4 Reasons Why I Don't Have a Decorative Theme in my E.L.A. Classroom
Updated: Jul 31
Classroom themes. I am sure you've seen them floating around the Interwebs. Starbucks, Stranger Things, Disney, etc. Seeing all of these glamorous classrooms can put some serious pressure on you to feel like you need to do something similar in your classroom. You hope over to Teachers Pay Teachers or Etsy and go on a frenzied hunt for decor. You spend thousands of dollars at HomeGoods.
I am here to tell you that you don't have to have a fancy, themed classroom. If you LIKE doing that and that's your jam, I fully support you. My public library goes ALL OUT for summer reading and it's so welcoming and inspirational, but also anxiety-inducing for me as a teacher because I ask myself why can't I do that? But when I talk to the librarian she says she LOVES doing it...she spends her free time looking up new ways to decorate and craft. That's amazing and I fully support that.
However, if it's not you, it's okay you don't have to force yourself to be that way. There are a few reasons why I feel this way:
Classroom decorations should be functional.
I'd rather spend my time preparing lessons.
Not all themes are appealing or even appropriate for all students.
Relationships are more important.
Decorations should be Functional
In all reality, students don't look at what I hang up unless I make them look at it. A lot of what I hang up just looks nice, but I have a few spots that are meant to be helpful and/or were created by the students.
You will see a lot of these types of bulletin boards on Teachers Pay Teachers. A lot of them are interactive. I love these and have never been creative enough to make any myself.
This year I plan on having a bulletin board in which students will write the titles of the books they've read once they finish. I saw this idea on a Facebook group. It's just plain black paper and they will use fancy glitter pens to write the title. I thought it looks like a cool way to see the progress over the year. The picture you see here is not mine, but I saved it from Facebook...sorry I don't remember who posted it!
Another bulletin board I've done was inspired by the Book Whisperer. We spend a lesson discussing the rights of a reader and how to care for books. The class creates the "rules" for this and this becomes a decoration in the classroom. Yes, it stays up all year, but I do feel that *most* decorations should have some student involvement. You can find out more about this bulletin board here.
I also have a bunch of signage by my library that helps them choose books and identify genres. There's Chromebook shortcuts, too, and I also have a spot that has a large coloring page that students could collaboratively color if they finish early or just need a moment to chill out.
Ultimately, I think that you need to have spots in your room that your students will actually look at and use. I definitely have other things hanging up that are just cute and homey, but make sure your efforts are worth it.
Time Better Spent on Lessons
This is really related to personality. You may be the decorator-type and don't mind spending hours do that type of thing. Ask yourself, though...am I super-stressed and scrambling in the beginning of the year? Am I working the candle at both ends to get my plans done for the first days? Could this be because I spent too much time decorating?
The most important aspect of your classroom is what you're teaching the students and the relationships you are building.
For me, I prefer to spend my time figuring out how to get to know my students, focusing on new units, reading new books I can use in my classroom, and more. I spend a large chunk of my summer just reading YA and middle grade books that I will be offering students in my units. I spend time perusing Instagram for new lesson ideas. I research new social-emotional learning. I'd rather spend time doing this than laminating and making curtains.
One Size Doesn't Fit All
Recently, I saw a teacher post online that she wanted to do a Starbucks themed classroom. On the first day of school, she wanted to bring in iced coffee and donuts for all the students...in 6th grade.
I don't want to throw her under the bus because as teachers we need to lift each other up. I think this idea has fantastic intentions. It encourages a warm welcoming environment and invitation into the classroom for many students. I am sure lots of students love Starbucks and are allowed to drink coffee. However, I feel this is something that should be done later in the school year after you get to know the students.
Here's the thing, when we do a Starbuck's, Friends, Disney, or whatever full-blown themed classroom, you will ultimately single kids out. While this is your classroom and you want to infuse your personality into it, it is also the students' classroom. This doesn't mean you can't have your interests featured. I have a very large area of my room with LEGOs, Pop Figures, and posters of things I am into, but it is not the focus of the room.
I think a theme for this age-group should focus more on color schemes, patterns, inclusion, and/or diversity, not on pop culture.
So no TikTok themes. Pop culture themes are problematic. Not all students are viewing and experiencing those topics.
Relationships are More Important
I mentioned this a bit earlier, but how can you incorporate the students into your classroom so they feel they are part of it? How can they feel that it is their home, too?
I did a bulletin board a couple years back called This is Us and students put pictures of their families and lives. Admittedly, it didn't fill up much because who prints pictures anymore? I also didn't push it much, but this year, I am going to make a point to have a spot in my room that showcases their personalities. I am still working on that thought process...I will keep you informed when I figure it out!
Before you yell about me on social media, I am not saying don't decorate your classroom. I am not saying that if you have a Pinterest-worthy classroom, you are a horrible human-being. I am actually in awe of those teachers. I give them lots of credit for their efforts.
What I am saying is that it's okay if you are not one of those teachers, too, and that my personal feeling is is that it's not necessary to be that way to be a successful teacher.
You definitely need to decorate your room to make the students feel welcome. You definitely need to spend time doing this and not just waltzing in on the first day and figuring it out. But it doesn't need to be something you'd see on Extreme Makeover: Classroom Edition. It can be simple color scheme or something like a farmhouse theme, for example.
Focus on the students, not on how pretty your room is.
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