The effort and hard work on behalf of the person at the front of the classroom is the reason students learn. Everything else is window-dressing. Literally.
I’ve seen something of a debate occurring on Twitter recently in response to an article about decorating your classroom and how children learn better in vibrant, well-decorated classrooms. The proponents of decorating the classroom also suggest that a loved environment improves behaviour because, as the argument suggests, students see that you take pride in what you do.
I’ve worked with a many number of teachers in my time, some you’d consider the old guard and some of the new-school teachers too. Between them there is a cross-section of teachers who could care less about how vibrant their walls are and another cross-section who would put IKEA to shame with their classroom decor. Anecdotally, the one thing I’ve found to be consistent is that the quality of the teacher is far more important than the state of their classroom. So let’s take a look at the different types of classroom…
One end of the spectrum. The first classroom I inherited looked like a bomb had hit it. The desk was buried under a mountain of books, the drawers missing their bottoms and the cupboard might very well have been a health and safety hazard. If there’s anything I knew about the teacher, however, was that she was a massive loss to the school when she retired. Her results? Amazing. The kids? Loved her. But her classroom? An absolute dive. The quality of her teaching spoke for itself – the classroom didn’t have to.
The other end of the same spectrum. I’ve seen (and had…) classrooms that almost felt like a showroom. Nothing was out of place. Immaculate. And the truth is, it was for my benefit. I wanted to work in a glorious learning space for 8+ hours and there’s nothing wrong with that – but as I found out when I had a bit of a lull between decorating the space, that the students barely noticed. Much to my dismay.
Somewhere else on the spectrum entirely… usually seen in a brand new building yet to be touched by human hands is the Utilitarian classroom.
There are no flashy adverbs and tricky spellings hanging from the ceiling here. There’s also no leaning tower of textbooks to be seen, no scrunched up paper lodged behind the radiator for a decade and carpets aren’t yet tacky with blackened chewing gum. The walls are walls, the desks are desks and everything has its rightful place. Your students know where to find their exercise books, they know where the spare equipment is and there’s no anxiety about keeping displays pristine. It certainly lacks personality, but it does its job.
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