I entered the first classroom I would call my own in late August of 2005. As a brand new teacher, I walked in ready to take on the world, despite my very limited understanding of how to create an effective classroom. I was determined to create change…and have a gorgeous classroom while doing it.
For those of you who aren't familiar with my story, my first classroom was in the New York City schools. I was, at the time, working on a masters in education, and I had picked up and moved to Queens with only the two suitcases my plane ticket allowed for. I had never even spoken to my new roommates beyond email.
I didn't have a job set up, and I was to teach summer school as a teaching fellow while I found a position. Years later, I realize how horribly wrong this could have all gone for me, but at the time, I was young and up for an adventure.
Nothing could have prepared me for my first classroom. While the shock has long since dulled in my mind, just yesterday I found an old email I had sent to my family the week I saw my first classroom.
I wanted to share it with you because it can be easy to forget what those first moments felt like. Whether you are wrapping up your first year teaching or your 30th, the hectic pace of the classroom washes away the emotion of those early memories.
Reading them again, in my own words from that moment in time, brought my sepia-toned memories back into the bright light of day. It reminded me why I teach and work all summer to design a warm, welcoming environment.
It also reminded me how much easier things have gotten as I've grown into my career.
So enjoy my story, and may it refresh your own memories of those first moments in your very first classroom.
Walking into my first classroom
The story below was written back in late August of 2005. I decided to cut and paste it here (with a few minor grammar updates) so that you could see my true reaction to my first classroom.
Let me go back to the beginning. On Tuesday, I went in for my first day of decorating my classroom.
I hadn't toured the school prior to getting there for my first day of classroom set-up and had I seen it in advance I probably would have turned the position down…not that I had much choice in the matter anyway, but that's not the point.
The classroom: a not-so blank slate
My room was large considering I was only going to have 12 students, but the walls (which I can only assume were once a beautiful sky blue) were covered in dirty stains that appeared to have run down the walls, scuffs, and other nasty marks.
The supplies to set up my classroom were non-existent, and the desks were barely held together by screws that may have been older than the school itself. On top of that, the desks were covered in words that I would not even consider repeating.
Upon closer examination, I had a ton of books for my classroom library, but in order to reach them I had to dig through nasty mouse poop filled cupboards.
Yes, there were literally piles of mouse poop everywhere in the cupboards.
Once I reached the books, I discovered they were old and torn up. There were a handful that I could possibly salvage, but it would take work.
No one prepares you to set up a classroom
The first day was incredibly rough. No one teaches you what to do when you walk in and see all the furniture piled in a corner and have no information about the kids you're teaching.
I spent hours moving tables and desks and bookshelves…or the framework of bookshelves. There were no shelves only the square frame of what should have been a bookcase. Four out of five of my bookcases are this way.
I went home exhausted, smelly, and sweating profusely as my room has no air-conditioning and the windows don't get a breeze, even when it was a blustery day.
The next day not a bit of breeze got into my classroom….which means it's going to be hotter than hot when those kids get in there and have to focus.
Did I mention my windows have bars? A nice touch really….they add to the whole ambiance.
I don't know how anyone can learn in this place, but I am going to do my best.
It's hard not to get disheartened though. How can I make students respect a room that looks like it's been trashed?
The second day was spent organizing my books and trying to scrub the wall back to blue (which didn't work in the 2 hours I spent scrubbing).
I also visited Target to buy more supplies, but at this rate, I am going to be broke. There is nothing there, and I cannot work with nothing.
That means my money goes into my room just to get by. I wish I could say I was buying extras for the room, but at this point, it's just been the basics.
We don't even get the big rolls of paper to decorate our bulletin boards and there is nothing to laminate the papers on our walls with. It's unbelievable really.
Helping others create their dream classroom
These days I no longer have to lug piles of supplies on the subway to my classroom.
My garage is full of classroom materials, and I am able to spend my money on the extras that make it feel warm and welcoming instead of just functional.
However, I know that I am fortunate. In a few months, many first-year teachers will be eagerly walking into their first classroom full of hope and excitement.
Some of these will experience the same heart-crushing feeling I did when they realize they've got their work cut out for them.
One way I like to help is by making donations to classrooms via Donorschoose.org.
As you dig through projects, you'll find teachers looking for the basics – bookshelves, rugs, and functioning furniture. Of course, you'll also find teachers looking for enrichment and learning materials.
How to create a Donorschoose.org project
If you walk into your new classroom, like I did nearly 15 years ago, and find you are overwhelmed with how much you don't have for your students, I encourage you to create a project of your own!
To get started, create a teacher account. It is fast and easy to do. Here's how:
- Go to donorschoose.org/teacher
- Create a teacher account, if you don't already have one.
- Click “create a project” and get started.
- Pick your project type and give it a descriptive, eye-catching title
- Once you've given it a title, click to go shopping at the e-school mall.
- Select the materials you need for your project.
- Save and summarize your project.
- Write the story of your project and the impact it will have on your students.
- Confirm & submit.
Just remember to check if your district has any restrictions on the use of the site. Some districts require you to get approval before submitting projects and you have to sign waivers that say the materials received will stay with your classroom.
Getting your Donors Choose project funded
Once your project is approved, share it far and wide. Ask your friends and family to consider sharing it as well.
You can also look for match codes so that all donations are matched by outside funding. This is a great way to get your Donors Choose project funded more quickly.