FYI: This post isn’t sponsored, but I did receive free wrapping paper from Spoonflower in exchange for sharing photos of my finished project. Links are not affiliate, and all opinions are my own. 🙂
Last spring, I started following a couple of great English teachers on Instagram, which led me to a couple more, and a couple more after that, and before I knew it, my feed was covered in beautiful photos of well-dressed teachers, inspirational quotes, awesome lesson ideas, and amazing classrooms full of flexible seating arrangements. It seems kind-of trite, but all these new Instagram friends really did give me a new energy and excitement about teaching that I hadn’t had in a while… They have motivated me to read more, try new things, and take some risks in my classes. (I was even inspired to share more of my own ideas on my Instagram, which has been fun and rewarding.)
I finished last school year determined to make this one one of the very best, and the first item on my agenda was a (mini) classroom re-decoration… While I got some fun new yellow chairs a few years ago and have made some minor layout changes along the way, my classroom “theme” was originally chosen because I had leftover decorations from Sam’s first birthday party the year before I started here (he’s SEVEN now), and – though I’m a little embarrassed to admit this – I haven’t so much as bothered to take my bulletin boards down from year to year since. My room has always been “cute” and organized, but it definitely needed a refresher.
It’s worth saying that I don’t think classroom decoration is the most important thing – not by a long shot. In the last six years, I’ve switched from part-time to full-time, learned two new preps, taught several online classes, had a baby, taken a pre-doctoral class at a local college, had a child start school, taken out new administrative responsibilities at my current position, etc. etc. etc. There have been good excuses for not prioritizing my classroom, but I was finally in a place where decorating and re-designing felt fun and energizing to me, instead of exhausting, so I went with it…
Originally inspired by this post by Amanda from Building Book Love, I immediately contacted Spoonflower to see if they’d be willing to send me some of their beautiful book wrapping paper to use on my bulletin boards, and when they said yes (!!!), I got to work planning everything else around the colors and style of that paper… I spent my summer researching flexible seating arrangements, browsing Craigslist, and making pleas on Facebook for free furniture (true story… and, it worked).
I wanted my classroom to be organized and calm, but still colorful and fun. (A lot of the “inspiration” rooms I found were very neutral, which I felt like just wouldn’t work in my 1970s-era building without the capital or energy to paint/install flooring/etc.) I also knew I wanted to incorporate a sofa in my classroom where students could sit to read, listen to lectures, etc. and at least one other comfy seating option (there’s a great post about the benefits of flexible seating here), but I still wanted/needed all of my yellow chairs and my big tables for group work etc. And, finally, I decided that my students would appreciate a place that didn’t feel quite so “school-ish,” so I tried to stay away from too many kitschy teacher/classroom things and went for a space that more closely resembled my own house or – at the very least – an imaginary college dorm I’d decorate if I could today.
My vision all along was that my classroom would be a refuge for the teenagers that come in it every day. That it would be a place where they WANT to hang out, and where they feel at home… What I never imagined though, was how much of a comfort this space would become to ME and how therapeutic the re-decorating process would be for me when I returned to school in August – just eight days after losing my brother-in-law and still very, very sad…
At the risk of turning a classroom tour blog post into something sad, I have to tell you that decorating this classroom became a welcome distraction during that first week back. I wandered Walmart and TJ Maxx looking for just the right accessories and lights; and, in the quiet afternoons, my mom and sister would sneak in from the back door and help hang paper on my boards, laminate posters, and straighten tables. It gave all of us something to do that didn’t feel as heavy as everything else did then. In so many ways, it was a labor of love.
The final result has been exactly what I’d hoped it would be. The room feels vibrant and happy (and, really, who doesn’t need a happy-feeling space in their life these days?!?!) My students ADORE my new seating area and decoration. (At Back-to-School Night, one girl told me it was “totally lit,” which I’m pretty sure is NOT a reference to my content area. 😉 ) They love sitting on the couch for independent work time (no, they really don’t argue about it and seem to do a pretty good job sharing with very little regulation from me), and it really does make things like class discussions/ Socratic Seminars feel more intimate. They hang out in here during their breaks; and, in general, the whole vibe of the classroom feels more light and casual. I realize that might not be the ideal feeling for everyone, but it’s just perfect here…
Of course, all that said, it’s still just an ordinary old (VERY old) classroom. My walls are cinderblock, my lights are fluorescent, and my floors never really look clean. There are cords everywhere and my book shelves are mis-matched. The air conditioning only works 40% of the time, and there is a mouse trap in one corner of the room. (I try not to think about that very much.)
When I first saw the photos my sweet friend Trent took for me (coming up, I promise), I was disappointed that my room didn’t magically transform into something straight out of a magazine/Pinterest… But, ultimately, I decided that they were still worth sharing because they are REAL. This is a REAL classroom, of a REAL teacher who still needs to be able to seat all 29 students at any given time, had a VERY limited budget (I spent about $150 total – sources are at the bottom of the post), and did NOT spend weeks and weeks over the summer working at school (once I had everything I “needed,” the whole design took about 2 work days – with some help).
My classroom is not perfect. It is not even “finished,” but I’m proud of it. I hope you enjoy and feel inspired to make your own “home away from home” comfortable and cute no matter what you have to work with!
Isn’t that the truth?!?!