Thursday, February 9, 2012

How Foreign Teachers Can Decorate Their British Classrooms

Here are my top tips & tricks to decorating your UK classroom:

1. ASK! Ask your team teacher, or leader, or Head of Department. It is very likely that your school has policies in place for how you should decorate your classroom and you should follow those.

I made the mistake of going in all gung-ho to my first UK classroom and spent weeks before planning, cutting, arranging and all 'round getting ready. Then school opened and I quickly learned that all my hard work was for nothing. My school already knew how they wanted their classrooms organized, and I should have waited to find that out. So, be patient, lay low, and wait. Then ask.

2. Bring some Canadian or American displays to show off where you come from. It's more than likely that your new class is completely unaware of your country. So, for Canadians, that means they will assume you're American, or even Australian, New Zealander or South African because they see more of those nationalities teaching in their school.

For Americans, I'd focus on the people and how there are so many different types of Americans. They don't usually know that! It helps the students to see that America isn't just a white/black country and there are many languages spoken, just like London itself.

3. You can assume that you will have a Book Corner. How will you decorate this corner? What you teach will make a difference. I teach primary, so here's my example:

I decided to make mine a football pitch theme, and stapled astroturf to the wall. I made soccer balls and hung them from the ceiling. Each time a student finished a book, I gave them a piece for a 3-D soccer ball that they would eventually make into their very own soccer ball to hang from the display. They loved it and I liked that math, physical education and literacy were all linked together. On each blank section, they would write the book name & author. So in the end, their soccer balls showed what they finished and helped motivate them to read more.

You don't have to put this much work into it! Be creative & have fun with it. It's your reading/resource corner so make it your own.

4. Don't assume you will have a teacher desk. In fact, many Head Teachers (aka Principals) are anti-teacher-desk. They think it means you will spend your teaching time sitting at your desk, when you should be moving around the classroom interacting with the students. But you do need a place to store your things. Work around it, and find somewhere in your classroom where you can find your plans, assessments, calendars, etc. Your plans need to be on display for the Head to find, as well as cover teachers and your team teachers and teaching assistants. So don't lock them away!

5. Your students need to find their things easily, quickly & quietly. For primary, the students usually have little buckets, or cubbies. But at their desks, they won't have much in terms of storage for pens, pencils, rulers etc. It's not like Canada! They don't bring their own supplies, so you have to have a place where they can find these things.

Most teachers use small containers on each table group where they keep pencils, rubbers (aka erasers) and rulers. BUT if you have a tough time with behaviour management, and your class is particularly unruly, don't assume that they will take care of these supplies.

I gave my students their own pencil sharpeners, and assumed that they would understand when to sharpen their pencils (they were in Year 5 and ten years old). They sharpened them into tiny little stubs and I had to run and ask for more. I was horrified when I was told that it was my responsibility to make sure they didn't ruin the pencils and my class could have no more. How embarrassing! They also ripped the rubbers into little bits and every time my back was turned they had these things flying around the room. The other teachers just took away the rubbers and didn't allow them in their rooms at all.

See what I mean? It's not Canada! So, you need to think this through. How will they sharpen their pencils? Will you label each pencil with the student's names? My Head Teacher suggested I do this.

How will you determine what the tables are called? For math, you might want to label the tables "squares, triangles, circles" etc and then label your containers accordingly. For literacy tables, you can call them "question marks, full stops (aka periods), exclamation marks..." and label the tables just like you did with maths.

For secondary, hopefully you won't need to micro-manage to this extent! But again, they won't have pencils & pens (although they should at this point) so you need a good stock that you can keep track of. Know how many you give out and how many get handed back in.

For me, this is the kind of stuff that I am really bad at. So, if you're like me, take the time this summer to find other teachers who are the opposite and ask them what to do. The micro-managers do these things naturally and their lives are made much easier when schools starts because of it! So just ask, and if you think it's too silly or too much, do it.

6. Hang pictures of home. When you're having a horrible day, there's nothing better than looking up and seeing your loved ones staring out at you, reminding you that you are loved and you are a dang good teacher. Don't forget it!

That's all I can think of for now. What about you? Any other advice for our readers who are about to teach in London? Please share below!
Resources for Teaching in London
Classroom Canada
Guide to Teaching in London: A Survival Guide for Canadians ebook
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Thanks for sharing your two pence!


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