I love exploring teacher Instagram feeds. There are so many wonderful ideas for teaching and learning out there. The learning resources, lesson plans, behaviour management strategies…. so many purposeful, engaging and meaningful ideas that support and encourage learning and growth amongst students. But then there’s this cute side of the teaching world that confuses me a little.
Now I’m not being cynical or judgy (well, maybe a little!) but I’m just a little perplexed by some of it so hear me out. The cute classroom is definitely a thing these days. I know there has always been hype around having a theme for your classroom and decorating it accordingly but styling it with whatever is currently in fashion (rose gold staplers are a thing?!) seems new. These rooms have Kmart and Target decor spilling from the doorways along with every craft resource you can possibly think of organised ever so beautifully in sparkly containers that are carefully marked with printed and laminated labels.
Rewind back to my first couple of years as a squeaky clean new teacher and I had all the sparkly, bright, pom pom laden things so I do get the feeling of needing to have a beautiful, fun learning space. I spent silly amounts of money on cute pictures of cartoon animals, art supplies, and anything that was glittery. It felt good in the moment. I had classroom themes, sweet little cushions and all sorts of other crap that looked amazing to begin with yet as the year progressed it eventually lead to mess, stress and more work to try and keep it in order. Most of it served no educational purpose whatsoever but it made my room look cute. Cute was good. It made me happy and I loved doing it. Yes there was excitement amongst the kids but eventually it became old news, annoying or invisible. I once had this epic rocket that my Grade 3 and 4 students made out of boxes and foil for our numeracy corner. They loved it. It looked amazing,but then the tin foil was pulled off resulting in me getting grumpy because kids were rolling it into balls and flinging it across the room. Not cool guys. Not cool.
So in more recent months my thinking about how and why we decorate our rooms has shifted a little and I have questions about these cute classrooms… Many, many questions…
1. How do they stay so neat?
I know what kids are like. There would be snotty tissues, unclaimed school jumpers strewn across the floor and those craft containers would no longer own their original lids. That’s the reality. Of course I’d get the kids to help keep it nice but seriously, have you watched a bunch of Grade 5/6s clean? Not too crash hot in the art of tidying up! So I’m pretty sure these teachers are packing up their cute things on a daily basis to ensure it looks perfect for the following day aka ‘Instagram ready’. This is precious teacher time that could be used to mark some papers or eat a Mars Bar! Priorities!
2. Where do these resources come from?
I’m pretty sure the school isn’t investing in meters of bunting and fake flowers. I know stores like Kmart and the like are ridiculously cheap but I saw someone who had about six giant Kmart kids’ cushions at $25 a pop! Whaaaaaat!? Our sad little teacher wage can’t afford that so how is this happening. Are people just not eating food for a fortnight in order to pay for their crafty habits and cushion obsessions?
3. Who has time to make and laminate that many displays and resources!?
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good laminating session but some of these printables don’t seem very necessary. I’m not laminating a bunch of flowers that spell out the words ‘Reading Corner’, I’m just not! The kids know it’s the reading corner because I told them, it’s a corner and there are books there! No laminating required. So many of these displays do not really serve a purpose, and for the resources that do, I still wonder – are the kids actually looking at them or using them? How can they read it if it’s up near the ceiling!? Sure it all looks very bright and inviting but is it purposeful? Do these overly decorated rooms overwhelm the kids? They certainly freak me out!
4. Why are some teachers decorating their classroom without any regard for their students?
“Okay kids the theme this term is ‘The Secret Garden’ because I just think it makes everything look so pretty and it was my favourite book when I was twelve.” Meanwhile the boys are rolling their eyes and the girls are giggling because the room looks like a fairy just vomited all over the place. To me the learning space is a shared space and it should therefore be a collaborative process to some degree. They are the learners so I think they have some right to say what they would like to have and we should listen. Setting everything up for the year the way you as the teacher like it doesn’t seem to show any regard for the kids but it’s okay because the room looks super cute. Right? Riiiiight?
And I’m sorry, but….
6. Why are people sticking pom poms on to pegs along with a whole range of other mind boggling decorations?!
7. Why is there so much glitter on everything?!
8. How do people have time to change classroom themes EVERY SINGLE TERM?!
What is happening here!? When are teachers planning lessons, assessing and managing their rooms with all of these extra, non educational craft projects going on!? As teachers we are already stressed, overworked and overwhelmed by the compulsory aspects of our schools and education departments so why are we spending so much time making beautiful things that no one really needs to have? I get that for many these extra crafty jobs bring joy but that’s usually in the moment, as the year goes on do these things just end up gathering dust before being thrown away? It certainly doesn’t bring joy when I just spent 2 hours covered in glue and glitter only to realise that I now need to moderate some writing for a further 2 hours.
Having said all of this, if you think it’s worth it and makes a difference then there’s no problem, but take a minute to consider the following things….
Why do we want a cute classroom?
Is it to enhance learning? Or to have our fellow colleagues green with envy? Is it to excite the kids? Or for ourselves? Is it to promote learning and student engagement? Or is it for teacher fame so we have more followers on Instagram?
I suppose we all decorate our learning spaces for some or all of these reasons and whether we want to believe it or not most of the time these cute things aren’t for anything remotely related to education. They just make things look nice. I’m not suggesting any of these reasons are bad or wrong but I guess what I’m wondering is what is it all for? I think you can still have a beautiful room without all the fluff and for your own sanity I think we can all agree that hot glue gunning a pom pom to a peg is a little silly. I want to ensure that the learning space I teach in has an element of excitement and wonder whilst still being educational and meaningful for the students using the space. I want to make sure everything the children are exposed to applies to the learning at hand. Cute is good, educational is better.
Where do you stand?