Picture it. You walk into your color-coded, perfectly organized, amazing classroom on the first day of school. You can just imagine it as the students sit in the corner in a comfortable, stylish reading nook engrossed in a book or as they work together intently in trendy, new, colorful stations to solve a math problem using the latest technology. Who wouldn’t want that? I know I do. But…depending on your resources, time, and daily responsibilities at home and at work this just may not be a reality for all of us.
As teachers, we are constantly bombarded by images of the “perfect” classroom and what makes the “perfect” teacher on social media.
As teachers, we are constantly bombarded by images of the “perfect” classroom and what makes the “perfect” teacher on social media. It can become an overwhelming feeling of stress in a teacher’s life, feeling like you never quite measure up.
But, before you hit the nearest teacher store or share your Amazon classroom wishlist with all your friends and family, think about it – are these things what ultimately make a great teacher?
Who was your favorite teacher and why?
Think back to your favorite teacher’s classroom. (Really, try to picture it!) Mine was my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Hannigan. I can tell you what she looked like. She was a stylish, thin, well-dressed woman with long, cascading brown hair. I can tell you that she was always kind, smiling, and encouraging on my good days and bad. Mrs. Hannigan’s room was fairly small, and a large bookcase that stood against the wall with Dick and Jane books lining the shelves. What was the color of the room? Uh…I’m really not sure. What posters or decorations adorned the walls? Again, nothing comes to mind. There is a good reason for that. Whether or not we, as teachers, have a “Pinterest-ready room” is not what ultimately matters to our students in the long run, and Mrs. Hannigan was no exception. I loved her because she was a great teacher, not because she had a perfect room. In fact, I can barely remember the room except for a few small details.
So what makes a great teacher?
A great teacher makes his/her students feel safe and welcome as they enter through the doorway each morning. He/she greets them with a smile, handshake, or hug and asks how they are feeling. He/she lovingly guides them to make better choices when they aren’t doing so well on their own. Yes, that means a great teacher enforces rules and consequences, just as their parents do because they are loved and he/she wants them to be well equipped for the world around them. A great teacher recognizes when a student is struggling with something in their personal life and reassures them with an encouraging word or a smile. A great teacher hands them a bandage (even when you know they don’t really need it) just because it makes them feel better to cover the barely visible to the naked eye scratch on their leg or hand.
Instead of getting caught up in the latest design fad, plan your room for meaningful learning instead. And remember, just because it’s cute, doesn’t mean it’s good.
A great teacher puts a lot of thought into the lessons and activities he/she plans and keeps the students engaged so that they learn the content and gain a love of learning. But, this doesn’t mean the teacher spends a lot of money! Instead of getting caught up in the latest design fad, plan your room for meaningful learning instead. And remember, just because it’s cute, doesn’t mean it’s good. A great teacher realizes that they don’t have to spend hours cutting out and laminating cute activities with a farmhouse design (or whatever the latest fad is) and the trendiest fonts for a literacy station that the kids will spend all of 10 minutes doing. Don’t get me wrong, I love all that just as much as the next teacher, but throughout my years in the classroom, I’ve learned that content is really what’s important in the long run, not cute.
...throughout my years in the classroom, I’ve learned that content is really what’s important in the long run, not cute.
But, I still want a wonderful classroom!
Start small! Break your wish list down, and prioritize it by what is doable this week, this month, or this year. Purchase the things from your list that you can afford. This year, I want touch lights in the center of each group for students to signal when they are finished working. I found out the lights are available very inexpensively at the local dollar store, so that is where I am going to begin. My partner teacher decided to create a cozy reading nook for her students. She couldn’t afford expensive bean bag chairs, so she used blow-up pool floats. What a brilliant idea!
Just remember “the stuff” is more important to you than it is to them. They just want the very best YOU that you can give them!
Begin by asking yourself a few questions. What does your budget allow? Can your principal provide money for a few items? Sometimes, your PTO or PTA will gladly pitch in to help. Begin a Donor’s Choose page or Google Classroom list where parents can buy items for your room. Don’t sweat it if you don’t begin the school year with every item on your wish list. You are already great, and the fact that you want the best for your students shows that! Just remember “the stuff” is more important to you than it is to them. They just want the very best YOU that you can give them!
THE GOOD NEWS!
We all know what makes a great teacher, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the hoopla of having a picture-worthy, perfectly organized and beautiful classroom to post in your Facebook group or Instagram feed. I want it, too!! But, when you start to feel discouraged or like you’re just not enough, don’t fret! Remember that you are already doing the things that make a teacher great, and your students will never forget you because of that!
How do you design your room for learning? We'd love to hear from you and see your pics! Please share in the comments below.