I have been in my current building for three years. I have moved rooms four times. You do the math. It is a pretty regular occurrence for a teacher to have to move rooms for a variety of reasons: a change in grade level, to cluster grade levels together, another teacher’s retirement and vacating of a room, enrollment adjustments. Soooo many reasons to move.
Since my teaching experience has been eclectic, I have collected (and purged) a LOT of materials and supplies. I think my shortcoming is that I never want to put out the hard, cold cash for durable plastic containers. I use hand-me-down tupperware or cheap containers from Target and they routinely disintegrate under the strain of storage. Because I don’t really curate the stuff I put in them either. There is no logic in my methods.
“Tess! Where do you want this container with counting bears and paper clips to go?”
Math manipulatives or office supplies?
You get the idea.
I am always daunted by bare walls. This year I have two bulletin boards mocking my lack of creativity right off the bat. I have some art (?) that has followed me from room to room, but I like to put that right by my desk. The bulletin boards are supposed to INSPIRE students. So much pressure. I consider myself personally inspiring but my bulletin board design skills are questionable. I usually cop out and buy a matching set of something unobjectionable and generically school-ey. It seems to work and is pretty low stress. And then I resign myself to walking past other teacher’s bulletin boards and having a pang of insecurity. Also, since I am a resource teacher, I rarely have time to sponsor an art project that can serve as my classroom decor. So what to do?
My daughter is also a 4th grade teacher in an urban charter school. She hurtled toward the first day of school feeling similar insecurities about her classroom decor. She had a short time to get ready and was asking my opinion on what she should include on her walls. Still deeply in summer mode at that point, I was at a loss. Then I had a thought.
To my daughter I said “Take a sheet of colorful butcher paper and tack it on the wall. Invite students to choose a space and write (with words or drawings) their hopes for the coming year. Encourage positivity but make room for honesty. “ Since my daughter was also hosting a parent night, I suggested that she invite parents to do the same. She might end up learning a lot.
And I had an epiphany of sorts.
It is admirable and laudable to have delightfully decorated walls in your classroom. Some teachers just have the Pinterest gene and thrive on that sort of thing and I love to view their creations and enjoy them with everyone else. I know that this is not my gift and I am at peace with that truth most of the time. But what if? What if you put a sheet of paper up for each month of the school year and watch the hopes and dreams unfold? What if that student who needed you to write their name for them in September is proudly inscribing the mural all on their own in June?
What if that student who writes “I hate school.” in the fall sneaks over and crosses it out after spring break, hoping no one sees them? What if a parent who shares their hopes comes back for a conference and comments on how the year has met (or failed or exceeded) their expectations and you add another brick to the relationship? All the questions!
So I am resolved to go in and create this hopes and dreams do-it-yourself mural-to-be for my echoing vacant walls. I will probably choose purple and blue paper first because they are my favorite colors and I need the reminder that hope is real. Dreams matter especially this year as we limp back to school with masks on, hand sanitizer at the ready. It will be great to have them surrounding us as we get back together and even more so, it will be pretty interesting to see them at the end of the year. Now I am feeling kinda Pinterest-ey after all.