Monday, August 6, 2012

Back to School for the High School Teacher Part 3: The Well-Oiled Classroom Machine

*UPDATE (08-06-12) - The Back to School series consists of the following posts:
Part 1: The Sanity Saver
Part 2: The Classroom Website For the Super Busy Teacher
Part 3: The Well-Oiled Classroom Machine (you are here)
Special: The Student Edition

It's one thing for a teacher to be super organized (Part 1: The Sanity Saver). It's really great to make your classroom resources available 24/7 (Part 2: A Classroom Website for the Super Busy Teacher). But where does the majority of the learning take place? The classroom! No matter how perfectly you have organized your gradebook or how readily available homework assignments are, the majority of daily learning takes place in a classroom and you have to have a classroom that is interesting, organized, fun, and easily utilized. The classroom really is like a machine, or at least part of the big machine. If something doesn't work for you, it's going to slow down your productivity or even cause it to come to a grinding halt! Sometimes, mid-year, part of the machine quits working for you and you have to fix it. For the machine to work at peak performance, it needs to be properly constructed and well-maintained. Such is the classroom.

Please let me state now that by no means at all is my classroom perfectly organized. This is not the gold standard classroom. It's far from it. This classroom set up will work well for some classes and teachers, but it may not work well at all for others. I would never encourage a teacher to set up their classroom exactlylike someone else's. Rather, I think some trial and error is a very good thing to help you determine the best setup for you. My classroom setup has evolved tremendously in three years and I'm sure it will continue to change as the years go on. What I'm offering today are options that I've found to work very well in my classroom.

First, let me share a couple of pictures of my classroom. Note the random stuff sitting on student desks. That's because my room is still a bit of a work in progress for the year.

Student Desks - Yes, I'm a nasty conservative teacher who puts their students in columns and rows. I have a few reasons for this.
1. I have 34 desks in my classroom. It's hard to get clever with 34 desks in a room that size.
2. Rows and columns can easily be shifted to partners or tables of four or six.
3. This helps me make basic classroom tasks quick and efficient, such as moving between desks to check progress, collecting work, and disciplining a student.

Teacher Desk - Honestly, not ideal for me. I really don't like it being back behind the students, but I can't change it. Also, my desk is not the epitome of the clean, organized desk. Don't look at it too closely.

Trash Cans - I have three. I also have two recycling boxes. This was a tip offered to me by a coworker. If kids have to throw something away during class, they go to the nearest trash can. No need to make a stop at a buddy's desk by the trashcan at the far end of the room.

Now, some close-ups.

Primary classroom bulletin board.
Bulletin Board - I love my bulletin board because it is simple and informative. We are required to post our emergency drills in our rooms. My bulletin board also has our dress code, building map with lunch schedule, classroom rewards and consequences, classroom procedures, and the grading scale. Many questions students have about the day-to-day running of the classroom or school can be found here.

Tardy Clipboard - That's hanging in the lower lefthand corner, next to the bright orange sign featuring the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. Students have to sign the tardy sheet so they are very well aware when they are tardy. Walk of Shame, anyone? *malicious laughter*

New this year: magnetic bulletin board.
Magnetic Bulletin Board - Some tech-savvy teachers are out there saying, "Hey... I've seen this somewhere before..." That would be Pinterest. I got a lot of ideas from Pinterest! Mine doesn't look nearly as nice as the Pinterest one (I'm going to blame the cheap Dollar Tree wrapping paper rather than my own artistic abilities...) but it is functional! It's says, "What's Going On In..." and there are three teal circles: one for "The World," one for "The School," and one for "The Drama Club." In case you've never seen this before, these are two filing cabinets, back-to-back, covered in wrapping paper. Be jealous, teacher-nerds. ;)

Homework trays.

Homework - While we're admiring the magnetic bulletin board, take a look at the top. Ta-da! Homework trays! Nothing special here, really, except I've made them fool-proof (?). The trays are labeled by period and there are signs. Can it be messed up? Well... we'll find out. :)

Paper drawer.
Paper Drawer - Another idea I swiped from the bowels of Pinterest. I'm especially proud of my current "To Copy" system. It was so awful last year! Stuff would just sit in my printer until I got around to copying it. So far this year, my items have been labeled with a Post-It note that says the class, how it should be copied (front/back, singles, etc.), number, and the date by which I need the copies. This could be a good thing.

Classroom bookshelf.

Bookshelf - My bookshelf is right by my lectern-on-wheels. I spend a lot of time in this general area, and since I don't have a classroom library to speak of (what kind of English teacher am I?!), I commandeered two shelves for stuff. The top shelf has paper trays in which my handouts for each class period hide out until I'm ready to distribute them. The bottom shelf has art supplies. I strongly suggest, if you plan to keep some basic art supplies in your classroom, to make up these separate art boxes. Each box has crayons, markers, some colored pencils, and glue sticks in them. I used to keep all crayons in one box, all markers in one box, etc., but that becomes a problem when 30 kids all want a black crayon or a blue marker. I keep the liquid glue and scissors in the little blue basket since we don't use those as often.

Little artboxes are a YES in my book!
Weekly lesson plans.
Weekly Lesson Plans - I briefly introduced these in Part 1 of this series. So there is no question at all about what's going on in my classroom, lesson plans are posted online and on this board in my classroom.

Homework and daily agenda.
Homework and Daily Agenda - Homework on the right, daily agenda on the left. Umm... not much else to say about that.

Absent work folder.
Absent Work Folder - Finally, an absent work system that works (in conjunction with my classroom website). I can honestly say this is an area I've struggled with from the get-go.I've tried numerous systems and none have worked until this one. This folder has six pockets - one for each period. They are clearly labeled. If a student isn't in class to get their work, I write their name at the top and put it in the correct folder. It is their job to get the late work and make up any missed work.

(UPDATE (03/29/13) - Since this original posting I have switched to a new system. Check out the post about my new Absent Binder here.)

Missing work log.
Missing Work Log (a.k.a. "the yellow sheet") - This one comes from Elizabeth at She is a super organized teacher and this is a great idea that I've altered to fit my own needs. If, for any reason, a student does not have their homework the day it is due (absent, dog ate it, someone swiped their backpack, it was stolen by squirrels, whatever) they must fetch a yellow sheet from the envelope on the wall. (Walk of Shame #2.) They fill it out and turn it in the tray in place of the missing work. This yellow paper goes in my missing work binder. When the homework finally shows up, I keep half of the sheet in my binder and the other half gets stapled to the homework with the late score. This is great for parent-teacher conferences!

(UPDATE (08/01/2013) - A more detailed post about the Yellow Sheet can be found here.)

And if this wasn't enough inspiration for you... ;)

If you don't get this reference, shame on you. ;)

In conclusion...
I hope this short blog series has helped you to prepare, in one way or another, for the impending school year. Mine starts Wednesday and I can't wait to let you know how the first week goes! If you've enjoyed my blogs, please support my efforts by clicking the "Join This Site" button in the left sidebar. This will allow you to better follow the posts and to spread the word about EatWriteTeach. Also, I am more than happy to share my templates with you or to answer any question! You can leave a comment below with your email address or feel free to email me at if you want more information on how some of these templates can make your teaching life easier.

Please check back later this week for a review of the first days of school!

Happy Teaching (and good luck on your first day of school, whenever that may be)!