With school starting in just a few days, it’s interesting how different my classroom planning has been this year compared to the last.
Last year, I remember arriving in a room full of materials that weren’t mine and I felt obligated to use.
I also remember arriving in that room without a paycheck in the past three months I’d been working with TFA.
And I also failed to arrive in that room with any training from TFA on how to arrange a classroom for optimal success. I had sat through hours-and-hours of professional development on visions and goals, but seemingly nothing focused on the in-the-moment reality: that deciding where classroom furniture would go was somewhat different from the two-or-three possible arrangements of a college dorm room.
So I ended up with an awful set-up. Built-in binder holder? Of course that’s where the binders belong, regardless of its location. Prep books for a now-discontinued test? Sure, let’s put them on display!
There is an art to classroom design, and I doubt that I’ve mastered it, but I’m a lot more in-tune than I was last year. Traffic is the primary concern – are main passageways in the classroom wide enough for the number of students passing through, or will furniture be bumped constantly? I had an area of my room last year where we had traffic jams (a file crate that I required students to check when entering), and another area where we experienced two-way traffic (the aforementioned binder holder) that resulted in pushing-and-shoving to find one’s materials. From my exhaustive research, it seems that the ideal middle school classroom features a one-way traffic pattern, free of traffic jams.
Secondly, I would never have imagined the materials that I would accumulate in the first year of a new state test – in my case, Texas’ STAAR. Even with probably the least-prominent STAAR test, I was involved with benchmarks, test prep, data analysis, and countless other areas. It all needed to go somewhere, and since I had so much relative junk around, it sat in piles. Resources were hard to find, and often went missing. This year, those resources are nicely organized, and I know it will lead to greater success for myself as a teacher.
Lastly, the little things do matter. I spent all year drawing permanent lines on my board with EXPO marker, which would constantly disappear. I just bought a $3 roll of painter’s tape. Problem solved.
I also devoted some time during last year to talking with parents who were insistent that their students turned in work that per my records… didn’t. By holding onto work for an entire six-weeks, I will now have stronger evidence to back up my claims, should those situations re-occur.
Did I do a horrible job with layout last year? Yes. But with so many other things to worry about — namely certification — I just didn’t have time. And that’s not an excuse; it’s a justification. Without certification, I wouldn’t have a job. With those items out of the way, I’m going to be able to focus on the value of the little things as this year starts off.