In Four Note Opera, there’s a bit where the tenor sings repeatedly, on a single note, “And the tenor hardly has a theme.” While post-modernist light opera spoof may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re trying to choose a theme for your classroom, there are some situations in which you may hardly have a theme:
- In your school, it’s the custom to use alliterative themes based on the teacher’s name. In this case, you might have to skip the jungle, Hollywood, and ocean themes that are trendy this year and go with Mr. Tedeschi’s Titans or Mrs. Amaka’s All Stars. We know a teacher who resorted to Mrs. Schumann’s Shoppers, dressing up her classroom with paper bags and “Math Bargains.” It was sad.
- Your school has a group theme. Maybe your mascot is the mustang and you all have to use Western themes every year. Maybe you’re in the Champions Pod, so it’s all about sports. This can be great, as you add to your collection of decoratives and activities, but for some of us it can become so boring that we kind of give up after a while.
- Maybe you think your students are too old for theme classrooms. Maybe you’re not the theme classroom type. Maybe you carry your classroom around on a cart or in a briefcase and use different rooms all the time. Maybe your school has decided that overstimulation is a problem and everyone has to go with pale blue walls and nothing but a SmartBoard to look at.
Whatever the reason, we have some words for those of you who aren’t joining in the annual theme choosing fun:
- You probably do have a theme. I once told a friend that I didn’t like theme Christmas trees. I explained how my family lovingly chose an ornament when we went on our family vacation and then made ornaments in the fall. She rolled her eyes. “That’s a theme,” she said. Your theme might be “Welcoming Classroom” or “Excitingly Jumbled Science Lab.” That’s okay.
- Choose something unifying. If you don’t want a theme per se but feel dissatisfied with what you have, you can pick a favorite color, a favorite type of storage container, or a decorative element that you really like. Decorate your classroom as you would a room in your home, by considering the colors and the arrangement of the furnishings.
- Let a theme emerge. It’s important to welcome young children with a classroom that looks exciting, or at least reassuringly interesting. A completely undecorated room makes kids worry that they’re in the wrong place, or that they’ve gotten a Mean Teacher. But we know teachers who like to involve kids in decorating the classroom. Bulletin boards neatly covered with paper and clean desks can look like a nice, blank slate ready for the class to make its mark — if you are there waiting for your students and welcoming them.
I taught last semester in a room containing some skeletons (I think the nursing students had it on the weekends). The walls were an institutional green — the sort of color that makes me think they were expecting violence if they didn’t keep people calm. Someone had posted all sorts of vaguely threatening reminders about correct behavior. When I arrived on the first morning, the furniture had all been shoved into the middle of the room and there were big pieces of cardboard on the floors.
The experience reminded me that the look of a room has an effect. Even on teachers. If, for whatever reason, you’ve decided not to choose a theme this year, don’t let that keep you from creating a good workspace for yourself and your students.