Classroom Makeover


Several times throughout the summer, I started hauling in books and supplies from home into my classroom. I took some time clearing through some old papers and files. But I never really got around to cleaning my room properly. Here’s what my room looked like at the end of August:

If I learned anything from Blink, it’s that first impressions make a huge impact. And the first things students notice is your room. Blink actually cites a study where people accurately made judgments about the personality of strangers based a quick look-through of their dorm rooms.

My reformed room after the jump…

What should a classroom convey? I think you should design your classroom to convey your own values as a teacher. I pack my bookshelf to the hilt — well, because I have a lot of books and my wife demanded I clear some space at home — but also because I want to stress how seriously and passionately I take my discipline. I love literature, and I think it’s important.


The bookshelf is probably the most striking feature of my classroom. I try to keep it whimsical by putting in front of the books assorted knickknacks that I’ve collected, including a prized Napoleon Dynamite talking doll that I bought at a Northern Liberties Music Festival (yay flea markets!). You’ll notice a hulking black shape at the top shelf is a vintage Royal typewriter that I picked out of someone’s curbside garbage, and not pictured is a portable Hermes Rocket typewriter I just bought at a church flea market in South Philly.


Posters. Always a problem. Most classroom posters fall into the categories of 1) educational or 2) inspirational. As far as most students are concerned, they are white noise. They are decorational tropes that can be ignored. Not only are they inconsequential, they send the message that one doesn’t care much about presentation or design. If I care about presentation or design in my students’ work I have model it. I’m always struggling to find ways to cover wide swaths of wall space in less generic ways. Here are my tips:

  • Get posters from unexpected sources. I never buy posters from teacher stores or use the ones that get delivered from educational publishers. I suppose I might make an exception for a poster that makes a strong visual impact, but even then I might alter it some way — perhaps by cutting out a portion of the image and using as part of a collage. The posters I have used come from Veer, a stock photo and font company, and Wired magazine. Antonio, the Spanish teacher who shares the classroom with me, writes to the tourism bureaus of foreign countries for maps and promotional posters.
  • Add, alter, craft. Notice above I took a large framed poster from Ikea. It’s a wonderful, powerful photograph that speaks volumes without being didactic. I couldn’t leave it alone, though, and took a sharpie to write in a lengthy quote about maritime courage that wrapped around the image. Hopefully the effect was more intrigue and less cheese.
  • Always be on the lookout to repurpose schwag and other freebies. Whenever I’m at a coffee house or art gallery, I always look out for the free postcards that advertise cultural events and exhibitions. I take the ones that appeal to me visually and archive them in the hopes of using them someway somehow later on. I also keep a rat’s nest of stickers — from bands, from marketing schwag, from 10-year-olds.
  • Make it meaningful. Look for things that tie in to the major themes of your class. The World of Experience map was perfect for both 7th and 8th grade, so I planned to rasterbate it to dominate the room — but I’m still working out the kinks on that.
  • Music not Muzak. Put some care and creativity into it. I am, by no stretch of the imagination, an artist, but I try my best to shoot, if not for beautiful, then for interesting. Concentrate on a few strong design elements, and add little details. Stay with simple compositions. Don’t overwhelm with clutter, unless you’re confident you can pull it off. Simple, clean is best.


One of the English teachers who, unfortunately, is no longer with us this year, always left a space for students to write or draw random stuff. I’m stealing his idea for this year.


I have a black thumb, but when I saw the bamboo and underwater plant on my way out of Ikea, I couldn’t resist. I’ve always wanted some natural pieces inside my class, but I was always afraid to have them.


BTW, the cattails were picked up as a bundle from the remaindered section at Ikea, and the willow branches — I don’t know where they came from. They just showed up on my desk one day last year.


I cluttered my wall space with student work last year, and it was a bit of a mess. It’s hard to be absolutely fair and only show a few pieces, so I always tried to err on showing as many pieces as I could tack up. I might stay away from that this year, unless it comes to putting up stuff in the bulletin boards outside my classroom.


I’ve had this rug since college and it fit with the 7th grade geography theme, so I thought it would be a good idea to tack it up. It’s kind of drab right now — it needs a little je ne sais quoi.

As I mentioned before, there’s also a map of life experiences that I planned to blow up and feature as a strong visual statement to the class. Unfortunately, I’m still working on getting it to print out. One of these days.


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