custodians told me that I spent more time at school than anyone else in the building.
I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on decorating that classroom, but each year I would add one new item. The first year, it was my new ergonomic office chair to save my back from slumping. Then a framed print “Entre les Trous de la Memoire” by Dominique Appia (right). Another year, it was a checkered rug. One year I salvaged a bunch of blue and white painted wooden chairs from a local FinnFest event. Another year, I added IKEA paper lanterns. Many students told me over the years that they loved our comfortable, homey classroom.
My students’ favorite addition was a comfortable couch that I picked up for $150 at St. Vincent de Paul. I went there specifically looking for a couch, and two men were carrying it into the store as I arrived. They told me it had been purchased new for a college student only a month earlier, but she decided to transfer to a different school and couldn’t take it with her. This couch was destined for our classroom.
When I found out last year that I was going to be transferred to the middle school, I was excited to teach 6th and 7th grade, but I wanted so badly to stay in my classroom instead of moving to the middle school wing. Room 115 felt like a part of me and a part of my daughters’ childhoods. I wouldn’t even have room at the middle school for the students’ beloved couch.
Not only that, but I would be moving away from Amy, who teaches in Room 116 across the hall. I cherished our chats between classes, during lunch, and after school. The one consolation I had about leaving Room 115 was that our English and French teacher Shannon Ruiz would move in there. She had been eyeing the classroom, knowing that it would offer much more space for her French Club activities. I was happy that someone who appreciated the room would inherit it.
My new classroom, however, turned out to be pretty great. I loved that it had a dry erase board instead of a blackboard. It had a better sound system for showing videos, and it had a wall full of cupboards for storing books and supplies. Not only that, but it had a view of the football field. In the fall, my daughters went to football games, and I graded papers in my new classroom — breeze blowing through the window — while listening to the announcer and the cheers of excited fans.
In April, I found out that I would be moving back to the high school, but into a different classroom. My student teacher was about to end her placement and graduate from college, and she would finish out the year in our middle school room. For that reason, I didn’t take most of my classroom decorations and supplies with me because our middle school students were still using them. I was happy to be back with my former high school students, but my new classroom didn’t feel like home.
I started dreaming of a classroom makeover. My juniors last year would be in my class this year as seniors, so I ran the idea by them, and they loved it. We found some cheerful curtains, an area rug, frames, and more to add to a DonorsChoose.org classroom makeover project. I also added a new office chair, since the one I had bought over a decade ago sinks now every time I sit in it.
For the beginning of this school year, I set up the classroom to be functional, but it has no personality or pizzaz. I’m waiting for the new decor to arrive so the students can put the room together and add their own touches to feel at home. I’m thinking about reclaiming the couch, too (sorry, Shannon).
I am often reminded that many of my students come to school from sad home lives and go home to undesirable environments they cannot change. I want to give them a positive, safe place to learn in our room and to make their day a little brighter.
The pictures at the top of this post are of my classroom before school started this year. Boring, right? Stay tuned for the makeover update.