Tomorrow, I will go back to my school building to begin setting up my classroom. This is my 8th year teaching first grade and I have been feeling oddly serene about the start of a new school year. I haven't bought anything for the classroom yet, no visits to Lakeshore or Bank Street to get cute things for the classroom, I haven't looked at anything online or tried to get fresh ideas. I'm sort of in auto-pilot mode this year. My colleagues, on the other hand, have been obsessively pinning things on their Pinterest pages for the entire summer with tons of ideas and inspirations for their classrooms. Some of them have even made elaborate projects and charts and gotten them laminated in anticipation of the school year. I can't help but ask myself, Why am I not interested? Am I a bad teacher? Am I burnt out? I confided all my fears to a retired teacher I know and her response not only surprised me, but helped me remember and recover my own philosophy of teaching.
She reminded me that students need to construct the environment in the classroom in order to have ownership of it. She reminded me that classrooms should be calming and not overstimulating. The students need to label the different areas after they have been introduced. For example, they need to know how to use the math center and the library before it even comes out. She reminded me that in Responsive Classroom (a marvelous program), parts of the classroom should be covered and concealed before they are introduced so that children get a chance to learn what they are and how to use them. She reminded me of all the joy and learning that my students constructed in their study of toys last year and the donorschoose grant that brought in the materials that my students were INTERESTED in. This is what mattered then and what matters now.
Tomorrow, I will go in once again and paper my bulletin boards with brown butcher paper and a simple border. I will arrange the furniture, and put out the basics: Old favorites (a collection of books the children loved from Kindergarten), the calendar and number grid, our plants, pens, crayons, and basic writing paper. The library will be covered, the math center will be covered, the play centers will be covered. A growing number line will be started with a 0 only. The students names will be on the front door, and I think that's pretty much it. I know as the year gets underway, amazing things will happen in the space and the classroom will belong to all of us.