A Schoolteacher's Musings · Blog 365

Dear New Teacher: Stop Feeling Inadequate About Decorating Your Classroom

New teachers, welcome to teaching in the 21st century – where Pinterest can either be your greatest enemy or your closest friend.

Welcome to feelings of inadequacy as you pass by all the classrooms in the building where every other teacher obviously has ten hundred times more creativity than you.

Welcome to feelings of despair as you want to buy all the decorations from Hobby Lobby, but you know your slim budget will only allow you to buy one small framed quote.

Welcome to walking into a classroom with bare walls and wondering what in the world you’re going to do with them to make them look more exciting.

Welcome to trying out new ideas with great exuberance, only to look back on them three months later and wonder what in the world you were thinking.

Welcome to trying to make things stick to uncooperative walls and then walking in the next morning and finding them all over the floor.

Welcome to wondering where the Interior Decorating for Elementary Ed class was in college – where they were supposed to teach you themes from popular children’s literature and the latest inspirational quotes to put all over your walls.

I walked that road. Getting hired less than 24 hours before school starts for your first teaching job ensures that your students will walk into the blankest classroom they’ve ever seen – and there is literally nothing you can do about it.

I still walk that road, going into my third year of teaching – where I get excited about my decorations, and then as soon as I see another teacher’s wall display, I instantly feel deflated and wonder why I didn’t think of that.

Here’s the truth, new teacher.

No matter what you don’t have, you can still make your classroom a place of welcome for your students.

Every classroom is, by nature, an extension of the teacher to whom it belongs. Their heart and passion spills over onto the walls, the desks, the cupboards – and that’s what the students need more than anything. They need to know that you care about them – and that you care about making an environment where learning is fun and exciting.

Every teacher interprets that differently – which makes every classroom unique and fascinating to walk into. Their take on learning – their ideas for motivation – their dreams for their students – their displays of the students’ work – their wall charts recording new ideas – all of this is a representation of the beauty that happens in this class that becomes a family.

Here’s why you should decorate your classroom, even if you feel like you’ve got nothing:

1) To unequivocally welcome students and make them feel at home as soon as they walk into the room. You never know what home looks like for each student, but you want your classroom – where they spend 25% of their day – to be a place that feels warm and comforting. A child can’t learn if they don’t feel safe and comforted, and we have the opportunity to provide that space through the decorations we put up in our rooms. Your first year of teaching, that might be three little things scattered throughout the room – but don’t underestimate even the value of the smallest details. The kids won’t know it, but they’ll feel the difference because of those details.

2) To make learning an adventure – something they eagerly look forward to. Classroom walls should be filled with work that students look back on proudly, goals that they are working hard to accomplish, questions that they wonder about, mentor samples that they look to emulate, quotes that inspire them and remind them of why they’re doing what they’re doing. Some of that you put up at the beginning of the year – but a lot of it is gathered throughout the year as you learn and grow together – so that by the end of the year, the walls are a living testimony to all that you’ve learned together.

So new teacher – don’t despair if your walls are a little bare at the beginning of the year. It’s good to leave those blank spaces because you’re going to acquire more love and memories on them than you ever dreamed possible.

Don’t panic because you only have one cute decoration from Hobby Lobby and the teacher next door has a room that looks like Hobby Lobby walked in and took up residence. Put that decoration up with pride because it’s from your heart, and your students will come to love it as much as you do. And next year, you’ll buy a few more things, and the year after that, a few more – and pretty soon, you’ll own half of Hobby Lobby as well.

Don’t compare yourself to anyone, least of all to Pinterest. Cute classrooms are tons of fun to dream up and implement, but you have enough to worry about with all the curriculum to learn how to teach. Put in your own cozy touches – a string of white lights, a lamp in the corner, a laminated quote on the cupboard – and then get about the business of teaching.

Because here’s the bottom line, new teacher. When those kids walk in the door on the first day of school, they’ll be as nervous as you are. But if you pour out love for them, believe in them, and challenge them, your classroom will become a haven of beautiful memories for them. The specific details might fade away over the years, but they will never forget you and the room that you filled with your love – love for them, love of learning, and love of your unique classroom community.

And if your room wasn’t exactly how you wanted this year? You can start all over again next year (only a month and a half later) and tweak all the things that didn’t go the greatest the year before.

But whatever happens – always keep that first decoration of yours and your favorite note or two from your first few students. Keep those as reminders of your bare wall days – and reminders that your feeble decorations resulted in the lifelong love of a child.

Because isn’t that the greatest reward of teaching?

And in case you’re wondering, yes, that picture is from my feeble first-year decorating attempts!

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