New Teacher Help: Decorating Your Classroom

Plain white walls, empty table tops, vacant shelves: do these intimidate or excite you? Some teachers leave everything mostly bare, their only mark in the classroom a stack of student work on the desk and a few cryptic instructions scribbled on the board in light, spidery font (I’m looking at you, high school math, just saying). Others spend hundreds or even thousands (!!!) of dollars of their own money trying to turn their classrooms into stylish learning destinations.

There is a happy medium somewhere. It depends on your personality, of course, but it should also take into account your school’s policies, what is already provided for you, and what will be the most functional and helpful for your students.

  • Before buying anything to put on your walls, check your school’s policies. I taught at one school where we weren’t allowed to put anything on the walls at all because it might detract from the business-slash-community-college atmosphere. At another, where we had a high English language learner (ELL) population, we weren’t allowed to use professional posters: we were supposed to make anchor charts to support what we were teaching at a given moment.
  • If you are allowed to decorate as you wish, I’d still consider keeping it simple: there’s no need for you to break the bank buying a ton of posters and fancy bulletin board sets. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really good idea to get some cheerful color on your walls, but you can create that with butcher paper and large markers that your school probably has stashed in a workroom somewhere. And if you spend a lot of money on your wall hangings, you’ll probably want to leave them up all year – in which case they’ll become essentially invisible to your students.
  • Anchor charts are much more instructionally useful than almost any purchased posters. For example, if you’re teaching a lesson on how to write short answer questions (SAQs), you might make an anchor chart to remind students of the response components: answer, evidence, explanation. You might have another anchor chart that demonstrates how to weave direct quotations into their own sentences and punctuate them correctly. And so on. Change these posters out semi-frequently as you teach new things.
  • Before buying any supplies, check what your school already provides. I’ve worked where I had to buy my own copy paper and I’ve worked where I was given all the paper, pens, markers, scissors, and anything else I could possibly need.

What about bins, crates, and other classroom management paraphernalia? There are so many ways to do this that I hate to give too much advice. But what I will say is that you should take your actual classroom into account (do you even have a good place to put that chest-high stack of bins?) and let your class procedures drive the stuff you buy.

  • Grading bins: I started out with these really nice wire baskets for students to turn in papers. But the only place they could actually fit in my classroom, due to the way I had to fit my student desks in, was on a bookcase at the back of the room. It was far too easy to leave the papers there for a little while before picking them up to grade. I’m sure you can guess what eventually happened: papers got snuck out of the bins and copied or outright stolen because I didn’t have them under tight control. I eventually gave the baskets away and had students pass papers to the front, where I put them into a plain old manila file folder and behind my desk for safekeeping.
  • Crates: These are great for storing student spirals/comp books, writing folders, novels, etc. Just be sure to shop around – please don’t spend $15-30 per crate when you can probably find them at a dollar store.
  • Managing absentee work: Please have some kind of physical or electronic calendar where students can easily access a list of all gradable work you’ve assigned without having to consult you – it’s not a good idea to make them have to come ask you what they missed because you might be busy and forget to get back to them about it. Then have any handouts or other physical items they’ll need accessible. Early on, I had two wall-length chalkboards, so I dedicated one to a huge make-up work calendar drawn in colorful chalk. I then stapled six manila folders to the bulletin board by the door and labeled them MON, TUE, WED, THU, FRI, and LAST WEEK and put all the make-up work in there. Later on when the whole faculty was using Edmodo, I kept all that sort of thing in my online classroom (though I still kept physical copies of things they needed to put in their spirals).
  • This is a personal preference, but one thing I always bought for students was their spirals. These are useful for so many things (keep an eye out for a new instructional video soon!), including notes, handouts, graphic organizers, and writing exercises. But when you ask your students to bring their own spirals, what happens? Half of them don’t bring one by the deadline, so you’re stuck trying to figure out how to proceed with the lesson you wanted to do. The others bring every kind of spiral in existence, with different sized paper and different rulings. To me, it’s easier to buy them myself so that they are all the same size and same ruling – and most importantly, PRESENT at the same time. Wal-Mart usually has a great sale on them during Back to School.

If you want to read a little more about anchor charts, check out this article (it’s from an elementary teacher but it’s just as applicable all the way through 12th grade):

As for the rest – get creative! If you have a cool classroom decoration Pinterest board or other resources to share, please leave a comment!

Click here to support ELA Academy on Patreon!


Leave a Reply