I spent forty-three dollars on two chairs today. That is the least I’ve ever spent on an initial shopping trip before a school year. The least, by a lot.
The thing is, I know better. I know empty bulletin boards are the right way to begin a school year, because that space is meant for students’ thinking. I know I don’t need a life-sized paper mache volcano that spews interlocking cubes for STEM learning on the hour (but that would be so cool). Somehow, against my best intentions, it all goes horribly wrong the second I enter that teacher supply store.
It starts innocently enough. A “red carpet” for your gathering area, with photos of students on stars for a Hollywood style introduction about who they are. You buy a class goldfish and name it Oscar. There’s a book walk of fame for students to take selfies with and post reviews. Your problem-solving centers and science labs are drawn from movie genres. You’ve got yourself a class theme, and it’s brilliant.
And then you look across the hall and the Duchess of Pinterest has built a rainforest canopy across her ceiling. The parrots living in it are teaching the children to speak Italian and don’t seem to mind the twinkle lights. She’s built a treehouse book nook out of recycled pencils and sprayed the whole thing with an iridescent organic beet mixture, so it’s cool with the fire marshal.
We can’t keep doing this to ourselves.
I’ve been there. I spent the better part of four days rearranging butterflies and letters on this sign for my class library area. In that time, I could have read four or five books, dominated the Workweek Hustle Fitbit Challenge, or had a conversation with my family that didn’t involve color schemes and letter arrangements, but I was on a mission.
(Is that stray yellow butterfly off to the right making you itch? Don't worry, it didn't end up in that spot. I'm not a monster.)
I also took individual sequins and knotted them by hand onto dozens of strings (each with a distinct color pattern), so I could decorate my welcome bulletin board. There was really no other way for my students to grasp the concept of “Throw Kindness Like Confetti,” right?
I love a new set of bulletin borders as much as the next Carson-Dellarosa fan, and I have audibly oohed over pictures of gorgeous classrooms. I have wandered the fields of themes, and they lead to madness, I tell you. No teacher wants to yawn through a student’s excited personal story because she is exhausted from repairing the overhead ferret maze.
If you are naturally crafty – the kind of person who carves wooden replicas of favorite literary characters, who does anchor charts in calligraphy blindfolded or paints bottle caps with chevrons for your classroom economy system – then I say, seize your decoupage, your glitter, your Cricut machine, and work your magic.
If, however, you are hyperventilating in a corner because you can’t coerce your staple gun to attach fabric to the wooden board of your would-be milk-crate seat – the kind the blog post assured you would only take Three Easy Steps – then you are not alone.
Set down your mini-scallop scissors and your motivational chalkboard quotes. Let yourself believe that your filing cabinet does not have to be edged in washi tape, nor does your hall pass have to coordinate with your color scheme. Know that your flexible seating dreams can come true without six more Hokki stools.
So yes, I bought some saucer chairs for my classroom. I hope my students will enjoy sitting in those chairs as they read, film their book talks, and discuss ideas. I don’t have a decorative theme, but I will continue to think about how to optimize spaces for different learning activities.
Let’s get ready for student relationships this year. Let’s spend time anticipating misconceptions in math and reading memorable books so we can recommend them to readers. If we want to work in a fantasy realm, let’s invite motivated students to create it. We’re going to be busy designing learning experiences and building connections with people. Those don’t always photograph clearly, but we know they matter most.
I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of students and families in IA, CT, NC, MO, TX, and Canada. I love being a teacher-librarian!