1. Plants, lighting, smells, and sounds: all important. Plants feel “homey” and provide oxygen, which is necessary for breathing, right? The more natural light the better—lift those blinds. Doesn’t matter what age student you have, no one likes a stinky room. Your olfactory senses are tied to memories, you know, so don’t make your classroom the one they remember for all the wrong reasons! And hey, what’s wrong with a little music playing softly in the background? Or beach waves or a fan or or or anything white-noisy? You know if you give kids the chance, they’ll put their earbuds in and listen to their own “stuff” anyway, so why not control it?
2. Food. (When appropriate, of course, but keep it handy, always.) Early in the year, as I was trying to figure out how to get a new group of seniors quieted down right after lunch, I pulled out a bucket (That’s right, a bucket—I got it on clearance. You can always find candy or gum somewhere for cheap.) of bubblegum, told them all to grab a piece and start chewing, so that we could start class quietly, teasing them that their mouths would be too busy to talk. Guess what? It worked. I have found after twenty-six years of teaching that nothing—NOTHING—will bribe a teenager better than food. I stock up on small treats and use them for everything—contests, prizes, good grades, someone caught being nice! Today, same group, after lunch, standing at the door or wandering the room with ten minutes left: “I have a candy bar for the person who can sit in his seat the longest after the bell rings!” And that worked, too. In fact, it worked too well. Several kids might have been late to class. And I only had two and a half candy bars. But I will make up for it—stocking up this weekend.
3. Create safe, cozy places in corners for those who might need extra space away from the group.
4. Books, books, books, and more books. Students should be surrounded by books. On tables, on corners of desks, stacked on shelves neatly or not so neatly. You know why? They might just pick one up, shout, “Hey, Mrs. Ross, what’s this one about?” and then take it to read. READ. That thing they don’t do anymore.
5. Words. Colorful, vibrant words. On construction paper hanging around the room. Or on a word wall filled with new vocabulary. On posters of 100 Words to Make You Sound Smart. Or in quotes by people who are so smart that other people quote them. Students who are educated should speak with words like they are educated!
6. Anything that gives away the personality of the teacher or supports the teacher’s own passion. Let that room be you own escape, a teacher’s home away from home. If you own it, students will want to be there. So do whatever you need to make it a great space for you. When I found “The Wizard of Oz” glossy, color movie stills several years ago (a mini-poster set), I hung them in my room on the outside doors of a book closet. I also hung a sign for the Yellow Brick Road over the top of my door. This year, I found beachside bulletin board paper, and voila, in my room, we are overlooking Bali’s or Tahiti’s or Fiji’s or Honolulu’s favorite beach every single day. Ah. And let’s not forget about Ricky Martin, mmmmmkay? As long as I’m in Room 110, he will also be there, no matter how many times a week—sometimes a day—I have to hear, “Who’s Ricky Martin?” When a student teased me a couple years ago that I didn’t have a standup cardboard cut-out yet, I found one, bought, and he now hangs out with us every day in Mrs. Ross’s room. Whether that’s crazy or not, I don’t care. Know why? The students love it.
7. Have fun. Every day. With every lesson. Don’t take yourself as a teacher or the subject you’re teaching so seriously that you leave no room for laughter. If someone tries to derail the lesson, go with it—you’ll get them back more quickly. If students look bored, let them know you know, and then find a way to cut to the chase so they will know that when you have something to teach/share, it really IS important. Today, I going over the idea of a frame story for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, as well as how he introduced the characters in their societal order at the time, and I saw eyes glazing over rapidly. I had no bubble gum to give, so I just got their attention by saying, “Man, I know…bo-ring. Please, just give me one more minute to explain this.” And I cut it short to get to the good stuff: assigning them each a pilgrim and his tale to focus on. It worked, too. Students will respect you and like you and help you make class fun. Learning should be fun and should include laughter, and that will make students, no matter their age, enjoy your class time together.