I'm Ready

The walls of my classroom are bare and my lesson plans are empty…yup, I am ready for school to start.

Yes, you read that correctly. I am just a few days away from student’s first day and the walls in my classroom are completely bare. The only thing you will see is a draped green screen and a few posters indicating which way to sprint and scream in case of fires or inclement weather. I watch my colleagues frantically putting up posters and bulletin boards while I spend time sucking the final drops out of the fruit of summer. Why do I choose to leave me classroom bare? Am I really that lazy? While that might be a perfectly reasonable explanation, that is not the whole story. The room in which I teach is not my room. Sure, my name is on the door and nobody else teaches in it during the day. However, I don’t think of it as my room. It belongs to my students. It is their room and their space. As a result of this, I believe it is their right to decorate and create the learning space that suits them. I don’t have a seating chart. How can I when I don’t know the kids yet? I don’t put posters up on the walls. How can I when I haven’t met the kids and determined their interests and needs? I have not filled in the bulletin board. How can I when I haven’t asked the kids what they want to look at every day? Yes, my room will fill in and be a place of comfort and learning but it will not happen until the owners of the room create it. You will see student work, pictures, posters, and all sorts of evidence of the true owners of the room.

In addition to my walls, the pages in my lesson planner also lay bare. Sure, I have a few ice breaker activities for the first few days penciled in, but nothing beyond that. Again, how can I put plans together before I have met the kids they will impact? Is it possible some lessons from last year will work again with my new group? Yes, but I will not assume what worked last year will work again. I work with plenty of people that just roll over their plans from year to year. To this day, I cannot fathom how a teacher can do this. If your students change, shouldn’t your approach to teaching them? As a result, my lesson plan book will lay bare until I get to know the kids in my class and see how we will achieve our learning goals. The learning journey in my class will again be driven by the kids on the journey. As a teacher I know the targets we need to hit and the standards we need to master, but the decisions of how to accomplish these will not be in my hands.

I urge you to clean out your lesson plan book and clean your walls. Let the kids in your classrooms create their own learning space as well as direct their own learning journey. 


John T. Spencer said...

This has been a slow release for me. I always have a few things up - a few primary sources (Kennedy shot, man on the moon, Civil War pictures that were actually taken at the time) and some framed student work from the past.

However, I allow for a ton of white space and the walls take shape over time.

Nikkie said...

Love it! Thanks for the reminder! I'm headed up there now to reorganize, but I'll leave the walls blank ;)

Darin J said...

Outstanding post! I've never been one to do a huge amount of "decorating" because I've always thought they aren't my walls, they belong to us. I had a principal who really encouraged me to see that, and it helps both with the beginning of year crazies, but also with another level of ownership in the classroom.

Anonymous said...

I love it!!! Wish I had a teacher like you when I was a kid. You make me wish I could be a teacher too!

Mrs.Alaniz said...

I'm leaving my bulletin boards blank, too. Thanks for sharing your post. I think I've put time into certain beginning-of-the-year things that now don't seem that important anymore.

William Chamberlain said...

I get what you are saying, but the classroom is ours (which means mine too). It is just as important for me to feel comfortable in our room as it is for my students. I don't feel bad about putting things up that make it more like my home, because for 180 days it is.

I have no problem preparing lessons either, part of the evaluation process requires me observing what they are capable of doing. Because I have more time to plan I can really focus on creating lessons that incorporate a lot of different skills. I also get the students to show me what they can do when they are fresh and for the most part self-engaged.

Think of the analogy of the classroom being a bus. Everyone is on the bus, but someone has to drive it.

Mr_Brett_Clark said...

I identify a lot with what you are saying and I can also see what William is saying. It is our classroom. So, why not let it be both ways. Start with empty walls and fill them together. If your students are really into books, then break out your favorite books. When they decorate the room, you decorate the room. Then it can be a reflection of both you and your students. Just like a community.

I never had filled out lesson plans. I always had what I considered a skeleton for lesson plans and worked with my students to fill out the rest.

Jon Barber said...

I have decorated my room with my interests and some relaxing (for me) posters of tropical beaches and Hawaii.

I fully expect to remove some or all of it once the students get in. Perhaps they have interests that they want to share, but moreso, I hope they create something that they'll share with me.

But how can I expect them to trust me with part of themselves, if I don't first do the same with them?

I hope to do the same with the books that we read. I will share what I've read over the summer, and I hope that they will share books that they've enjoyed and books that they haven't.

Even if it just works with an icebreaker on the first week or on Back to School night with their parents, I feel like it's a valuable way to show them that you're putting yourself out there for them.

I really want to hear how it goes. Maybe share some "before" and "after" pics? That's my plan for this year. Pics of the various stages that my room goes through.

Shannon said...

I have done a great job this year (in my opinion) of leaving my classroom bare so that we can build it together throughout the year.

However, sorry to say my lesson plans will be done for that 1st week with getting to know you activities, setting goals for the year, teaching a few strategies that we will use, teaching routines, etc.



paul bogush said...

So Josh...I don't think we have ever "spoken" so please read this with a wink...

If you invited me over for dinner would you also make your house empty? Not think about what to cook until I got there and you got to know me? :)

I get your point...and I too went from filling my walls to leaving every inch of wall bare during the course of my career. There is a happy medium that works.

But what I have learned over the years is that it really doesn't matter that much. It can feel like it matters to the kids, but I don't think it does. It is the teacher's attitude that will trump decorations. At the time I had blank walls I needed blank walls to remind me, not the kids.

Try this though...

Set-up one bulletin board/wall/door with some neat stuff. Then during the course of the year when you find that kid that just doesn't do much...ask them to take that space. Tell them they can have it...if the right teacher does it to the right kid special stuff usually happens.

My spot is my door. It is the only spot that is mine and no one can put anything on it except me. But at some point in the year I turn it over to that kid and it's kinda neat what ends up happening.

What the heck...another thought.

My room is MY ROOM. It belongs to me and all the other kids who came before. It is one rich with tradition and a culture that is built in. Kids are proud to step into it. They know they are not walking into a void to fill, but are taking up the reins to continue the tradition of greatness that encompasses our space, and they know that they will have the opportunity to leave their mark because they see evidence that others who came before them have done the same.

Kind of like every time someone interviews a player who gets traded to the Yankees...they always say how "everything changed for me the first day I put on the pinstripes. I walked into the clubhouse and saw where the greatest players sat, and touched the grass in the stadium where legends were born. Now I am going to add to that tradition."

ushistorysage said...

I teach Early American history and so I put up a timeline of the events I have to cover for the year - with 5 subheadings: colonization, revolution, constitution, westward expansion, civil war & reconstructio As the year progresses, I add the work students do under each subheading. As far as lesson plans go, I have the kids take the US citizenship test as a pretest for the start up and go over proceedures for group work - expectations...practice, practice. So I agree with both Stump and Chamberlain...I am the bus driver especially where the content is concerned, but the ways and means is all up to the passengers.

James K. said...

I go back and forth on this. When I taught middle school, I was a decorating minimalist and had the students develop a class theme and design as well as posting student work. Now that I teach elementary, I think that I need a bit more to create an initial atmosphere of comfort and invitation - both for the students and their parents. I feel it is important that the students et to know a bit about me so I post key words that describe me and what I believe infor the classroom. My plans will consist of class building, norms construction, "get to know you/me", basic activities that help me understand how I will approach the curriculum with this group.

This being said, I agree with Stump that the kids need to create their own space and I need to initiate ways that the group will feel comfortable in this learning environment. I believe this can be accomplished several ways and it is the personality of the teacher and his/her chosen path to build relationships with the students and craft the best environment possible for all to enjoy a great year.

Mr D said...

So true. As teachers we fill our rooms with things WE think are important, but the kids in our classes take absolutely no interest in. If our kids are to be engaged in their learning they need to feel like they own it. As scary as it might be to start the year with an empty room and no plans, how much more rewarding it will be for the kids to create their learning. We need to stop worrying about what parents/teachers/management think and start worrying about what the kids want and how to turn that into learning tasks.