Saturday, May 28, 2016

Blank Walls Syndrome, Part One

(or How to Get Over New Classroom Anxiety)

So this week, I moved out of my old first grade classroom and into my new fifth grade classroom.  This certainly isn't the first time I've moved rooms - nor will it be the last - but whenever I'm faced with this...

... I'm always whisked right back to my first day of teaching when I hadn't the slightest clue what to do with all that empty space!  

It's one thing to come armed with every Pinterest idea you've ever seen.  But when you're faced with the stark reality that is an empty room, you start questioning your sanity.  And then you start wondering how different your life would be if you had taken that job at the publishing company / investment firm / fast food restaurant.  Because in that moment, flipping burgers seems  just about right.  Sure, teaching is all noble and whatever, but they don't tell you about Fright Night in the Empty Classroom in credentialing school, do they?  Instead, they show you movies like Mr. Holland's Opus and make you feel all warm and fuzzy and self-congratulatory inside.

The good news is, you can get the warm fuzzies back again.  One step at a time.  Here are some tips to get you back on the right track.

1.    Enlist help.  Coworkers, family members, people you just met on the street. (Okay, maybe not that last one!)  It doesn't really matter.  But you need someone in that room with you, if for nothing more than to pass you the Kleenex when you break down for the sixteenth time.  And if you can get a teacher, so much the better.  The experienced ones have tips that can help you speed the process up a bit.


2.     Focus on one thing at a time.  It's trite, but true. It takes a while to design a classroom.  Those Pinterest teachers didn't get that way overnight, trust me.  If you focus on too much, you're going to get overwhelmed.  And no one wants that.  Make a list if that helps you, but only worry about one thing at a time.  And don't get all ADD in there, either.  You'll get a lot more accomplished if you don't bounce around from job to job.   (I had to learn that one the hard way!)


3.     Clean the room.   This time around, I lucked out.  The vacating teacher did a really good job of dusting the insides of cabinets and removing extra staples from the wall.   You wouldn't think those things matter, but there's nothing worse than trying to hang up bulletin board paper and have a loose staple poke a hole in your creation.  At our school, our amazing custodial staff does a crazy good job of getting the rooms ready, but there are things they just don't have time for.


4.      Figure out your furniture.  Do you have enough student desks and chairs?  How much storage space do you have?  If you are planning on using an easel, is there one available?  Will you need cubbies?  How about a teacher desk?  Will there be enough bookshelves?  Every teacher has different ideas for what she'll use in her classroom, and what works for one may not work for another.  But those are some of the questions you may need to ask yourself.

And if you don't have what you need, (politely) ask your custodian or administration what is available to you.  Sometimes there are items in storage, or another teacher has something he doesn't want that can be moved to your room.  You'll never know unless you ask!


5.     Organize!   I've found that it doesn't matter how well I think I've organized my room, by the end of the year I have to redo it.  The trouble is, you really won't know what works best in your classroom until you've lived in it for a while.  What seems good in your mind might not work as well after you've had students in the room.

But you have to start somewhere, and I suggest doing it straight away.  At the very least, it will help you speed up the process of getting the room student-ready.  I like to have sections for teacher's editions and resources, student books and supplies, art supplies, etc.  Only you know what you've got - but grouping like items together and having a set place for them is extremely helpful.


6.     Plan your space.  And while you're doing all this organizing, you may want to start thinking about how you're going to use the space in your room.  What bulletin boards will you put up?  Where will your class library be?  If you've got a rug space, where will you put it?  And here's where you can use those Pinterest ideas.  If you've got an image in your mind of what your ideal room will look like, it's going to make the grunt work more bearable.  


So, this is where I'm currently finding myself in my new classroom.  I've still got a long way to go, but these 6 steps have made me feel like I've got a handle on things.  It might even prevent those nightmares about the first day of school when the students walk into a room that has absolutely nothing in it.

I hope so, anyway!

If there's anything you think I missed, please feel free to post in the comments below!

For next week's post, I'll be taking a trip to the not-so-local teacher store and write about some cost-saving measures.