Life in a New Classroom
Click. The door shuts behind me and I stand in the corner of my new classroom. Bare, whitewashed walls, band-aid colored desks, and a stretch of empty wooden bookshelves frame the space. I let ownership wash over me and settle in the pit of my stomach in a knot of nervous energy, potential, and excitement. There is no feeling like that of being in a new space—my space—for the first time. The bareness and sterility sink in when I realize that not only do I have to resuscitate my incoming classes of freshmen, juniors, and seniors, but I also must breathe life into this classroom. After all, reviving this empty shell is the first step to creating a strong learning environment for my students, one in which they feel ownership over their learning process.
In elementary school, teachers spend entire summers developing themed rooms that make learning magical. In first grade I remember reading in an old claw foot bathtub filled with vibrant throw pillows, yet as I matured so did my classrooms until the vibrancy of elementary school gave way to the starkness of high school. In the upper grades, it was assumed that English, math, science, and social studies didn’t need to be coated in glitter to excite students—the complexity of the subjects could carry themselves.
As I approached my classroom this summer, I designed it around my students. My goal was to create a space that not only excited students about reading and writing but also served as a flexible area to differentiate instruction based on the individual needs of my classes. Each detail was tailored to develop an ideal learning environment.
My first step was in picking a color scheme. English is oftentimes seen as a “female subject” as compared to math or science. In turn, I picked a gender-neutral color scheme with red and blue as my main palette. Was I overthinking it? Potentially, but studies have shown that the color red is linked to high performance on detail-oriented tasks while blue is linked to higher performance on creative tasks. Color coordinating for efficiency certainly couldn’t hurt—and as a first year teacher, I’ll take all the help I can get.
In my classes I use a workshop model to guide my reading and writing curriculum. In turn, students share their work with one another to create a strong collaborative environment. This method requires a flexible classroom that can easily transition to the needs of individual students as well as into working groups. I focused on developing individual spaces from a reading corner to a one-on-one conference table at the back of the room and grouped desks for collaborative work.
Finally, the centerpiece of my classroom is a bulletin board that stretches the length of one wall. Divided into separate sections, this interactive board not only displays student work, it also encourages reading and writing by putting students’ achievements on display. In the center of the wall a knobby paper tree with four large branches (one for each freshman class) stands tall decorated with paper leaves. Each leaf represents one book a student has completed. Not only does this simple display mark communal class achievement, it also serves as friendly competition between classes. To the left of the tree is a large, three-dimensional writer’s notebook. Page protectors allow me to easily slip in and highlight examples of work from my students’ writer’s notebooks. Finally, to the far right is a graffiti wall where students can post model sentences from their books as well as their own writing.
Everything has a place and function in my classroom. From grouped desks to my young adult library, I aim to create a place for teenagers to find common ground with each other through reading and writing. My creation is not perfect and it will continue to grow as my career does, yet for right now, this space has brought my students together, allowing me to spark my own magic.