Do you spend the end of your summer stressing about your classroom decor? Do you spend hours laminating and cutting owl, superhero, or llama theme decor packs each year? I used to be you. No longer. I’m here today to tell you that that does not have to be you! Your classroom doesn’t have to be that elaborately decorated room you see on Pinterest! There are so many more useful things you could be spending your time and money on for back to school instead of worrying about your classroom decor, and that’s what I’m going to talk about in this post.
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Why I Don’t Buy Into Classroom Decor
When I first started teaching, many of my colleagues were quick to ask me what my THEME was going to be. Now, I’m a guy, but I still see a lot of male teachers who go all out to get the perfect under -the – sea theme or what have you. Decorating like that wasn’t really my thing, but I felt the pressure. I was a fresh new teacher right out of college and teaching first grade, so I felt like I had to prove to my colleagues and my kids’ parents that I was a competent teacher. And as everyone knows, competent teachers have themes and beautiful classroom decor. So, with some help, I decorated.
My first year on Open House Night (or Meet the Teacher Night as you may call it), after the parents asked me where the teacher was and I sheepishly told them it was me, many looked around at my Mexican Fiesta theme I had picked out for my bilingual class and seemed to admire my teaching prowess.
Literally, though, 3 separate families asked me where the teacher was, and one even asked me if I was old enough to be a teacher. You know what my kids didn’t notice or care about, though? What the classroom looked like. My kids wanted to see where they were sitting and who else was in their class.
More than all of that, though, my kids wanted to meet ME. I guarantee that your kids care more about YOU than they care about the desert-themed, laminated cacti you spent hours hanging on your wall.
Am I saying that your room shouldn’t be organized in a way that is conducive to learning?
No way! I want you all to get top scores on your teacher evaluations in the “Classroom Environment” component. What I am saying is that there are things that are more important and will pay a higher return on investment for your time than stressing over a classroom theme.
Creating A Get-To-Know The Teacher Slideshow
Remember how I just said that kids want to meet you? On Open House night you’re busy! You’ve got new families wanting to meet you and your repeat families wanting to catch up. The kids, though, are usually too nervous to talk to you and you can’t possibly talk to every family. To fix this you can have a slideshow on your interactive whiteboard showing a little about you. Your family, your pets, your hobbies, what you did over the summer. Kids love that! They’ll come into the school year knowing that you have a dog named Luna or that you do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (my examples). Whatever it is, show you being you.
Creating a Meet The Teacher Fact Sheet
Who here loves getting another coffee mug every day during teacher appreciation week to add to their collection of 75? Yeah, me either. I’m all about the Mountain Dew in my Yeti can cozy. This stopped, though, when I created a Meet the Teacher Fact Sheet that I handed out at Open House. I put some of the same info I put into my Getting to Know the Teacher slideshow. I also included things like my favorite drink, my favorite candy, my favorite restaurant and stores.
You know what happened? Instead of another coffee mug, I got Mountain Dew. Rather than random chocolates, I got Sour Patch Kids. In place of Starbucks gift cards I would never use, I got gift cards to my favorite pizza place. I even got a gift card once to a local pet store because they saw that I had a puppy and two cats. I had a really challenging student who struggled to be able to count past 12 by the end of the year. That girl, though, could tell me that my favorite candy was Sour Patch Kids. All because she remembered my Meet the Teacher Fact Sheet.
Now, I don’t write all that stuff down to be greedy. As teachers, though especially, I feel like we struggle to tell parents what we want because we want to make everyone happy. That’s why I’m trying to tell all of you that it’s okay if you don’t spend hours getting the perfect classroom theme! Yes, I make the fact sheet for the parents, but I mostly do it for the kids. As a teacher, a lot of times kids see you as some sort of elevated being, but many connections are made and strengthened through the bits of information I provide about myself.
How many of you read the same book to your class on the first day of school? Is it First Day Jitters? I bet the first couple of times you read that book, you thought that it was perfect. I used to read Ruby, Monkey See Monkey Do on the first day of school because I really liked the book. You know what happened, though? After I had read the book for the third year in a row, I stopped getting excited about it. It wasn’t because it didn’t have a great lesson, because it does, but I’d just read the book too much. It was too much of a routine. If you want your kids to be excited about school, you need to be teaching in a way that excites YOU!
Head on over to your favorite bookstore and see what new books are out in the children’s section or check out my list of the 20 best back to school read alouds! Look for a book that makes you want to get in front of a class and read; then buy it for yourself. You’ll be investing in your classroom library (at least that’s what I tell my wife). I also bet that later on in the year, even after you’ve read a lot of other books to the kids, they’ll be able to remember how you read them that book on the first day of school. Last year I read The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds. At the end of the year, kids still remembered some of the activities we did with that book.
Create a Project on DonorsChoose
We all spend WAY too much money buying things for our classrooms. Why not try to save yourself some money on classroom supplies, and create a project on DonorsChoose.org? Donors Choose is a website that helps donors find classroom projects to fund. Sometimes donors are looking for projects in their area or that support a specific type of learning. Regardless of the reason, they help teachers get the things they need for their teaching. I’ve had several projects funded by Donors Choose to help me get books, a rug, even an easel for my anchor charts. You can post projects for almost anything you need even to help fund field trips! If your project does get funded, you can tell your class that there are people out in the world who think that their learning is so important that they donated money to your classroom to help them. I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty strong message to be teaching kids!
Creating a project is pretty easy! Best of all, it can be done in less time than it would take to laminate and cut out classroom decor. Not all projects get funded, but you can always try again.
Do Something For Yourself
As teachers we give up a lot of our time for our students. Oftentimes we put everybody else’s happiness above our own. That’s why so many of us stress about making sure our classroom decor looks perfect and we have that perfect, new theme each yearI know you did a lot of things for yourself over the summer but the end of the summer is the perfect time to start getting into a self care routine.
This is a TOUGH profession! We wear a lot of hats and make sure we make a lot of people happy. We need to make sure that we make ourselves happy. It doesn’t have to be anything big. It could be as small as making sure you get your Starbucks in the morning or going to your kickboxing class everyday.
Whatever it is, do something FOR YOU. More importantly, make it into a routine. If it’s not a routine before school starts, it’ll be that much harder to make it one once school does start. You’ll feel more energized and positive, and that will come through in your teaching. It’ll also give you more things to tell your students about.
One thing you can do is give yourself more time. You deserve more time for you. One way that I’m helping teachers do that is with my Picture Book Brain Trust Community. You’ll have read aloud and guided reading lesson plans for the WHOLE YEAR. I mean, years of lesson plans designed for teaching in ANY setting whether you’re teaching virtually, face-to-face or in a hybrid.
Is Your Classroom Decor REALLY That Important? What do you think?
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just a guy and classroom decor isn’t my thing. But you know what? I’ve never had a parent come to conference night and tell me that their kid had told them all about my two-toed sloth decor.
They come and they tell me about how their child told them about the funny things my dog does. Others ask me about my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitions their kid told them about. Some tell me that their kids brought home a library book from one of my favorite authors Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen or Kevin Henkes.
Instead of spending my time stressing over how my classroom looks, I focus on finding ways to show my kids ME. That’s what kids remember!
What do you think? Do I need an intervention? What do you do to get yourself ready at the beginning of the year that’s time well spent?