Teacher Space

Something new I tried last year was getting rid of my teacher desk.  said goodbye to the massive, clunky metal desk that had served well for the last five years. Granted, this was partly because I have a room half the size of normal classrooms… but my class size still runs 15-18 students. There wasn’t room for a desk and intervention table.  After teaching the previous year with a desk but no small group table, I decided to dispense with the desk and ask for an intervention table.

I had help, though. There are several helpful blogs highlighting the benefits of a teacher “space” over a teacher desk. From them (thanks, Pinterest) I got some ideas and gave “teacher space” a go. It went well enough that I’m doing for a second year. The picture above is from last year in the final stages of setting up my classroom. Several issues popped up that I hadn’t anticipated, which I have tweaked this year and it has already helped so much.

First Year

Issue 1: Set-up — Access

Negative: The printer actually ended up on the table… along with stacks of paper. Keep a lamp that big was not a viable option when students came to sit at the table. True, I had access to the printer easily… but that was not something I needed.

Positive: I had good access to the teacher books behind me, as well as my supply organizer, which I’m still using (it’s so helpful that the kids can get their own band-aids now).

Issue 2: Set-up — Aesthetics

Ok, I know that I can’t expect to have a Pinterest perfect classroom, but that shouldn’t rule out keeping aesthetic in mind.

Positive: The big, clunky desk was gone.

Negative: Looking back at that picture, the furniture is different depths, there are too many colors, too many drawers… it was organization flirting with chaos.

Issue 3: Procedures

Positive: I had a small group table, which I did not have the year before.

Negative: Since the teacher space was also the small group space, students had trouble understanding and respecting the boundary lines that a teacher’s desk should have.

Second Year

Teacher Space Year 2

This year, I kept in mind the positives and tried to incorporate them. It involved switching around several things in the classroom (check for upcoming classroom organization post).

Issue 1: Access

These bookshelves had originally been in classroom library. However, this set up was similar to something I had a couple years ago, and I regularly use this small white board with group work. Using these bookcases gave me more horizontal work space — something I had needed before.

Issue 2: Aesthetic

This set-up helps create a feeling of symmetry, even though I still have many materials stored in this small corner. The tray on the table is wonderful for keeping the desk free of misc. staples and paperclips and sticky notes. Things I need in drawers are in the cloth containers (mostly on the bottom row of shelves) instead of having multiple free standing drawer units. The catch-all paper bucket (I still don’t know how to teach without one) has a home in one of the cubicles, instead of one my desk. Now, if I could just work on getting two more stools instead of clunky chairs. :)

Issue 3: Procedures

Granted, one of my classes has all students from last year, which made it easier. However, I had two new classes this year. At the beginning of the year, I told the students that the teacher chair and space behind the table was my space. As the year went on, I added things students were allowed to access — the foreign language dictionary shelf and the staples/band aids. They also know not to look through any copies that I might have on the table. My students sometimes ask if they can work in my chair or move a stack of papers for more space (which I usually agree to).


All things considered, this teacher space works for me and my classroom. It gives me more space to work.  My materials are accessible for planning and group work. My students like the set-up. Parent-Teacher conferences around this table work great.

Sure, it takes a minute to adapt. Sometimes I still miss having a junk drawer. Sometimes, it still gets messy — copies attack, ya’ll. So, if you think if could solve space issues or just help with the look of your room, give it a try.


When the end of the semester attacks… Keepin’ it real, folks. ;)

Classroom Management: 3 ideas to encourage student ownership, self-reflection, and positive peer encouragement

This is probably the first year that I have been excited about classroom management. I guess seven years is long enough?  At any rate, I had to retire my color-coded card system.  With 4th graders, I wanted them to take responsibility by pulling their own cards… but they’d pull everyone else’s to get back.  As a result, a discipline routine that should have been 15 seconds and without incident was almost as disruptive as the original misbehavior.  So, here are three routines I implemented for individual and whole class behavior.

1.) Good Behavior Bingo

behavior bingo

I found this chart on teacherspayteachers from Miss Kindergarten Love. It is editable so that I can change the categories to fit the class dynamics and the classroom space. This year’s categories were Popcorn (usually with a fun video… Bill Nye or Dojo), Read-a-thon (with flashlights and pillows), Inside Games, Surprise (aka Takis… but could be other things), Experiment (because I have yet to meet a kid who doesn’t like science as much as I do…)

In the past I have used this with the card/clip system so that if no one had pulled more than one card/clip, we could get a sticker on our bingo board. When we got a BINGO, we got our behavior reward on the next Friday.

This year, however, as I mentioned, the card/clip system was ineffective at best. Also, the method I had been using would too often single out the one student who cost us the sticker.

So, this year I implemented a “mystery student” strategy I saw recommended from a co-worker. The mystery student was responsible for earning us the sticker that day. If the mystery student earned the sticker, they would draw the paper to reveal the square on the BINGO board and then choose another student who they thought did a good job in class to put the sticker on the board.

2.) Checks and Consequences


The card/clip system was replaced by logical consequences from Teacher Trap on TPT. Admittedly, I had trouble keeping up with this one as much as I would have liked.

Students would get checks for specific behaviors and each check would have a consequence that they would have to complete during recess. The consequences are tailored to the offense and focus on restoration and future goals, rather than punishment. For example, if the student was disruptive during small group times, after a reminder they received a check. During recess, they would need to apologize to the students in their group members individually or write a note setting goals for how to be a better group member. This allows for student ownership of behavior and self-reflection.

This could work on it’s own, but I used it with the Behavior Bingo and Mystery Student. If the mystery student did not get any checks, they would earn us the Bingo sticker. This way, if several students had checks — or the one who usually gets checks — we could still be working toward a class reward.

3.) Mystery Student (Secret Student)

secret student 2

This is one of my favorite classroom management strategies. I was afraid the students would get tired of it, but they never did. I didn’t either. At the beginning of class, I would pull a name stick to see who the mystery student was without telling the class. The students were so excited about it that they would try to peek, so I had to be extra sneaky. It made the class start with a light-hearted mood.

During lessons and group work, I could just generally remind the students that “I hope my mystery student is helping us earn our sticker.”

secret student

This would cause all the students to check themselves. They realized they could be the one the class was depending on to get our sticker. The mystery student would get to draw the bingo card at the end of class, pick a fellow student to put the sticker on the board, and get in the treasure box.

If the mystery student didn’t earn the sticker, I would not reveal who the mystery student was. I would simply tell the students that I couldn’t share the secret because the mystery student hadn’t been on task or exhibiting excellent behavior. Later, I could tell the student in private the consequences of the choices he or she had made.

Also, if the mystery student had exhibited excellent behavior, but most of the class had not (there are those days), I would reveal the mystery student, but tell the class that since they hadn’t been helping the mystery student out, we didn’t earn the sticker. However, the mystery student would still earn treasure box for their behavior.

Why I like this so much:

  • It helped create team spirit –students would encourage each other to act like the mystery student and to help each other earn a sticker. They then congratulate the mystery student and sticker student for a job well done.
  • Students realize more that their actions affect the class.
  • Students recognize the good efforts of their classmates when the mystery student picks someone to place the sticker on the board.
  • Confession: sometimes I fudge about who the mystery student is… and the kids never know. For example… the “behavior problem” student is actually having a good day and I’ve been looking for ways to celebrate him conquering his anger management or her for holding her tongue. You can bet that that no matter what name I pull, they are going to be the mystery student that day.
  • Instead of a list of rules to adhere to — which we do have — my students focus on how a model student would act and strive for that goal.
  • No matter what kind of day the students had before, each day is a new chance for them to be the mystery student.
  • So many positive vibes.
  • The.kids.love.it.

For more ideas about how to use mystery student, check out this post from Minds in Bloom.

Using My Teacher Voice

“Wow, I was using my teacher voice. I actually missed that.”

I couldn’t believe that was a thought from my own brain. Yet, there is was. Even more shocking… it was true. I really had enjoyed using my teacher voice.

This teacher voice, however, was not the stereotypical one my students aren’t supposed to make me use.


Oh, I have that one, too.

Then the realization dawned… I have more than one teacher voice.

And so do my teacher friends. I have heard many, many teacher voices coming from down the hall and in my own classroom.

There is the teacher voice that yells above a noisy classroom.

A teacher voice that quietly talks to a student about their struggles at the teacher desk.

The teacher voice that is raised in anger.

The teacher voice that is upbeat and cheerful.

A teacher voice that is firm in discipline.

The teacher voice dripping in sarcasm and bordering on disrespect.

A teacher voice that almost sounds like singing – lilting and lyrical.

A teacher voice that is smiling.

A teacher voice that is sad.

The teacher voice that is tired and discouraged.

I’ll admit it.  I’ve too often used the wrong teacher voice. My students got an exasperated voice when they needed a patient one. I taught about main idea and details (for the 500th time) with a tired voice when my students needed interest and energy.

Some days I may feel like Charlie Brown’s teacher projecting wordless, almost intonation-less mumbling in front of a classroom, but in actuality my students hear what I say.  Maybe more importantly, they hear how I say it.

School’s out for the summer, so I’m looking forward to the next year. One goal is to own my teacher voice (all of them) and make conscious efforts to use the one my students need… and leave behind the one they don’t. Do I think I will always succeed? No, but there is the grace of transparency and admitting when I’ve used the wrong voice. When I talk to my students about my voice, they understand their own.

Self-controlled. Lyrical. Firm. Smiling. Sad. Respectful. Laughing. Clear. Strict.





Friday (Fri-yay) Boggle Challenge

This was a fun way to start the first Friday of state testing. Within 5 minutes my 4th grade ESL class had come up with 25 English words and 3 Spanish words. I’ll admit… I let them use 1-2 letter words, too. Rumor has it that there are at least 35 English and 9 Spanish words in this Boggle board. How many can you find? 

Parts of a Poem Anchor Poster

I love this poem because it is humorous, relatable for the kids, and the language doesn’t get in the way of understanding the parts of a poem. This is especially important for ELs. If the language of the poem is accessible, they are able to focus on the academic specific language of meter, stress, and rhyme scheme. They are also able to move on from basic comprehension to analysis of the text. 

Notes: the shapes around the rhyming words are how I scaffold to teaching rhyme scheme. The different shapes belong to specific “rhyming buddies”. The students are thrn able to transfer this to lettered rhyme scheme.