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Congratulations! After years of coursework and teacher training, you finally get to set up shop. You are ready, willing and able, and you are definitely in your element.

So where do you begin? Are their guidelines to follow or do you have free reign? Check with the principal first to find out. Is it just a matter or rearranging existing furniture and equipment, or are you lucky enough to be able to pick some new things of your own? No matter your budget or the size of your classroom, here are some basic tips to help you get up and running.

A classroom should be attractive, inviting, organized, functional, and most of all student-centered. Whatever the age of your students-whether first graders or high school freshmen-the room should be age-appropriate, comfortable, and feel like it's theirs.

It should also reflect your own personality, creativity, and philosophy on teaching. Make it your own, whether or not you want to consider it home away from home. Hang some artwork that makes you happy; don't be afraid to display a little bit of personal style. Your room should inspire your students to learn, but always remember that it should also inspire you.

The important thing is to have a plan and to leave plenty of time to get ready before the first day of school.

Furniture and Room Design

The days of desks in tidy rows are pretty much out. Inventive configurations are pretty much up to you. Experiment and see what works best. Pay attention to visibility (can you see each student and can they see you?) as well as distractibility (are individual seats too close to one another? too close to group work areas?) The dynamics of your classroom will be different each year with different sets of students. Try different desk arrangements-such as clusters of four, one large horseshoe-to see what works best.

Speaking of desks, don't forget to leave enough space for your own. Today's teachers tend to be more accessible than in the past, and often play the role of facilitator and discussion moderator, rather than traditional lecturer. Nonetheless, you will need ample space in order to keep all your papers and materials organized, and to keep your cool.

Desks will definitely take up the largest amount of space, so keep that in mind when making room for other necessities, like a large table or two for group projects and presentations. Figure out how many learning centers you'd like, so you can be sure to carve out room.

Also be sure you need all the things you think you need. Remember to leave plenty of room and flexibility for bodies to move around without feeling cramped.

Plot out different layouts on paper before moving heavy furniture. It will save you time and save your back. Keep traffic flow in consideration. Where is the pencil sharpener? Which door do students use to exit to use the bathroom? Where are the computers? Are materials and supplies kept in an easily accessible area?

Think of all the ways the room will be used. Will you have to rearrange furniture every time they do large group projects or presentations? Do you have a data projector, or might you be sharing or borrowing one?

Along with making sure the room is suitably organized, professional, comfortable, uncluttered and easy to navigate, remember that the ultimate goal is for the room itself to support and facilitate the educational goals you have for the class..

Don't try to figure it all out on your own. Find helpful tips from professionals, including sample classroom floor plans, in the Survival Toolkit.

Labeling Items

Label, label, label. Labels are your friends. They help young students learning to read and they help older students learning how to organize themselves. They help teachers and students remember where to put things away. So get your hands on a label maker (or print some using your computer) and label away!

Wall and Shelf Space

Once you've figured out the furniture, focus on the walls. They'll be completely covered in no time, so think things through to make sure you leave space for what's most important to you. These may include:

  • Wall calendars
  • Wall charts (classroom jobs, etc)
  • Classroom rules
  • Weather charts
  • Maps
  • Vocabulary words
  • Spelling words
  • Alphabet and Sight words
  • Vertical files for student work


Make sure to leave room on shelves for permanent fixtures that students will use or interact with on a daily basis. These should be placed in easy-to-access areas:

  • Thermometer, rain gauge, etc
  • Globe
  • Class pet
  • Recycled paper

Classroom Library

In addition to your school library, a small classroom library of your own can be a splendid thing. No room? Make that a tiny library. Okay, a reading corner-a cozy place with nothing but a small shelf and a chair or pillow for reading quietly.

Students can take turns being librarian for a day or a week, tidying books, dusting, picking a theme for a book display. A dedicated reading area is a wonderful way to hook students into reading for pleasure. Studies show this is one of the best ways to build literacy skills, particularly a strong vocabulary, and to foster a love of learning throughout one's life.

Organizational Tools

Organization is the key to success in any classroom. Everything should have its place-a sensible, logical place-so that students and teachers know where to find it and where to put it away.

This issue is a biggie-right up there with classroom management. New teachers report being overwhelmed by the volume of paperwork and the number of details they need to track. Until the paperless classroom of the future becomes a reality, you'll have to develop systems to tame the beast.

A large box of letter or legal size file folders is a good start. Before school begins, make a folder for every student. That way, when emergency contact forms and others are passed in, you'll know right where to put them.

Then, make folders for every kind of form and checklist you can possibly think of - things like attendance forms that are used throughout the year. Every time you get a new type of form, make a new folder. Repeat this new-teacher mantra: A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Make sure you have one file cabinet with a lock and key. Store important or confidential forms and records here, such as student IEPs, notes from parent meetings, discipline records, etc.

See the Tools for Teachers section of Tech Integration 101 for ways to use more sophisticated technology to keep yourself and your classroom in ship shape.

Bulletin Boards and Beyond

Whether your style is more feng shui or Ms. Frizzle, there are some basic rules of thumb when it comes to classroom d�cor. You want color and pizzazz to keep things visually interesting. You also need to display important information, such as schedules, calendars, class jobs and class rules. The bulletin board can easily serve both purposes.

Start with aesthetics. Although it's easy to find ready-made borders, cut-outs and other decorations for bulletin boards in catalogs or on the web, the best resource is right under your nose: Students love to make and display decorations in the classroom. Enlist their help and make it a student-driven endeavor. They'll feel invested in the process and in the final product. And the classroom will truly look like it's their own.

Seasons and holiday themes are fine, especially for younger students, but why not opt for something fresh and different? Tie bulletin board artwork into age-appropriate current events or the current curriculum so it serves as an instructional tool as well.

Finally, make space on the board to display student work-such as essays, artwork, or poetry-as well as photos, self-portraits or creative nametags of all the students themselves. No matter the age group, it's important for all kids to feel like they belong.

Look in the Survival Toolkit for more ideas.

Creative Learning Centers

Design learning centers to reflect the classroom curriculum, in inviting and inventive ways. Change displays frequently, so there's a steady stream of new and unexpected things to catch students' attention. You don't have to spend money; found objects like unusually shaped rocks are often the most intriguing.

Much of decisions here depend on the age of your students: Kindergarten classrooms may contain centers for science, phonics and math, as well as a drama center with a puppet theater or a housekeeping corner with a kitchen. Middle school classrooms may have centers focused on current events or the environment.

Don't worry if you don't have enough room for multiple learning centers. Coordinate with other teachers to arrange visits to centers in each other's classrooms. Or put your heads together to fashion some portable learning centers on wheels.

See the Survival Toolkit for more ideas.

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