Part One: Facing an Empty Room
They don’t prepare you for this in college: the moment you see the bare-bones, institutional box that you are expected to transform into an inviting classroom…in two or three days.
Oh, and the district is “supporting” you with new-teacher induction programs during those same days, so you’ll be attending lots of meetings.
Setting up the classroom will have to be done during evenings and on the weekend—if you have a weekend between the time you get hired and the first day of school. Here are some tips for first year teachers and transferred teachers.
Step One: Assess the situation. Request the room be cleaned if it isn’t already. Request furniture you may need. For example, do you have enough student desks? Chairs? Do you have a table for reading groups? Enough bookshelves? A teacher desk?
Are the student desks all the same height, or are they a mish-mash? You can ask for school custodial staff to adjust the desks for you. They should be able to help. If necessary, you can adjust them all yourself—or, to get started, put like-sized desks together in tables.
Step Two: Clear the room. Often, the teacher before you has left weird little things, claiming they might be “useful.” Chances are, you just don’t need this excess stuff. I’m talking about those student worksheet packets that MIGHT be useful in November, if you can even remember where you put them, knick knacks, 30 year old posters, strange office desk accessories.
Just clear that junk out. Put it in the hallway, in trash cans if you can, but it’s not necessary. The custodians will clear it away.
Step Three: Arrange the furniture and desks. Map this out on the whiteboard if you can, and use a measuring tape on the room and furniture so you get a rough idea of if your plan will work. You don’t want to shove desks around, then find out there wasn’t room for your design.
Nowadays, it is more common to make tables than to arrange the desks in rows. I find that tables of four to six desks are good, and so are long tables of desks down each side of the room. Whatever arrangement you decide, test it for livability. Do student chairs back into each other? Is a student sitting right in the flow of traffic to cubbies or the bookshelf?
Visit ClassroomDeskArrangement.com for ideas on setting up desks. Don’t get too fancy your first year. Take a look at the picture here—my all-time favorite desk arrangement that I used for years. It’s a variation on a nice horseshoe shape, but the horseshoe is made from tables of four.
Your teacher desk DOES NOT need prominent placement. You won’t be able to work at your desk during the school day because you will be too busy with students. Arrange the important things, like the reading group table and bookshelves, and put the desk in as unobtrusive a spot as you can. Up against the wall is often a good spot. That way, more of the classroom is available for the kids.
Procuring furniture, clearing the room and setting up desks could take you a full day…or two. Enlist helpers, if you can. Regularly assess your progress, and adjust if need be. Your goal must be to have the classroom ready for students and you must be ready to teach your students. Keep that in mind and don’t be tempted to stray into projects that don’t require immediate attention.