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  • Writer's pictureDonna Gerard

A TEACHER'S ENVIRONMENT

Updated: Oct 6, 2023


If you are one of those teachers who have your own classroom, and if you have a flair for decorating, you are going to spend some time in decorative heaven. Whether you want your classroom to be movie themed, laid back country farmhouse, or look like a literal jungle, knock yourself out. In my own classroom, I always went for the “Maria Montessori” look with open shelves and materials easily available to students. In all honesty, I always missed the mark because my rooms were always very full of students so there was rarely any of the open workspace Montessori would have called for.


My favorite rooms (by other teachers) were the ones with fairy lights that gave off a calm, relaxing vibe. If I were a student, I would be able to do some serious imagining over a Chromebook in that atmosphere. As a science teacher, my look was more industrial and conducive to finding space to hold the infinity of STEM materials, art supplies for design projects, a plethora of test tubes and beakers, and a Van der Graf generator.


Part of classroom design is always leaving space for students to showcase their own masterpieces. Those works of art may be a class mural illustrating the meanings of vocabulary words, bar graphs showing how many of each color is in a bag of M&Ms, essays with or without accompanying artwork, or a gallery of students’ best personal artwork, math tests, or photos of their science projects.


A tip from someone who’s been there: TAPE. You will need more tape than you can imagine- Scotch tape, masking tape, and even duct tape when you’re in desperation. No matter how beautifully you display your students’ work, the next time you walk by, a couple of papers will be on the floor. You will rehang them. Next morning, half of them will be down. You will fix them. By the end of the day the other half will have fallen. Any glitter or pom poms attached to the work will be irretrievably scattered across the school. When my students made clay models of atoms for every element on the periodic table, I ended up mounting ropes and using clothespins to attach the work. Do whatever you need to do. Just be exceedingly cautious and slow to remove the work later, lest the paint come off the wall. In case of emergency, have the next project ready to mount to hide the evidence.


One of the most important aspects of teaching is seating. I have found that different configurations of students each have their own pros and cons.

Rows: Students sit one behind the other with space in between students.

Pros:

  • Everyone is facing toward the board when a whole group lesson is taught.

  • Distance between students discourages conversation (in theory).

  • Students who thrive on working alone are happy not having a partner.

  • If you want students to work alone, like on a test, this is a great arrangement.

Cons: Collaboration between students necessitates moving desks.

  • Students who need a buddy are not happy being alone.

  • The space between students makes it harder to share supplies.

Pairs: Students sit in rows, but pairs of rows are adjacent to each other.

Pros:

  • It allows two students to collaborate.

  • It makes sharing supplies easier.

  • Students who need a buddy are happy (in theory).

Cons:

  • There may be more talking during lessons.

  • It’s easy for students to copy when you don’t want them to.

  • Students may not like their partner and you will hear about it.

  • Some students will not become independent learners if they depend too much on their buddy.

Groups: Students are arranged in groups of your design, in 3’s, 4’s, 5’s or more.

Pros:

  • This allows students to easily complete labs, games, and group projects.

  • Supplies can easily be shared, and fewer supplies are needed.

  • Students can really collaborate (in theory).

  • Some students will really thrive in this configuration.

Cons:

  • During lessons, some students will have their back to wherever you are standing.

  • There will be more talking and more noise.

  • It is easy for some students to sit back and let others do the work.

  • The more students in a group, the more conflict is possible.

  • Some students, especially the smart, self-reliant, grade-conscious ones, may get impatient with students who they perceive as slackers. They will do all the work so they can ensure a good grade. They might be right.

  • The students perceived as slackers will get mad that the smart ones are being bossy. They too might be right.

  • Some students will become frustrated in this configuration.

It’s hard to pick a seating arrangement. Your choice might be dependent on school policy, your subject, or the personality of your class. You might be required to have groups in your school while in other schools rows might be the norm. You might have to bow to space constraints. Rows take up more room than groups. But groups might cut down on space to move around the room. I have taught classes that got along famously and could use groups easily. I’ve also had classes that hated each other and couldn’t get along no matter who sat with who. They actually begged me to just let them sit in rows. Go figure!


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