Organize Your Classroom for Maximum Efficiency
There's an important preplanning tool that you'll want to retrieve from your classroom-management toolkit — the skill of effectively organizing your beautiful little realm, otherwise known as your classroom. After all, you're the one who'll be teaching, grading papers, and lesson planning in your classroom for six to eight hours a day (or more), so organize your room so that it's comfortable for you, as well as for your students.
To create a classroom where you can enjoy teaching and students can enjoy learning, start with your desk. Some teachers like to put it right up front so they can directly monitor every student face to face. The advantage of this arrangement is that all eyes must ostensibly be on you, and if they're not, you'll notice instantly. Many teachers insist that this desk arrangement is the best because it increases student attention and decreases student talking and horseplaying.
However, many other teachers put their desk in the rear or on the side based on the theory that if you discreetly monitor students while they're working, they never know whether you're watching or not. Thus, they'll think to themselves, “I'd better behave.” Consider the question of desk position carefully and decide what's best for you.
Be cautious about trying to move heavy furniture, like a classroom desk, by yourself. Such exertions can cause a painful lower-back injury if you don't have the training, strength, experience, or equipment to move heavy items properly. By all means, let the custodian or other trained personnel do it.
Also, you'll need to order a couple of two-drawer file cabinets from the office or purchase them yourself. You'll use one file cabinet to keep student dossiers, those information folders that you maintain for every student. You'll use the other file cabinet for miscellaneous forms and papers.
As for your desktop, keep several large trays to hold your students' collected work until it can be graded, recorded, and filed — and don't let the work pile up. Grade it promptly or you'll find it rising high enough to topple over and bury you.
Also keep several trays on your desktop that are well stocked with frequently requested student supplies, such as paper, black or blue pens, sharpened pencils, erasers, rulers, tape, safety pins, paper clips, etc. Close to your desk, keep one classroom computer for record keeping such as attendance taking, recording grades, planning lessons, e-mailing, Internet research, etc.
Make sure to set aside an area somewhere in the classroom for student portfolios — a set of file folders, one for each student, arranged alphabetically by students' last names, to hold graded and recorded work. Students, parents, and administrators can use these portfolios to view students' work.
In fact, some schools require teachers to maintain portfolios as official documents, which are then sent to the next grade level. Your students will also enjoy looking through their own portfolios, when time permits.
You can access numerous websites that will provide you with tables and charts for grading, such as Forms and Testing, Mrs. Perkins, First Grade.
If possible, not far from your desk you should find a wheeled, lockable, upright cupboard. If you don't see this invaluable piece of furniture, courteously request it from your principal. Keep it stocked with district-supplied materials such as construction paper, oak tag, crayons, colored pencils, scissors, tape, staples, paper clips, etc.
Your classroom should also have a few engaging learning centers, consisting of a table and some chairs where students can engage in self-directed educational enrichment, using the supplemental books, audio-visual equipment, or other materials you've provided.
One of the most popular learning centers is a Reading Center, also called a Classroom Library. Roll out a nice rug, throw down some sofa pillows and beanbag chairs, move in a bookcase crammed with grade-appropriate books, and your Reading Center will become an instant hit. Here are a few more ideas for great learning centers:
A Listening Center with a CD player and several grade-appropriate story CDs
A Writing Center with paper, dictionaries, thesauri, and laminated pictures to jog creativity
A Research Center with paper, encyclopedias, almanacs, and other reference books
An Art Center with construction paper, crayons, glue, and other art supplies
A Computer Center, where students can access FunBrain and other appropriate websites
Another great instructional space is a large Classroom Meeting Area, where you and your students can sit on the carpet or gather in chairs and resolve problems or discuss topics of interest when necessary. Say that a frightening event occurs at your school, such as an incident involving violence — use your meeting area to discuss the situation and help calm your students. If the class is having trouble resolving a moral issue, use your meeting area to discuss it. You may not have a lot of space or time, but if you have a bit of both, use your meeting area to help students resolve problems in a responsible manner.
Your classroom bulletin boards are important, too, because they serve three purposes: (1) they provide lively and appropriate decoration for your room; (2) they provide timely information your students need; and (3) they provide a showcase for your students' magnificent schoolwork.
Limit the decoration to posters and charts that inform and motivate. Limit the information to up-to-date postings, including large charts displaying your classroom rules, and all applicable state standards for your grade level. Finally, keep the schoolwork current, changing the kids' papers at least once a month.
A particular type of bulletin board called a Word Wall is a wonderful classroom display that helps kids get excited about learning words. There are different types of Word Walls, but a popular one employs sentence strips for posting useful vocabulary words.
During writing assignments, when a student asks how to spell a word, write the word on a sentence strip, then have the student look up the word in a dictionary and write the definition neatly on the sentence strip. Post enough of these strips on the Word Wall and you'll have an impressive student-created writing resource. The students can use the Word Wall as they write, and visitors will admire the amount of work required to create such a beautiful and practical display.
Will I need to spend hundreds of dollars stocking my own supplies?
Try ordering supplies from the front office first. Most schools have a form or an e-mail procedure for getting supplies. With luck, you should be able to obtain what you and your students need, as long as you don't request too much too quickly.
Finally, here is a checklist of details to make your classroom nearly perfect:
Make copies of your college degrees, your state teaching credential, and any academic awards you've earned — whiting-out details you don't want the kids to know — and display these materials near your desk. The kids will enjoy seeing the evidence of your accomplishments and may be inspired to accomplish something themselves.
Use curtains to partially cover any of your classroom windows that face a hallway. Position the curtains so they're about halfway up, so that administrators can see into your classroom as they walk by.
Place as many labels and signs around the classroom as necessary. Label everything for younger kids, including signs that say “Pencil Sharpener,” “Sink,” “Cubbies,” “Coat Hooks,” and so on. For older kids, learning-center signs are usually sufficient.
Make sure the American flag is placed near the front of the room for the daily flag salute. Keep a poster with the text of the Pledge of Allegiance near the flag.
Consider the soothing power of houseplants placed around the classroom. They purify the air and add natural beauty to the room environment.
Organize your room before your students arrive and your classroom management will be far more effective than if you wait until the last possible second. As special-education teachers John Beattie and LuAnn Jordan note in their book Making Inclusion Work: Effective Practices for All Teachers: “Efficient classroom organization reflects a mature, ‘together’ teacher, and these qualities are highly attractive, no matter how long (or how little) you have been teaching.” Be wise, and organize.