Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A Reflection on Top 5 Things White Teachers Can Do To Dismantle Racism by Tame the Classroom

Tame the Classroom posted Top 5 Things White Teachers Can Do To Dismantle Racism about a week ago in response to the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Aubery which have sparked outrage and protests across the nation and around the world.

This post comes at a crucial time when many white teachers like myself feel uncertain, desperate to stand up and help, but unsure of how to.

After reading the post and reflecting on it, I challenge teachers to share Tame the Classroom's post, and reflect honestly on how much you are doing as a white person in a position of power in society.

So, white teachers, which of these do you already do? Which are you working on? Which are missing in your practice?

I'll go first:


1. Speak out against injustices.
I'm happy to say that I have no problem whatsoever speaking my mind on issues of injustice. I know there are many teachers who are afraid to appear too political. I myself used to avoid telling students my personal thoughts on politics or who I voted for, because I was warned I could have an undue influence and get in trouble for it. I toed that line for several years, but after Donald Trump was elected and proved to be as bad for people of color and for public education as we feared, I stopped caring about that line. Because our country has crossed a far greater line in the hatred and bigotry we allow. One day I may suffer professionally for speaking my mind, but frankly at this time in our country's history, I don't give a damn.


2. Study and teach black history and current events all year long.
I already infuse current events into my curriculum but it's not consistent. It's one of those things I keep intending to do a better job with and dropping when other responsibilities get in the way. This coming year I'm thinking of making several current event articles available for students to choose one of interest and discuss.

I also really need to learn more about black history and POC history so I can integrate it as well. As an English teacher I can include this by highlighting amazing black authors and artists and reading and writing about black history. I need to find better resources for this to determine what POC consider to be crucial to know or learn about. This will be integrated into study of critical literacies, especially with my older students.

3. Provide classroom resources that include representation.
I reject the canon as being the only things worth reading in school, but until this past year I didn't think much about representation in my class library. My focus was entirely on the genres or topics my students would be interested in, not if they could see themselves in them.

All of my teacher supply money will go towards correcting that this year. If you haven't already done so, I highly recommend checking out the recent issues of School Library Journal which they've maid available to the public during quarantine. In particular their December 2019 issue features the article "Black is Beautiful," and their Winter 2019 has a great list of books in "Towards a More Diverse Collection." March 2020 has an article "Social Justice" with books that address inequality and injustice that are worth checking out as well.

4. Seek to understand your black students, black families, black teacher colleagues and their cultures.
I'd like to believe that I don't factor in race when I interact with others, but I recognize that this is likely a rose-tinted view of my world. I may harbor hidden assumptions even I am not aware of, and there are also times when educators should be aware or race in order to identify issues of inequality.

I definitely get to know my black students and love talking to them about our cultural differences. Sometimes I tell them a story and they laugh and tell me "that's some white people stuff." I could be offended by this, or avoid the conversation, but I find it fascinating to ask them what they mean and learn about the differences in our life experiences.

I recognize that I could go further than knowing my students well as individuals. The truth is that, as a high school teacher, the idea of getting to know every family is daunting and it often falls to the wayside. Who knows how much my students and I are missing out on because of that?


5. Support your fellow black teacher colleagues.
This one I really struggle with responding to, and I plan to reach out to some of my black colleagues to discuss it.

The Tame the Classroom post suggests offering genuine friendship to black colleagues and talking to them about social justice issues. I believe I have those genuine friendships, but being completely honest my best friends at work are all white. At this moment I find myself reflecting on why that is. Is it because the vast majority of the teachers in my department are white? Or that the black teachers in my department teach different subject areas and have different planning periods?

Or do I not extend the same effort of friendship to black teachers as I do to white ones? I genuinely hope that's not the case but I won't know until I examine myself and talk to others.

I hope that in this post I have been honest and not offensive. I wanted to use this space to be bare and acknowledge my weaknesses and what I still need to learn, while also sharing an amazing resource that I believe my fellow teachers should all utilize.

So once again, please go read Top 5 Things White Teachers Can Do To Dismantle Racism and, when your done, take the time to truly reflect on where you are, where you're going, and how you'll get there.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Amazing Books About Racism

Note: This post does contain affiliate links. If you use the link and make a purchase I will receive a small commision at no expense to you. The content of this post has not been influenced in any way by this.

I think many of us are seeking to find ways to help us understand not only what is currently happening in our country, but to better understand our country's history of racism and systemic oppression and segregation. Far better people than me have posted some amazing content online and I urge you to listen to the people of color crying out for change.

As a white woman, I cannot speak personally on these issues, but I can help to spread information and foster understanding. Below are books I have read personally or have had recommended to me on the topic. I honestly don't think I can do them justice by trying to summarize or review them, so instead I am including notes from the publishers for each.

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About ...

White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress.  Although white racial insulation is somewhat mediated by social class (with poor and working class urban whites being generally less racially insulated than suburban or rural whites), the larger social environment insulates and protects whites as a group through institutions, cultural representations, media, school textbooks, movies, advertising, and dominant discourses. Racial stress results from an interruption to what is racially familiar. In turn, whites are often at a loss for how to respond in constructive ways., as we have not had to build the cognitive or affective skills or develop the stamina that that would allow for constructive engagement across racial divides. leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium. This book explicates the dynamics of White Fragility and how we might build our capacity in the on-going work towards racial justice.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Why journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge is no longer talking to white ...

Award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge was frustrated with the way that discussions of race and racism are so often led by those blind to it, by those willfully ignorant of its legacy. Her response, Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, has transformed the conversation both in Britain and around the world. Examining everything from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, from whitewashed feminism to the inextricable link between class and race, Eddo-Lodge offers a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge, and counter racism. Including a new afterword by the author, this is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of color in Britain today, and an essential handbook for anyone looking to understand how structural racism works.

The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America

The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in ...

Since the early 1980s, when the federal courts began dismantling the landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, segregation of black children has reverted to its highest level since 1968. In many inner-city schools, a stick-and-carrot method of behavioral control traditionally used in prisons is now used with students. Meanwhile, as high-stakes testing takes on pathological and punitive dimensions, liberal education has been increasingly replaced by culturally barren and robotic methods of instruction that would be rejected out of hand by schools that serve the mainstream of society.

Filled with the passionate voices of children, principals, and teachers, and some of the most revered leaders in the black community, The Shame of the Nation pays tribute to those undefeated educators who persist against the odds, but directly challenges the chilling practices now being forced upon our urban systems. In their place, Kozol offers a humane, dramatic challenge to our nation to fulfill at last the promise made some 50 years ago to all our youngest citizens.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas ...

SOME AMERICANS cling desperately to the myth that we are living in a post-racial society, that the election of the first Black president spelled the doom of racism. In fact, racist thought is alive and well in America - more sophisticated and more insidious than ever. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues in Stamped from the Beginning, if we have any hope of grappling with this stark reality, we must first understand how racist ideas were developed, disseminated, and enshrined in American society.

In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W.E.B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America.

Contrary to popular conceptions, racist ideas did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Instead, they were devised and honed by some of the most brilliant minds of each era. These intellectuals used their brilliance to justify and rationalize deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and the nation’s racial disparities in everything from wealth to health. And while racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited. In shedding much-needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning offers us the tools we need to expose them—and in the process, gives us reason to hope.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning

Amazon.com: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the ...

This is NOT a history book.
This is a book about the here and now.
A book to help us better understand why we are where we are.
A book about race.

The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.

Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by beloved award-winner Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas–and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Book Review: Nerdy, Shy and Socially Inappropriate: A User Guide to An Asperger Life

Nerdy, Shy and Socially Inappropriate: A User Guide to An Asperger Life was written by Cynthia Kim, a woman who wasn’t diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder until she was an adult. As a result she provides an interesting perspective on receiving a diagnosis late in life, developing self-coping strategies and understanding, and being a woman with ASD.

Below is a review of this great book, and implications for teachers.
The book is broken down into separate chapters, each focusing on different aspects of living with ASD, beginning with a chapter about growing up undiagnosed. In this chapter, Kim describes a childhood in which she preferred to play alone, even playing games of Risk and Monopoly against herself. She collected coins, stamps, and baseball cards, and preferred organizing her Barbies over playing with them. She goes on to explain how she was bullied as a child because she struggled to navigate social interactions, and eventually became a bully herself.

The chapter titled ‘Rigid and Routine’ provides insight into these traits of individuals with autism. Kim explains that her own “strong reliance on rules, routines, and pattern recognition” (p.86) was developed as a coping strategy for dealing with some of the challenges of autism. They helped her feel like she had some semblance of control and stability when so much of her daily life was confusing. Understanding this, teachers should utilize clear routines and expectations in their classrooms to provide this stability to their students with ASD. Visual schedules, regularly repeated routines, and designated centers or zones in the classroom can all help in this regard.

There are two interesting chapters that cover sensory seeking, sensitivities, and the autistic body. For Kim, stimming often comes as a result of having to keep her body still when it is socially expected of her, so teachers should be aware of this and allow students to stim, if appropriate, or provide other means of movement for students such as exercise ball seats, standing desks, or rocking chairs. Often teachers fall into the habit of keeping students seated and still, even when it is not developmentally appropriate, and we need to break away from that.

Kim also explains that stimming serves a regulatory function, providing stimulation or a calming effect, depending on the situation, and that the form, and intensity of stimming can be very varied. Reading through this chapter, teachers may learn about forms of stimming they may have never considered before. Educators working directly to modify the behavior of students with ASD may also benefit from reading about how Kim’s stimming has evolved to be more discrete – a technique that may be beneficial for students who wish to maintain the functions of stimming without standing out too much from their peers.

In her chapter on emotions, Kim explains that she has trouble identifying and verbalizing emotions, an issue common for those with ASD. After further analysis, she realized that she had difficulties in three areas: modulation, identification, and discrimination. She dives deeper into all three areas, providing a wonderful insight into an area that is often very difficult for people with autism to explain. She also describes a strategy she uses called “Sketching My Emotional Constellations” to help identify and understand what different emotions mean and look like to her. This kind of activity could work very well in a clinical or education setting to help students better understand their own “emotional constellations.” It can also be helpful to demonstrate the depth of emotions. Kim explains that the word ‘happy’ is a “blurry splotch of a feeling” (p. 144) to her and she needed to explore it further, arriving at personal definitions or images for words such as ‘content’, ‘elated’, ‘peace’, ‘wonder’, ‘joy’, and ‘bliss.’ 

The chapter on executive function is also highly informative. Not only does she discuss what executive functioning is, but she provides clear examples of how this plays out in everyday life, such as when she visited New York City and could not answer the question “What do you want to do?” In this section in particular, Kim takes time to provide specific strategies those with ASD can use to cope with poor executive functioning, such as use of routines, reminder apps, and chunking of tasks. She also does an amazing job of explaining what goes on in her mind during what others would perceive to be “processing delays.” Any educator would do well to read this to better understand just how much our students are thinking when we often assume they’re simply not.

Peppered throughout the book are discussions about the manifestation of ASD in girls, and their perceived under-identification. Kim points out that, after her initial diagnosis she was surprised that no one had realized she had ASD as a child. She later reflects that as a child, she was a good girl who follow the rules and, as a result, she was left to her own devices. Any odd behaviors were chalked up to her being shy, nerdy, or quirky, and overlooked. She also points out that both Kanner and Asperger primarily studied boys when defining the traits of autism and Asperger’s respectively, so the signs we tend to look for skew towards the identification of males with autism. Both educators and clinicians need to be aware of these factors which may be causing us to under-identify girls with ASD, and make an active effort to look for perhaps more subtle signs in female students and clients.

There are further chapters in Kim’s book, covering topics such as meltdowns, romantic relationships, parenting, navigating social situations, and redefining and accepting herself post-diagnosis. All of it is incredibly insightful and well worth the read to gain a greater understanding of those with autism, and the challenges they face both in school and beyond as they reach adulthood.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Impact of Self-Selected Reading on Struggling Adolescent Readers

This is a bit of a departure from my previous posts which tend to be written very conversationally and casually.

I have been working to earn my Doctorate in Special Education and have done a lot (I mean A LOT) of reading about literacy and special education. While I still plan to write more casual teaching posts, I think it would be beneficial for me to share some of my doctoral level work as well.

Below is a literature review I conducted titled The Impact of Self-Selected Reading on Struggling Adolescent Readers. I won't post the entire paper in this post (it's 23 pages long, double spaced), but it is linked below if you'd like to read it.


What I did in this review was I searched through various academic journals for any study on Self-Selected Reading, or S-SR (providing students with time during class to independently read a text of their choosing. Students typically read novels of interest to them, but may also read non-fiction books, magazines, and articles during this time). As a high school teacher with students who hate to read, I wanted to know how using S-SR could effect their reading comprehension and their motivation to read.

While many teachers talk about S-SR (often under terms such as independent reading, sustained silent reading, choice reading, voluntary reading, etc.) I found that there is a serious lack of actual research on the topic.

After an exhaustive search I found 190 articles that mentioned S-SR and adolescents in some capacity. Of those, only 4(!) were actual studies on the effect of S-SR in grades 6-12 on reading comprehension or motivation. I knew I wouldn't find a lot focused on students with disabilities or even struggling readers, but to only find four studies with adolescents at all was shocking.

I ended up adding in studies with students in 3-5 grade, and some unpublished Thesis and Dissertations on the topic just to have enough data to work with (14 studies total).


The studies had mixed results in terms of the impact of S-SR on reading comprehension. None of these studies found a negative effect from implementation of S-SR, suggesting that use of S-SR is as good as or better than typical methods of instruction used in control groups.

Interestingly, all of the studies that focused on reading comprehension of struggling readers specifically showed positive effects, so S-SR may be beneficial for struggling readers including those with disabilities.

All of the studies which measured motivation reported positive findings. In interviews, students stated that they enjoyed reading more and that they felt they were improving as readers as a result of Self-Selected Reading. Many teachers observed increased student engagement and noted that students were requested extra reading time. Students were also found to increase reading time outside of school.

Full Paper: The Impact of Self-Selected Reading on Struggling Adolescent Readers

During my Master's Program I also wrote on the topic here: SUSTAINED SILENT READING: WHAT THE RESEARCH ACTUALLY SAYS

Friday, February 1, 2019

Ready Player One: A Trade Book Evaluation

Another school assignment inbound. This time I was tasked with reviewing a trade book (basically any book you can pick up at a regular book store) to "learn how to relate real world, authentic reading to my own life (both personal and professional) and the lives of my students." Below is my review of Ready Player One.

Note: This post does contain affiliate links. If you use the link and make a purchase I will receive a small commision at no expense to you. The content of this post has not been influenced in any way by this.


I chose to read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline because I felt it would tie in well with my English classes. This year I am experimenting with using gamification (application of game design principles to build student engagement) in my classroom, and I felt that a book that takes place in a virtual gaming world would align with my theme of leveling up as learners. I also thought students would likely enjoy the story since it features many pop culture references, video games are seemingly ubiquitous with teenagers, and there is a movie adaptation available.

Application and Relevance

My primary purpose in reading this book was to apply it in my classroom and with my students. In following Wade in his quest to discover Halliday’s Easter Egg hidden in the VR world of OASIS (the finder of which would inherit his fortune and ownership of OASIS), I found the elements of the challenge to be very intriguing. While there was a simple base quest of following a trail to reach the end goal, there were many other elements layered in. Finding and interpreting the various clues required the players to study history and psychology. Some tasks could only be completed alone, while others required team work. Many aspects of the challenges also targeted different skills and talents of the players.

In reading I found myself analyzing the few game mechanics I had incorporated into my classroom and seeing how much further I could push it. I plan to incorporate far more interaction between my students through small group challenges, whole group cooperative tasks, and some direct competition. I also want to push myself to incorporate other subject areas into my units, as well as multiple means of demonstrating understanding, in order to create a more comprehensive approach to literacy.

Elements of Engagement

Ready Player One was a very engaging the book – the kind that keeps you up late into the night as you read “just one more chapter.” Cline accomplishes this through numerous elements of engagement, starting first with people that we can care about. The novel’s protagonist Wade Watts is instantly sympathetic, an intelligent kid neglected by his aunt and growing up in the futuristic equivalent of a trailer park. Rather than bemoaning about his lot in life, Wade actively seeks ways to improve his life. As a result, the reader wants to support him and follow him through his journey.

Cline also does a great job creating a world the reader can visualize. From the “stacks” where Wade grew up and his virtual high school, to Archaide and Anorak's Castle, there are enough details included to create a fully realized world, but there is enough left to the reader’s imagination that we can feel comfortable and somewhat familiar in those settings. There is also a good balance of realistic settings like Aech’s Basement chatroom and fantastical places such as the zero-gravity club so that the reader’s imagination has moments to rest and reset.

Of course, a story if only as compelling as the challenges faced by its characters. Throughout the book, Wade faces danger and conflicts, and he must take risks and make difficult choices to overcome the obstacles he faces. Initially the quest to find Halliday’s Easter Egg is merely an escape for Wade from the pain and suffering of his everyday life. After becoming instantly famous for finding the first key, however, Wade’s perspective shifts. Gradually his primary drive becomes ensuring the corporation Innovative Online Industries (IOI) does not find the Easter Egg in order to prevent from them monetizing OASIS. This puts him in direct conflict with IOI. Not only does the corporation attempt to interfere with him in the virtual world, but they attempt to eliminate him in the real world. After his trailer is blown up, Wade is forced to go into hiding along with his friends Aech and Art3mis. From there he risks his life each time he logs in to OASIS, and eventually makes the decision to face IOI directly, recognizing how much it would hurt impoverished children like him if OASIS was no longer available.

There is a strong chronological structure in the novel, as there is a race against time to find the Egg before IOI. While there are no date or time stamps on chapters as other novels may use, Cline makes reference to the passing of time regularly, beginning in the prologue with a ticking off of each year after Halliday’s announcement “And another year went by. And another.” before revealing the full date when Wade’s avatar appears as the first name on the Scoreboard. As the story progresses, Wade laments how long some puzzles take to solve or the time it takes to travel or make arrangements before they can move forward. This gives the reader a clear understanding of the time that is passing.

Throughout Ready Player One there are also ample moral and ethical dilemmas. The primary debate carried through the novel is that of freedom or success of the individual versus the collective group. Wade, Aech and Art3mis directly confront the concern about if they should work to help each other in the hunt for Halliday’s egg, even though that goes against their personal interests. Readers can also discuss why we support Wade, Aech and Art3mis teaming up, but criticize IOI for doing the same with their employees.

Text Connections

This book offers many opportunities to create connections between the text and the reader, other texts, and the world. I believe students will be able to relate to Wade, and his struggle to fit in despite being different and lacking the resources of other kids his age. Many of the students in my classes also come from poor families who live in trailer parks where they are often woken by gunfire, as Wade is at the start of chapter 1.

They will also be able to connect with the characters building their relationships. While Wade may meet Aech and Art3mis in a virtual basement, we can all relate to meeting new people and developing friendships based on shared interests. Since my students are in high school, they will also likely recognize the awkward and confusing experience of exploring romantic interests.

Personally, I found myself connecting with Wade and his struggle with his health and weight. In our modern society I think many people will see themselves in this teenager who has to force himself to exercise before logging in to OASIS because the allure of that world and its comforts is so appealing. Even if students can’t directly relate in terms of their health, the can all understand the difficulty of putting down their phone or turning off the TV in order to do necessary tasks like homework and chores. 

Ready Player One is rife with references to other texts, providing ample changes to text-to-text connections. Notably, the entire quest to find the Easter Egg is based on Halliday’s life in the 80s, referring to many old arcade games, movies and TV shows of the time. Looking beyond these deliberate references, I plan to push my students to think even deeper, making comparisons across theme. It is important for students to recognize that some messages are universal, and remain true in the past, present, and future. One of the underlying themes in the novel is that of a dystopian society escaping reality through media, rather than facing their reality and trying to change it. This instantly reminded me of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In this book, the main character Montag begins to realize his wife Mildred, and much of the population, is gradually blocking out all of reality, spending most of her time with “the family” on their interactive TV wall, or wearing earbud radio receivers.

I believe my students will also be able to make connections to other media that features characters who attempt to hide their true identities in the same way that Wade hides his weight issues, and Aech hides the fact that she is not only female in a male dominated culture, but also black and a lesbian. Many of my students will make this connection with Sword Art Online, an animated series about teenagers trapped in a virtual world. Much of this series focuses on the persona these teens attempt to create, and how they reconcile them with their true natures and backgrounds. Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg also provides a great opportunity for connecting texts about concealing identities to fit in, as well as a direct connection to Aech hiding her sexuality from others.

Ready Player One also presents some amazing options for text-to-world connections. The most obvious is in the burgeoning field of virtual reality technology, with Playstation VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and VR apps becoming commonplace. I plan to read informational texts with my students about these technologies, as well as the myriad of ways they are being used - not just for entertainment, but in education, medicine, and even nation security as well. Another connection I know many of my students will enjoy exploring is to real world pro-gaming. E-Sports, which were once seen as a frivolous pastime, is now become a billion-dollar industry, with championships played in front of audiences of thousands and broadcast to millions of people on national television.

Lastly, while it is not a major plot point of the novel, Cline describe the state of the “real” world of Ready Player One as suffering from "The ongoing energy crisis. Catastrophic climate change. Widespread famine, poverty, and disease. Half a dozen wars"(p1). I would like my students to explore this description and analyze real world events and factors that could contribute to such a future. These topics would include climate change, current wars such as those in Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen, potential future conflicts including political struggles with Russia and China, the fossil fuel debate, and reacial and economic disparity both within the United States and globally.

Sunday, January 13, 2019


Disorderly Teaching - Magic of Tidying Your Classroom Part 1
Image courtesy of KonMari.com

The Inspiration

This past week I signed up for Educators 2 Educators Teacher New Year Reboot Conference. While there was a lot of great information available at this conference, the thing I wanted to see more than anything was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Your Classroom from Building Book Love.

I'd previously read Marie Kondo's book, but had never thought about applying it to my classroom before. I've been feeling stressed lately about the size of my room, and the lack of storage and wall space, so seeing BBL's post on Instagram seemed serendipitous.

When I watched her presentation, the number one thing that stood out to me was the concept of taking EVERYTHING out and then figuring out how to organize things. I had been trying to organize around the things I had already stored, even though those things had been put away haphazardly in a rush at the beginning of the year and where they were placed really made no sense. No wonder I wasn't making any progress!

Feeling super energized and optimistic, I decided to commit my entire teacher planning day after Winter Break to this challenge.

If you're interested in doing the same in your room, I highly recommend you join Building Book Love's Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up Your Classroom FREE 7 Day Challenge.

Day One

A quick snapshot of what me room looked like daily.

Despite my enthusiasm, it took a little effort to get going. What can I say? Coming back to work after two weeks and hitting the ground running is a little rough. Still, I eventually did start pulling out all of my belongings and stacking them on the desks in the middle of my room. The only things I left in place were student binders and notebooks, because I knew I wanted them to stay where they were. EVERYTHING else came out. EVERYTHING.

It was kind of exhausting removing items from every corner of the room, but it also felt really good to take stock of what I had. In the 7 years I've been teaching I've been through 4 subject areas, 4 classrooms, and combined with a co-teacher with 25 years experience. So while I had a lot of the usual clutter of supplies and materials, I also had a ton of off miscellaneous items around. I honestly could not have told you half of what was in my room.

But with everything pulled out and categorized, things didn't seem so bleak. I realized I had a fair amount of space to store things on shelves if I organized properly, and I had more wall space available once the boxes and bins were out of the way.

All of my sorted piles

The first major thing I did was recognize that I simply could not store our Relay for Life fundraising materials in my room. I had shirts, wristbands, and other materials filling up filing cabinet drawers, bookshelves, and tabletops. Feeling frustrated, I vented to my sister whose own room is one building over from mine. And, like the sound of angels from heaven, she told me:

"I have an empty cabinet this can probably all fit in."

BAM! Big cart, 3 shelves, and 3 filing cabinet drawers were freed! Talk about magic!

Next I went into my miscellaneous pile. I knew some of it would be tricky to sort and organize, but there was also clearly a lot that I simply did not need. With ruthless precision I yanked out anything I knew right away was unnecessary and started a give away pile.

I also started a return pile because, apparently, I had things that belonged to a number of other people.

Once the pile had grown too big to fit on one desk, I bagged it up and brought it to our planning room and put it on display. Another sigh of relief. I could finally breathe in my classroom.

I boxed up the rest of the miscellaneous items to deal with another day, then moved on to my novels. I realized just how few I had actually taken to my new room. I stacked them on my nicest bookshelf and planned to get more books from storage. 

Looking around the room I started to see things I hadn't before. My Harry Potter posters, as much as I loved them, did not match my Superhero theme, so them came down.

I had highlighters stored in three different places. They were all combined into one container.

I HATED the sliding draw organizers I used because of course adding an extra level in my desk drawers made sense. Who wouldn't want more room? Except they slid around, blocked access to the other materials in the drawer, and they were ugly. Now I had the clarity to let them go.

Near the end of the day I found myself looking back to my desk area repeatedly. There was nothing inherently wrong with it, but it definitely did NOT "spark joy" as Marie Kondo would recommend. It felt cramp and cluttered, and despite having a rack organizer, desk drawers, and a 2 drawer filing cabinet, I was constantly stacking papers on random corners and over my printer until I could get to them. It simply wasn't working.

So I yanked out my desk. I didn't even like it to begin with. It's metal, and it doesn't watch the wood of my shelves or the build in shelf that holds the room's electronics. I had made do with it because it was all I had, but after tidying everything else, I felt ready to try removing it completely!

It didn't work. Or rather, removing my desk and shifting my computer to the side counter didn't work, because then I would be putting my back to the room any time I took attendance or loaded a presentation. No bueno.

Still, removing that desk had felt so good, I simply refused to put it back. After playing around with a number of ideas, I condensed two of the student computers to one table, and dragged the other table over. I tried it in a few spots and finally placed it in a spot that DID spark joy.

With only a few minutes before I would have to leave for my doctorate classes, I rewired my computer, not even caring that the wires were in a cluttered pile. Somehow it still felt better than my old desk and it's hidden wires ever had.

Several students came in the next day and commented on how much bigger the room looks and how open it is! I really expected them to be chiding me about the massive pile of things I had waiting on our small group table but I guess the overall effect of my tidying and rearranging overrode that.

Their enthusiasm gave me the energy to push through a 12 hour day the next day.

Coming Soon: Day Two

Friday, December 28, 2018


Don't ask me what took so long. I guess I never realized with a cool platform Instagram is for teachers. It's like Pinterest and Facebook with mashed together and I'm totally digging it.

You can find me there as @disorderlyteaching