Classroom: 10 Tricks That Keep Me Sane

Classroom. noun. A place of learning (I hope!) and where I spend a large portion of my life.

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Welcome to my classroom!

Confession: I’m a novice teacher, with an entire half a year of experience under my belt. I’m not sure you should take my advice.

But… I’m willing to risk it. I love seeing what other teacher’s classrooms look like, especially if they aren’t Pinterest perfect. My room sure isn’t – attainable (definition: so easy a beginner could come up with it after an hour of Internet searching) is more my style. And my very attainable set-up and organization this year have worked well – I’m happy, at least, and the students haven’t complained. So, without further ado, here are 10 things that are streamlining our lives in ELA 7 and preventing me from going crazy.

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1. Lamps and extra lighting. Oh, the horrors of overhead florescent lights. I had to turn them on to take photos, but when kids are in the room, we have only one of three light switches flipped. Two lamps and Christmas lights brighten things up and keep the room cozy. I have not once regretted spending $14 on lighting.

2. Numbered desks. Student desks are arranged in pods.  Each desk in each group has a number that’s written on the corner in Sharpie paint pen. I can tell #2s to turn in their pod’s work or #4s to record answers for group discussions. It’s makes everyone feel like they’re getting a fair deal and streamlines classroom procedures. (In theory) the paint pen comes off easily at the end of the year. I am so glad I overheard a teacher in the lounge talking about this strategy last year, because I LOVE it.

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3. The supply shelves. Note the basic “I ran out of ideas for bulletin boards, so here’s a poster,” weekly agenda, and instructional posters in this photo as well. Having all supplies that students can use centralized on these shelves simplifies everything. The boxes hold students’ journals, our class set of whiteboards, and copies of logic puzzles that students are allowed to work on when they’ve finished assignments. The drawers hold index cards, extra loose-leaf paper, construction paper, whiteboard markers, and clipboards. They might get labels…by December…maybe.

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4. Supply buckets. Each group of desks has its own bucket of colored pencils. Goodbye broken pencils strewn across the floor! Highlighters used to be included in the buckets, but did you know you can build a tower of highlighers while listening to an audio recording? And all your friends will catch on? And then the highlighters will earn their own bucket because your teacher isn’t an idiot?

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5. Our very very loose Adventure theme. I have some things from my own travels around my desk, but these posters are the decoration “focal point.” Applying that term is a stretch. Please don’t look too closely at the slapdash (but free!) “frame” of black chart paper, attached to the poster with sticky tack, then stuck to the wall with magnets. I do love this theme, and these posters, though, and that’s what counts.

rules.jpg 5. The inherited in/out boxes. Piles all over my desk stress me out, and this tower keeps all those assignments organized and out of sight. The trays at the bottom hold extra materials. Students get to dig through the drawer when they’ve lost something.

Other stuff: The white milk crate on the floor is our lost and found. The magazine holder has book reviews, which students fill out and tape into their journal every time they finish a book. In theory, the black tray on the table is for absent work. This is a nice concept, but I am atrocious at updating it. I have, at least, been keeping a paper copy of attendance. Seeing who was gone for what assignment is now SO MUCH easier. I’ll be honest, I haven’t had to strongly enforce those classroom rules laid out on the poster yet. However, I can sense that the time is coming. Soon.

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6. All the paper organization on ye ol’ desk. I am high maintenance about order.

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A very recent update: binders with resources and materials go right behind my desk. Easy access (i.e. not having to get out of my chair) means I actually look at them – and, on good days, file stuff in them.

papers.JPG The giant mail organizer is partly organized by day of the week for each of my preps – see fancy masking tape labels. It has worked wonders. The rest of it holds random stuff that I need on hand but haven’t found a great way to organize yet. I hate filing, so the upright organizer accumulates things that I’ve collected for each class period and materials that need to go into my unit binders. The expanding file folder is golden for transporting grading home – I try not to do it too often, but it happens.

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7. A clean desk. (This is not clean.) During the day my desk mostly looks…worse than this.  I am, however, enough of a weirdo that I clean it off every single afternoon before I leave. Things that help: I’m attempting to put my copies of answer keys and such and all handouts for the day into the stand-up organizer so I don’t set them down randomly/have to give kids a marginally content-related discussion question while I go on a mad hunt. It works better the more I do it. That purple binder has class lists in page protectors for easy note-taking. I keep class lists and weekly attendance sheets on a clipboard, which is buried in this photo. Taking out a binder each hour is legitimately too much work.

8. The cup of #2 pencils is for students to use. (See metal cup and purple/white sign in above photo.) They have to leave a phone/iPad or shoe as ransom so they don’t forget to return the pencil. This cup is nearly full a month in, so I’d say it’s working!

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9. The cell phone sign. Red = no phones, yellow = headphones allowed, and green = phones allowed for academic reasons. The signs are stuck to the front whiteboard with a magnet. Students take them very seriously and remind me to change them if I forget.

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10. Book recommendations.  I put bored students in my homeroom to work making this poster of books I’ve read recently and would recommend. It helps me think of recommendations, and I’ve already heard students discussing the merits of the books on it. I’ll add to it as I read more. This idea was borrowed from other awesome teachers on my team.

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Things I gave up on: Keeping track of every book in my classroom library. Alphabetizing the classroom library. Basically, the classroom library. Perfectly backing every learning target sign with coordinating construction paper and laminating them. (Taking advantage of bored students during advisory is worth messy posters.) Keeping those pods at perfect angles.

Things I’ll continue: Keeping a secret chocolate stash. Making kids pick their paper scraps off the floor. Trying new things. Creating a place where students can learn and grow.

 

What am I missing? What are YOUR best classroom tips?

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