A classroom that is pretty and well-ordered will have its reward . . . there is a daily need of beauty—a lovely flower, a delightful visitor, a daily reading of something beautiful. At the opportune time the teacher should:
—give the child as much beauty as possible.
—discuss the obvious beauty of the stars, of the earth, of rain and snow, etc.
—sharpen the child's observation of the various aspects of beauty.
—read short, lovely passages to students and discuss, illuminate, and cherish them.
—provide art pictures of merit.
—develop an interest in words as necessary to express ideas that the child has.
—let experience and perfection remain separate courses until they meet.
The teacher is developing an appreciation of beauty when she enables the children to see elements of beauty in the so-called commonplace, [inspiring them] to make the effort to secure beauty for themselves.
MAE CARDEN | Quality Teaching, Successful Learning
Mae Carden, brilliant educator, had a lot of opinions, among which was the suggestion that "a classroom should not look like a supermarket." I often thought the sentiment somewhat odd, rather too obvious, until I came into a classroom of my own and found that the internet had missed the memo.
Mae Carden, seldom wrong, was right. Exactly right. The majority of what Pinterest proffers up in the search for classroom decor falls between a produce section and aisle thirteen, case lots of color and smash-crammed bulletin boards in bulk. Half the time I couldn't make out the lay of the place in a picture until my eyes had adjusted to the chaos. I know these teachers are well-intentioned, I am completely sympathetic to our profession's very small monetary means, and I understand the pressure to really make something out of the space you've been given, a desire to make the place a wonderland for students you hope will be delighted, engaged, and inspired. But ... you also teach there. In that same room. For eight hours (often more) every day. And yesterday while grocery shopping I spent ten minutes helping a woman find a jar of tahini that was literally smack dab in front of us the entire time. The visual assault of every other multi-colored, many-font, every shape and size product completely addled our ability to see, process, and act. It was a tense ten minutes. We were both frustrated with ourselves, anxious and annoyed, and we laughed when we found it. She was Albanian, newly English-speaking, so we could only laugh, a shared language of relief. I thought of Mae Carden. Classrooms. Supermarkets.
This is not to say that what follows here is some sort of apotheosis. It is not perfect, it is not absolute, but it is an alternative. A place on the internet to suggest that there is another way.
So, in the spirit of Mae, my opinion: a child's classroom is a second home, and should be every bit the haven and respite you'd wish between your own four walls. Fill it with the things you love. (I am inspired by Penelope, old ivy league lecture halls, my favorite colors, greenhouses, every plant ever.) Leave space for the eye to rest. Cultivate curiosity with bookshelves to browse and objects on unannounced rotation left to open exploration. (I lean heavily on a comment once made about my mum's house, that it is "endlessly discoverable.") Model order in your organization and encourage care in making an example of neatness. Build to last (I spent all last summer making this space, and needed only an afternoon or two to spruce it up this time around). Open the windows in the early morning. Read aloud at lunchtime. Insist, sometimes, on silence.
P A I N T
bookshelves (outer): benjamin moore rainforest foliage
bookshelves (inner): behr herbal (reads much more historical-aloe in real life)
back wall panel and main desk panel: behr forest rain
portrait gallery panel: valspar starry woods
desk chair: behr scotch lassie
M I S C
canvas panels: everbilt painter's drop cloth (bought at Home Depot; bleached, laundered, cut to size)
portrait gallery frames: ikea RIBBA series, to fit 8x10''
terracotta pots: ikea INGEFÄRA, slate pots: ikea MANDEL
desk bulletin: model Spitfire a student-made gift; ambassador poppy from November's Poppy Project; metal floral wreath a gift via Terrain (similar here); Coral & Tusk fox cameo.
T H R I F T E D
All other picture frames, planters and glass vessels; multiple books; various pencil cups (spray painted gold); globe (which I LOVE, and also talked down to ten dollars because of a broken axis I then fixed myself with a rubber washer — #proud); golden apple (for reasons both schoolhouse and mythical; bonus: it's a bell); wire wastebaskets (spray painted gold); desk chair ($5 Thonet! refinished and painted).
W O R D S
poetry panel left: Endymion by John Keats (lines 1-5)
poetry panel right: God's World by Edna St. Vincent Millay (first stanza)
desk bulletin: Mae Carden's Meditation No. 12 of 14 (rotated weekly); Anthony Burrill's Work Hard & Be Nice to People; Optimism now! by Satsuki Shibuya; tiny typewritten quote from Swiss philosopher and poet Henri Frédéric Amiel: Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind!