A Labor of Love

4 09 2012

Here it is, Labor Day weekend.  We’ve already been in school for two weeks and things are starting to fall into a routine.  There have been a lot of changes this year: three of our seven fifth grade teachers have gone on to different jobs, we have two teachers new to our grade, and one of those new to our school.  Probably the biggest change was the switch to departmentalizing, a move that I previously didn’t support but now I find myself really liking.  It didn’t take the kids long to get in the swing of switching classes, and I love how enthusiastic they are and how I’m able to refine my lessons after teaching it the first time.

It doesn’t hurt that I’m teaching Science and Social Studies, my two favorite subjects, and so, back in the summer, it seemed fitting that I change up my room décor to better match my subject areas.  My partner teacher and I decided an outdoorsy, camping style would fit well, so that’s what we did.

One of the first things I thought of was a door decoration to make it look like we were entering a tent.  I cut down a cheap sheet from WalMart and used metal shelf brackets, wooden dowels, and lots of hot glue to make the tent over the doorway.  My next-door neighbor teacher had the idea of putting our name on the top to look like a rustic sign.  She also had a tent over her door, but the glue didn’t stick and she decided not to put it back up right away.  It’s probably just as well, because when we both had them up, we were “too tense.”  Now, I’m just “intense.”  I’m really getting the hang of this fifth grade humor, can you tell?

My neighbor teacher and I went to Education Wonderland together and had each bought tree decorations, which we each put on the corner walls between our rooms.  I went online and found profile shots of various famous Americans, which I turned into silhouettes by gluing to black construction paper, cutting them out and laminating them.  I glued a famous quote to a leaf shape to go with each famous American.  Then the first week of school I took profile pictures of all my students and turned them all into silhouettes to also go on the tree.  I scavenged a fake tree that another teacher was getting rid of and secured it with some river rocks to put in the middle of the two doors to add further interest. My partner teacher came up with the heading, “Growing Into Greatness,” which is certainly  my hope  as students read these quotes and learn more about each of the people highlighted on these trees.

Since you can’t go camping without a campfire, we made up one bulletin board as our “S’more Good Work” board.  My partner teacher and I had a good time building the fire out of twisted bulletin board paper and crumpled tissue paper.  The stick is a real stick from my own personal fire pit, hot-glued to the wall with a boatload of hot glue.  I made the marshmallow out of some quilt batting that I found laying around (one of the advantages of being a pack rat), wrapped around the stick and tucked in on the ends.  At the suggestion of another teacher, I used some brown sidewalk chalk to give it a little bit of a toasted appearance.  Rather than just post student work on the bulletin board paper, I always like to give it a more finished look by laminating construction paper and using paper clips to attach the work.

The week before school started we had Registration Day, where students and parents come to visit their class and meet their teachers.  As a welcome gift, we decided to give each child some Trail Mix, continuing the camping theme, but since this is their last year in elementary school, we put a tag on each bag labeling it “End of the Trail Mix.”  I must admit this was not the first time I’ve done this, but it seemed so much more appropriate this year.

Gotta love Pinterest!  I got the idea for the “Schedule Tree”  and the “Tattling vs.Reporting” sign from ideas I had pinned from different blogs.  (Thanks, Sue, from The Very Busy Kindergarten blog.)  Pinterest really does make it easy to share ideas, something important to teachers who otherwise sometimes get cabin fever within the confines of their classroom.  Walking around the school, I saw quite a few very creative ideas that I recognized as coming from Pinterest.  There are very few completely original ideas out there, but adapting ideas that we get from other people is a huge time and energy saver.  Why reinvent the wheel?

This year one of my goals was to encourage our students to read from our classroom library.  I had spent several days during the summer culling through and putting out books that were mostly related to Science and Social Studies topics, so I really wanted my students to be able to read from this library.  My partner teacher and I came up with an idea to motivate this reading.  I love to host bonfires at my house, and fifth graders really get into the social scene, so we decided to use a bonfire as the prize for a reading contest.  We built a 3-D tree using bulletin board paper, making three main branches come off of the trunk, corresponding to the three classes of Science and Social Studies that my partner and I teach.  As students come in our room, they have a short period of silent reading during which I ask that they read books off of our shelves.  As they finish each book, they get a die-cut leaf from a basket and write the title and their name on it.  Every so often I tape the leaves on the appropriate branch.  The class who has the most leaves (has read the most classroom library books) by the first of December gets to have a bonfire party complete with s’mores at my house!  It’s working: after only two weeks, I’m running out of room on the branches for the leaves.  I might have to plant another tree!

Who wants to remember school as a place that smells of sweat and chalk?  To appeal to the olfactory senses of our students, we stuck a Glade Plugin, cinnamon apple scented, near the door.  I think I’ll change it up every once in a while with a pine scented one so our noses don’t get so used to it that we don’t smell it anymore.

Finally, since this is a science classroom I just had to pull out all my animal skulls and bones that I’ve collected over the years and stick them around on various bookshelves and in corners around the room.  An old suitcase I picked up at a yard sale is a great place to store my Social Studies props, and it fits nicely beneath our Reading tree.

One final nod to the use of other’s talents:  my lovely and talented older daughter painted a bird on a discarded stool for me.  It is, of course, a stool pigeon.

I don’t remember my teachers going to such extents to decorate my elementary classrooms, but this is a different day and age.  It makes me feel good to walk into this room, and I hope it is an inviting place for my students to learn as well.