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Designing a Middle School Classroom

March 15, 2023

Designing my classroom felt both joyful and daunting.

I get to create a space for my students!

But, coming from student teaching in high school to middle school, I realized that… I wasn’t totally sure who my students were. What does a seventh grader think about? What do they like? What do they need to feel comfortable and secure in a space?

And, I’ll be there all day, every day. What do I want my classroom to be?

I dreamt of an ELA classroom that also felt like the back of a bookstore — cozy and comfortable, predictable and maybe a little bit messy. People live in it. People read in it. People learn in it. Living and reading and learning get messy — I wanted a space with room for that.

 I didn’t realize that I would also need to make space for plastic water bottles being tossed across the room when I wasn’t looking.

I didn’t realize crumpled pieces of paper would be theatrically and lavishly dunked into the recycling bin, only to not make it into that recycling bin.

I didn’t realize what it would mean for my classroom space to be occupied by twelve-year olds, in all of their joy and silliness and still-developing impulse control.

I started with this: structure is care, and a predictable classroom is a trauma-informed classroom. 

So, I needed to make my classroom structured and predictable. I needed expectations to always be explicit. I can’t and shouldn’t expect kids to know things that I never told them. 

When kids enter the classroom, the first thing they see is a check-in board. It gives them a moment to share with me anything that has been on their mind and that may impact the way they move through our class. 


Full disclosure — the kids don’t use this. But! I still see it as a success, because the first thing they see when they walk into the classroom is a reminder that (1) they are whole people and (2) they can bring all of that into our classroom.

In the spirit of honesty, there are also lots of things on the walls that have since become less useful. The procedure I imagined I’d use when students needed a moment to reset and self-regulate has been replaced by one that works better for my school and my students, so the poster reflecting the expected routine has been removed.

Well, it fell off. Getting things to stick to cinder block walls is hard. For some reason, blue painter’s tape works way better than white masking tape. And mounting putty combined with laminated pages is not a combination that will stay up past a weather change.

Over the course of the year, my classroom has changed. There are a few things that have stayed the same, though.

One is my smaller whiteboard. It has many things that bring me and my students a sense of joy and structure.

  1. It has a few quotes I love — it is important to me that my classroom also reflects me as a person to an extent, and models to the students the joy I find in reading and writing.
  2. It has a monthly calendar that gets filled with due dates, school holidays, and birthdays. If I am one day late filling this out, the students ask about it! They love seeing their birthdays shared with everyone and they love knowing what to expect from the month.
  3. The book I am currently reading and a poem that I find joyful. Again, I need them to see that I, too, am a reader and a writer.
  4. Sound levels and push lights. Push lights are great! They’re cheap on Amazon! There is a push light next to each numbered sound level that I turn on when we need to be at that sound level. This helps remind students of behavior expectations.


Beyond that, my classroom has become filled over the school year with examples, student work, and student artwork. Lots of the same students that need behavior redirection or reminders about work are also incredible artists, and I love to put their art up in my classroom to remind them how glad I am to see them, even on days when I often have to redirect their behavior.

Recently, my students and I have gotten into drawing vegetables and then giving them personalities. I started it as a personal project and then shared it with them, and now when we have breaks kids ask for index cards to draw more! It’s a piece of classroom culture that we have built together, and I am so proud of it.

classroom4.jpgHere’s what I believe to be true, for me, about an effective classroom.

  1. Kids want and need to feel comfortable. I am not able to have alternative forms of seating in my room yet, but I give them spaces to sit on the floor or in the hallway and do their work when appropriate. I do have string lights, which soften the lighting of the room and make it feel cozier. Lamps are on my list for what to add next year!
  2. Kids like when they can contribute to the classroom. Kid art is everywhere! It isn’t about ELA necessarily, but it is about them. I know it’s trite, but we don’t teach our subjects nearly as much as we teach our students. We meet them where they are, as full people. I want them to know how glad I am that there full selves show up in my classroom every day.
  3. Perfect organization of all of my classroom materials is a second-year teaching task (maybe…). My room is a bit of a mess, a lot of the time. But, kids are cared for and kids are learning and organization is a priority for another time. There was a teacher on Instagram and she showed her classroom for her first 10 years of teaching (simple, minimally decorated, in an older building) and her classroom now (truly, a TikTok teacher’s fever dream). She said how, in both of those spaces, kids learned and were cared for. There are a million ways to have an amazing classroom!

Posted in celebration of Middle Level Education Month, 2023.