The culture of cute in the classroom

I recently received not just one, but two emails from teachers informing me that my classroom “wasn’t cute” in the pictures I’ve shared on this site. Commentary on cuteness (or lack thereof) is something that seems to be happening more and more frequently in education-related discussions. And what’s really interesting is that in many cases, “not cute” is meant as a compliment.

Here’s an excerpt from one email:

It seems like every time I’m looking for opinions, suggestions, and practical information about teaching, especially integrating technology in the K-6 classroom or differentiation, I am directed to middle school blogs run by male teachers. The elementary blogs seem to talk about cute bulletin board themes and actually use the word “cuteify”- as in, to make more cute, when talking about creating worksheets. It’s pretty depressing. I mean, worksheets? I found your weblog when looking for ideas about bulletin boards, simply because I have little space and less inclination; I hate bulletin board borders and pre-made things.  Your suggestions were clear, to the point, and most certainly not cute.  Student centered, student directed, and useful, yes. Exploring more, I found some practical suggestions for things that I’m considering as I’m setting up my own new classroom, and a clear sense that your view of being a teacher is not in how great you display student work, but how you use your time and energy to be the be guide (not master) for students.

Two days later, I received this from another frustrated teacher:

I follow quite a few blogs that are wonderful. The creators seem like wonderful teachers but do a lot of “fluff” and extras in a time when teachers are busier than ever. I am seeing that many teachers insist on having classroom themes (jungle, sports, animals, etc.). Teachers redo word wall words, parent notes, student information packets, learning stations, labeling systems, etc. to match the theme. Is this time well spent when we should be personalizing learning, deepening thinking, and many more?!? While looking at photos on your blog, I don’t see any of these things. I see a welcoming, engaging classroom that is “to the point” and contains the essentials. I noticed that you even commented about not putting holiday/seasonal thing up. I’ve taught for over ten years and have never had a student ask me why we don’t have Halloween, spring, etc decor on the walls. Do themes, different graphic organizers for each story with clip art from the story and all that really increase student achievement?

If you’ve been reading Matt Gomez’ blog, you know without a doubt that cuteness has become a hot button topic among teachers. But why is there such a divide between the cutes and cute-nots? Is it possible to accept the fact that teachers have different opinions of what they want their classrooms and materials to look like, and there’s no one right way?

When does the pressure to have a perfect-looking classroom become a distraction from what really matters?

I haven’t chosen sides in this debate, nor have I purposefully fallen on the not-cute side. In fact, until a few years ago, I thought my stuff WAS cute. It wasn’t until the boom in teacher blogging and Pinterest that I realized just how much more I could be doing. Social media has given us a glimpse into other people’s worlds and we see possibilities now that were unknown before. There are so many creative educators out there making their learning spaces and materials picture perfect that it’s easy to feel inferior. Many of us think we’re using Pinterest to find and share ideas, but half the time, we close the computer feeling that our classrooms (and homes, recipes, clothes, and bodies) don’t measure up to everyone else’s.

Though I don’t have a problem with individual teachers “cuteifying” their classrooms (or blogging about it, or buying/selling adorable things on Teachers Pay Teachers), I do have some concerns with the “culture of cute” as a whole, and I’ll share two reasons why.

First, I’m worried that making things look cute has become yet another unnecessary task and impossible standard for teachers to meet. The pressure to have a perfect-looking classroom can be intense in some schools, and teachers already feel that nothing they do is good enough. They barely have time to plan lessons or grade papers, but they feel guilty if their center materials use clashing color schemes. They worry that a plain-looking assignment shouldn’t be displayed even though it required higher level thinking on the part of students, and choose a precious but less challenging worksheet to hang up instead. They spend so much time creating the appearance of a beautiful learning environment that they’re too tired to think about the learning itself.

I can’t help but think that the time we spend making things look good is time we could have spent talking with students, creating meaningful assignments, differentiating learning, analyzing and reflecting on our own practice, and growing professionally. Sure, it’s possible to have style AND substance, but how do you make time for both when you’re barely keeping your head above water? Focusing on the appearance of things is easier and a often lot more fun, so it can become a distraction from the real purpose of teaching.

My second concern is that in some cases, we’re using “cute” to compensate for boring and outdated teaching practices. If the only way to get students to complete an assignment is to put adorable clip art and borders on it, I will submit that it might be time to rethink the assignment itself. Project-based learning and other tasks that are meaningful and authentic don’t need fancy disguises: the “hook” for kids is solving a real-world problem that they’re personally invested in. Realistically, I know that not everything kids do in school can fit that criteria, but I wonder if our energy is better spent on finding more authentic tasks instead of cuter worksheets.

I would love to know how much time, effort, and (let’s get real) money you spend making things in your classroom look cute. How do you balance cuteness with content when choosing learning materials or figuring out how to manage your time? All respectful viewpoints are welcome–let’s discuss!

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 101 comments… read them below or add one }

1 An appreciative reader July 29, 2013 at 12:35 am

Thank you for your thoughtful post, and validation to spend time preparing in ways that don’t necessarily add a cuteness factor. I wish more of the blogs I read were focusing on creating a culture of personalized learning and deep thinking, rather than coordinated design themes. Thank you for bringing up the enormous elephant in the blogosphere in a thoughtful, respectful way.

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2 Katie July 29, 2013 at 12:36 am

I have tried doing a classroom theme in the past, but I’ve never felt like I have really pulled it off. It’s fun trying to make the room look cute but once the kids actually enter the space it’s all about function. I am not opposed to buying the cutesy stuff from TPT, but I honestly don’t understand where those teachers find the time to make it all! I often look at their work and feel inferior–like why don’t I spend *all* that time on my students, but I have invested my time in my coursework and recently got a doctorate, so I guess we each have our own priorities.

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3 rainbowcat5 July 29, 2013 at 8:45 am

Thank you for finally saying it! I’ve watched teachers in my school spend MONTHS setting up their classrooms to be adorable. One teacher even said that it didn’t matter if you used the stuff, as long as it looked good! When we toured each other’s classrooms for inspiration, it became very clear that this had become an interior design/decorating competition, rather than a functional, educational issue. Setting up an elementary classroom is hard enough, why make it this difficult? Why spend your summer making pom-poms to hang?

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4 Tammy July 29, 2013 at 9:42 am

I have been in education for 25 years, 17 of those as a classroom teacher and the past eight as a technology and testing coordinator. When I began everyone changed their bulletin boards on a regular basis. As education evolved, our walls became a source for resources. Word walls took up at least one wall of our classrooms and the “how to” and “what not to forget” poster world exploded until we had ran out of wall space. We didn’t really need to worry about what kind of bulletin boards we were going to put up, but how we were going to make those resources cute. During my tenure, curriculum has also been drilled down, becoming increasingly more difficult and intense. I have heard many teachers say, “I don’t have time to change out bulletin boards, there are too many other things to do”. However, many elementary school teachers also want to foster a feeling of warmth and welcomeness to their rooms, much like many people do with their homes. The way most teachers I work with have met this challenge is to go ahead and “cuteify” their rooms over the summer and leave it that way for the year. They do still display student work, which many times includes seasonal projects.

A fellow veteran teacher and I just had this discussion the other day. She had been visiting with and helping a new teacher who was a little stressed out about changing all the “fluff’ and wanted to concentrate on the curriculum. As my veteran teacher friend and I were discussing it, we talked about the fact that, with the exception of one teacher (the only male teacher in our building), no one really does a lot of that any more. We have a kindergarten teacher that decorated using a theme that she likes several years ago and has stuck with that same theme (and it is still cute)!

Finally, I will say that I realized many years ago, we do the “fluff” for us – the kids don’t usually notice or care (whether it is on the walls or our papers). Our rooms are our havens and the place we spend a great deal time. It should really be up to the teacher who “lives” there how they want to spend their time, because all that decorating generally falls outside of contracted timed. On the flip side, those teachers that don’t want to fluff up their rooms shouldn’t feel the pressure or need to do so.

Great topic for discussion!!

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5 Dorothy July 31, 2013 at 8:09 pm

I couldn’t agree more.

I am setting up my 1st classroom. I am going a jungle theme. It will be a set it up and leave it theme. The only changes that will be made are updating the student work that is displayed and updating the content of the various word walls/ anchor charts.

I am doing the cute thing because my room is my haven. I feel that if I am going to spend all my time there I want it to be fun.

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6 Melinda July 31, 2013 at 11:59 pm

I agree with you Tammy. I have had a BEE theme that I have used for 6 years, I purchase things off and on at the dollar store or yard sales, but don’t go bonkers creating the new theme each year or spending a fortune on ink cartridges so everything can match! I am new to reading blogs, because frankly over the school year I have no time, so my summer I thought I’d follow some. I felt like I was in over my head with all the pom pom and circumstance of classroom thematics! I have never had very big classrooms and so for me, the things I put in my room must serve a purpose. I have one small space dedicated to my Alma Mater and a few personal items. ( Picture of my GRAND DAUGHTER!) Wall space and bulletin boards are prime real estate so they are for anchor charts, word walls and student art work. I do switch out ceiling hanging things for the seasons but our decorations are student art. I had older students last year and they loved having a turn at pulling out my seasonal bins and decorating the room. I just turned them loose. 4th girls had Christmas, 5th boys had St Pat’s..etc. ( I feel I am preparing them for teamwork and for Prom decorating!!) Haha!
Last year I bought a Frankenstein lawn stake and put him in one of my plant pots for Halloween…well he just never got taken down and we put a Santa hat on him, then a Heart for Valentines day went on the hat, then a Shamrock bead necklace…he was kinda cute, and my kids thought he was a hoot. I don’t want to live at school, and I won’t become a slave to fashion ( even classroom décor) but I do want my students to enjoy the space they have to be in all day too.

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7 Christy July 16, 2014 at 2:38 pm

As a kindergarten teacher I try to make my room comfortable and inviting. I use the work my students do as decoration, as well as charts and language activities. What I put up in July is usually what is still up in May. I don’t have time to change it out. I love TpT and the units I purchase there. I wish I knew how those teachers had time to create such wonderful activities, but I am glad they do. It has made my job much easier!

Great discussion!

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8 mattBgomez July 29, 2013 at 9:49 am

Angela this is a very thoughtful post. Thank you! “How do you balance cuteness with content” is an important question but it seems so many get defensive over the question. It is important to be thoughtful and reflect on what you do and why you do it regardless your stance. Everyone should do that every year.

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9 Sherrie July 29, 2013 at 9:56 am

I have seen the cute debate that’s been going on recently. Here is where I stand on it. I teach 7th grade math in a middle school. I started my career as a 6th grade teacher, also in middle school at the time (we are now a 7-8 building because of space issues).

I think it’s important for students to have a clean, organized, welcoming classroom environment not matter what the age level. A few years ago I went with a color scheme of pink, lime, and blue. Pink and green are my favorite colors, but I thought that might be too preppy/girly so I added the blue for a bit of balance. The kids loved the color scheme.

Last year I added some zebra accents and found some cute zebra stars items from Mardel. I use these items to bring more of a continuity to my classroom and also because I found some great organizational pieces to use.

When parents and students come to my classroom for open house they rave about how great the room looks and make comments about how it seems like my classroom would be a great place to learn math. I definitely achieved my goal of a welcoming classroom while meeting my organizational needs. I spend the majority of my waking hours in my classroom during the school week and I want it to be a place that I love coming to. I have a very small weird shaped room (irregular pentagon) that instead of looking cluttered, I hope looks warm, cozy, and inviting.

I would not want to spend time in a cluttered, disorganized classroom myself. That does not mean that the teacher is not wonderful. I used to be a bit of a clutterbug myself years ago. I just think that when we go to inservices at the HS some rooms are blah and bare (and this is all through the year). We MS teachers comment on how awful it would be to learn in what looks like an institution.

Just because someone likes their room to look cute (as I do) does not mean it lack substance in any way, shape, or form. I make my room “cute” so my students feel comfortable and want to come into my classroom. I did an end of the year survey and had many students comment about my classroom decor (which is really a color scheme). They appreciated it. When former students come back and visit me they complain that the room did not look that cool when I taught them. Now obviously I was just as good of a teacher either way, but there is something to be said for making your classroom look inviting.

I think no matter what students deserve to learn in a clean and organized space. When I a post-it survey the first day of school last year and had the sentence starter Our classroom should be ____ everyday, the answer given by most students was clean or organized. That does not mean your classroom needs to be perfect, because we all know learning can be messy, but it should be clean enough when students walk in for them to feel comfortable.

Sorry for writing a novel, maybe I should do a blog post on this! I just get annoyed when people (not you) assume if you have a cute classroom that you are all about fluff and that’s an unfair generalization I have seen in some comments on other blogs.

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10 Marie July 30, 2013 at 12:11 am

I could NOT AGREE MORE! I feel the same way…sometimes people confuse “cute” with “lack of substance”…I work my butt off to have both, and my students and their parents love that about my classroom. :)

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11 @8amber8 July 30, 2013 at 9:48 am

I agree! Just because I am on #teamcute doesn’t mean I am an airhead who doesn’t care about high levels of thinking! I am a FIRM believer that you can do both!
I think I’m gonna blog about this too…I strive for both in my former classroom and the campus’s that I’ve had the opportunity to work on.

Thanks for the convo, Ang!

matching my shoes to my earrings,
Amber

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12 Joan Young July 31, 2013 at 10:18 am

Best comment ever, Amber! I’m actually challenging myself to think beyond the cute factor and ask what is really going on in the classroom. It doesn’t have to be an either/or as long as the environment facilitates the learning we want to happen! Kids do notice and actually enjoy giving their input on the decor. Thanks for this post, Angela. So much to think about.

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13 Beth Still July 29, 2013 at 10:48 am

Until Matt wrote the post about cute being somewhat overrated I did not even realize this was something teachers discussed! I teach at a very small alternative high school. My school is located on the campus of a community college and we were strongly encouraged to stick with the “professional theme” of the college which was TAN walls, GRAY carpet, and BLACK chairs. This coming year I will be sharing my room with a teacher who got me hooked on Pinterest. We agreed that the room was drab and needed some color and cheer. We have made some really cute things to give the room some visual appeal. (Including pom poms!) We may or may not have included some items with glitter…. 😉

It took some time this summer to make the curtains, pom poms, and other things, but I enjoyed doing it. When our students come back in a few weeks, they will have the opportunity to create art work to display in the classroom and in the halls so they can have some ownership in the space as well.

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14 Lauren July 29, 2013 at 10:51 am

Wonderful, honest post. When I was preparing for my first year of teaching, I brought in a few “cute” pieces to make the classroom feel like my own–namely a few paper puff balls (the ones you make by accordion folding and then fluffing out) and a pennant banner. That was pretty much it.
I must admit: following blogs before I had my own classroom made me eager to see what I could do in my room. I think it’s part of the whole Pinterest standard of measuring up to everyone else. When I got in my room, though, I just didn’t have time–or money!–to do much. I think I spent a total of $20 on cute things (color scheme of blue, yellow, and green–I tried to keep it neutral for girls & boys).
I did want my room to be my own space, and that’s why I brought in some things. I wanted to feel at home in this place where I spent 10 hours a day–and that was achieved. But did I turn down a cheap reading chair because it didn’t fit my classroom look? No way! So I may have ruined any “cutesy” look going on, but I’ve grown to realize that functionality is more important than appearance.
I feel as if there’s a message here for my middle school students that looks aren’t everything…

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15 Sally DeCost July 29, 2013 at 11:02 am

Another great post, Angela! I could never keep up with all the “cute” but I do focus on keeping the environment and the activities I do “fun” and “engaging” for the children . I’m in awe of teachers who have adorable bulletin boards along with color coordinated classrooms, however, I could never keep up with it myself. I admit, absolutely NOTHING in my classroom matches! I do what I can with what I have, but my classroom is all about learning, and sometimes learning isn’t cute.

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16 Melva Herman July 29, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Very thoughtful post after Matt opened up the “cute can of worms”. I really believe that student created work should be the big focus, not teacher created or purchased decor. I do use borders on my bulletin boards, chosen to pique student interest and support our current learning. Sometimes I use student work as a border. I do use a logo that goes with our discipline plan on student name tags. This discipline plan is based on the definition of discipline as teaching, and is based on the Circle of Courage http://www.reclaiming.com/content/about-circle-of-courage model. This connects with our school wide entry into The Leader in Me http://www.theleaderinme.org/ and began with my reading of Discipline Without Stress, Punishment or Rewards http://www.marvinmarshall.com/ For most written work my students get a blank piece go paper and are instructed to fold it if we need boxes. I am a member of #teamglitter and my students make many colourful, cute and sparkly things for our classroom and all way bulletin boards. I also staple up papers with simple but thoughtful drawings and writings, not fancy or cute but examples of the great thinking that my students do. The key thing we need to provide is a welcoming environment where children and their work are valued so that positive learning relationships can flourish.

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17 @8amber8 July 30, 2013 at 9:49 am

hahaha, cute can of worms, :)

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18 Sauni-Rae Dain July 29, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I am of two minds on this topic. As a veteran of more than 24 years of teaching various grade levels, I have done the classroom theme in my earlier years. It helped to unify the year. The first few years I fell into the overall, cute theme category. But as I learned more, changed grades…my themes tended to be less outside of the world of education and more directed at what was being taught. For instance, I had a 4th – 6th grade class for a few years. My theme one of those years was exploring the continents. Since each of those grade levels focused on various regions… for their history and or science (ecosystems) this worked well. We spent one month on each continent, 2 on North America). On that continent we used our history and science themes to direct the learning. We started the year creating a huge mural on one wall of the a world map, only painting in the water for starters. As we looked at ecosystems and peoples of the region we added to the continent coloring in rainforests, putting up icons for major centers of civilizations of long ago, and yarn showing trade routes… By the end of the year we could refer to the map and compare each continent… This type of theme teaching I like. But movie stars, sports motif I have never understood.

As for “cutesifying” everything, I look to my time as a teacher in Japan for the answer. I think teachers in the US are so tired of always teaching to the test. I feel like our classrooms have become unappealing to spend time in, as our noses are to the grindstone, with little fun. Adding the cute graphics and color to worksheets is a teacher’s way of rebelling against the drabness of standardized teaching and testing. How does this relate to the time I spent in Japan? I observed that all children went to school in the same uniform, using the same book bags, paper,…with similar haircuts (as there were actually rules about hair too). On the weekend and evenings, when kids were not in school mode, their clothes, bags, paper, ….became the opposite of their day to day life of blue and white clothes. It was their way of pushing back. If you opened up a kids book bag, you would have found the funny assortment of cute pencil boxes and mechanical pencils, as this was about the only place they could differ at school – that and their bento boxes. Have you ever walked into a Japanese store that sells stationary and notebooks? Take a look some time, and you will find the variety is astounding, and a bit quirky.

But as I was saying, there is a place for themes, and I can understand the need to cute everything, but not sure it has to be everything. In moderation perhaps.

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19 Jana July 31, 2013 at 9:10 pm

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – there is a lot about teaching that has become “un-fun”, but my classroom decor is my desperate attempt to liven the atmosphere for both myself and the students.

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20 Rebecca July 29, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Wow, this post helped remind me that I’m not the only teacher who refuses to shell out hundreds of dollars each year to create new themes and have everything looking “picture perfect”. I still use some frog job charts and accents that I bought my first year teaching. I just have some basic yellow, green, and blue fabrics for bulletin boards. My other decorations for the frog theme have been given to me by students and I love putting them around the room each year! Students will always ask, “Where did you get this?” and its great to respond with a story about a former student.

A great take-away from a CAST session a few years ago talked about this very thing. The presenter said her room is practically bare at the start of the year and slowly fills up with all student work/posters/charts/etc. By the end of the year, the room is fill with a mix of products representing all the information they’ve learned. Now that just might be the best “decorating” advice I’ve heard!

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21 Erin Klein July 29, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Hi Angela,

This is something you and I have discussed. I refrain from posting many of my items because they aren’t cute. In fact, they are often a hot mess! However, I love them. You can see the process that went into developing the product/project.

I’m not a fan of cute. I am, however, a huge fan of aesthetically pleasing design that allows for a brain-friendly learning environment. Honestly, I cringe when I see certain colors in rooms – especially when they are filled with stuff. I’m an advocate of ‘less is more’

With a background in interior design (I studied 3 years at Michigan State – full disclaimer: I do NOT have a degree in this area) and certification in Brain Gym training coupled with extensive hours of professional development training from Linda Jordan under the Highly Effective Teaching Model, I feel like at times our profession loses sight of what is really best for the children the space should be designed to accommodate. Stated differently, why the need for hot pink? Why the need for polka dots? Hmmmm…

At the root of design, I first began doing basic research into the Montessori approach. I especially liked how the design kept the students at the center for form and function. Bravo! Food for thought… where is your number line in your room? Up by the celling? Why not move it about 3 feet from the floor?

I do think that classrooms need to be attractive: free of clutter, calming colors, consistent flow of furniture layout/balance, eye level materials for students, etc. Why not bring in nature into the classroom. How many teachers have plants in their rooms? multiple plants…. Do you use overhead fluorescent lighting or incandescent and natural lighting?

I think design should have a thoughtful approach – not for a cute room but for a room that is developmentally appropriate for the kids.

This is a great PPT resource: Creating Conditions for Learning Link:
http://www.thecenter4learning.com/html/resources/support.htm

When designing a classroom space, it makes me wonder how many teachers set out to design the physical classroom to support long-term learning.

Thanks for your post,

Erin Klein
Kleinspiration

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22 Joan Young July 31, 2013 at 10:22 am

You’ve made some fabulous points here, Erin! I totally agree that less is more. It’s more about how accessible the things are that students need to learn like: where is that number line? How does the seating impact the flow? All of those functional questions need to be addressed through the lens of the learner.
Thanks again, Angela for this thought inspiring post!

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23 Stephanie July 29, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Great post- today I was reading a blog where the teacher posted pictures of all the wonderful coordinated labels even name plates that she made for her students. I thought boy those look really good. My students design their own name plates on card stock. I think I’ll stick to the student designed. It is much cheaper and my students love making them for themselves.

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24 Jan Sells July 29, 2013 at 7:32 pm

As long as it is functional – cute or not so cute – that’s what is important. I will start the year with bare walls reserved for student work and anchor charts the students help me create. That’s what works for me. If cute works for the teacher next door, that’s fine with me too.

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25 Jennifer Minor July 29, 2013 at 7:37 pm

The most important part is the ability to have everything ready and organized for the students in the classroom. I like the brighter colors and ideas. I have limited funds and I can’t buy or have all the cute ideas. It is difficulty to keep new centers for the students. I live in the state of NC and the teachers have not had a raise in 7 years. It is difficult to try to create new materials with a limited budget.

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26 Terri July 29, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Thank you for this post! I have been feeling utterly overwhelmed and very inadequate because I don’t have a theme for my classroom! So many blogs have it all color coordinated and theme-based, whereas mine just evolves throughout the year. I have unsubscribed from several blogs this summer because I just couldn’t relate to all the work in gluing, laminating, etc. I put my time, energy, and money in to the success of my kiddos for 10 months; I need a break during the other 2.

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27 Judy July 29, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Aww great! First it felt like we had to apologize if it wasn’t cute enough and now it feels like we have to apologize if we spent “too much time and money” on “cutifying”…..
Obviously the content of WHAT we do to assist children to learn and to want to learn is what matters. If we do it in a room that is cheerful and welcoming… so much the better. Should we break the bank to do it??? Obviously NOT. Should we do themes or cute because we feel like it? Absolutely… but only if it makes us happy.
I have a Master’s degree. I have worked in the district on a committee focusing on math instruction where we did ample amounts of research as well as presenting at professional development meetings regularly. I put in the time and effort to make sure that my lessons are well prepared to be engaging experiences for the children. AND….. I enjoy spiffing up my classroom in a bright and cheerful way…. (A person CAN be well educated, work hard on curriculum development, AND enjoy a bit of color.)
I am one of those teachers who enjoys spending some time in summer hand-making a bit of decoration… It appeals to my creative side. It makes me happy. So… I do it.
Am I in competition with others? No. Do I think that others should do things the way I do? Nonsense. Of course not.
So…. let’s live and let live and not stir up trouble where there wasn’t.

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28 @8amber8 July 30, 2013 at 9:50 am

hahahah, welll stated, missy! Keep on with your cute self! 😉

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29 Andrea Kerr July 29, 2013 at 9:32 pm

I was going to have to post a whole book, but Sherrie’s comment above basically stated most of what I was going to say. I’ve taught all grades from sixth through ninth math for the last twelve years. I’ve not necessarily been one to decorate. Maybe a couple of posters here and there. Most of the years that I didn’t decorate, I did have several students ask why I didn’t. Now with blogging, I am taking the time to decorate. I am teaching at the high school this year, so I am keeping to a muted version of our school colors (black and gold). I want my students to feel welcomed and comfortable when they are in my room. As a parent, I do notice the rooms my kids spend their days in. I do get a first impression about the teacher based on what their room looks like. I suppose I cared more in the elementary rooms than I did in middle school though. Either way, our classrooms are an extension of us. Sometimes, it’s the only thing others know about us and our teaching.

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30 Jason Elliott July 29, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Great post and thanks for not using the word, “Cutesy”!!

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31 Daliene @ Hello Adventure July 29, 2013 at 9:47 pm

I feel very strongly about getting all the cute out of my system in the two weeks before school begins. I “cuteify” my classroom as much as possible but then I’m done. It adds little value to classroom instruction. If something cute happens along the way it is usually organic or because I’m winging it and I tend to be creative in my teaching. :)

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32 Kathy July 31, 2013 at 8:52 pm

This is exactly what I do as well. I think that nervous energy decorating a little helps get my head around the work that is coming. I like spending time in my room thinking of how to make transitions and flow work more effectively and the time I spend “decorating” I use to evaluate my procedures and routines. I also use the time for organizing my room. After the students enter the focus becomes the lesson planning and the students needs.

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33 Erica July 29, 2013 at 10:00 pm

As a brand new teacher, I fell into the trap of “cuteifying” my room. I went all out and spent WAY too much money on senseless things. I was lucky enough to work with a teacher that first year who was anti-cute. It made me rethink what my purpose was in the decor of my room. I want students to feel invited, welcomed, and ready to learn. My colors are a bit bright, but I’ve stuck with the EXACT same decor for the past four years, and I just put it all out again at the beginning of my fifth year in a new school. Keeping things organized, free of clutter (which is hard for me), and student-friendly is more important. Because I met her that first year, I have never spent time redoing anything to make my room more cute. Instead, my room is good enough and I spend my time working on learning activities and instructional strategies to help my students grow. The cute trap, however, is a difficult one to escape.

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34 Kate Daniel July 30, 2013 at 12:07 am

What a terrific post and topic, Angela. I personally think cute is getting a bad rap because frankly, in this Pinterest-saturated world, the grass is so much *cuter* on the other side!

As I see it, it’s easy to say that if something is cute, it must not be meaningful; or if something isn’t cute, it is. But cute just means cute. And meaningful just means meaningful. Projects and student work could be cute. They could be meaningful. They could be neither. But they could be both!

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35 Kate Daniel July 30, 2013 at 12:15 am

Sadly, I have no tips for making things cute when pressed for time. I usually lucky if my markers have ink.

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36 Cherrie July 30, 2013 at 12:27 am

I have enjoyed reading this discussion Angela. I am beginning my 14th year of teaching this August. These many years have been a great journey with many transitions along the way. When I was a new teacher, the outward appearance of my classroom was important to me because it is what I dreamed of as an education student. I couldn’t wait to go to the teacher supply stores to buy things for my classroom. I changed bulletin boards monthly and/or seasonally for about 3 years before I discovered that I no longer had the time to do so. That epiphany occurred when I switched grade levels and found myself leading a team in lesson planning and curriculum development. Suddenly, I was no longer the new kid being carried along by veteran teachers. My days were very busy and time for extra-curricular decorating was non-existent. What was decorated at the beginning of the year was what was on the walls at the end of the year.

Two years ago, I had another eye-opening moment. In the middle of the year I realized that I was no longer happy with some my teaching approaches because they were not very effective. The students were not improving. I began researching better practices and seeking the counsel of teachers with a broader base of experiences. I had to basically change how I approached instruction. During that time, my classroom decor remained the same from year to year (bright colors). Occasionally I would add a few items that I really liked. It wasn’t that important to me.

This year, I feel like I have a handle on how to teach my students to be much better learners and am looking forward to digging deeper into my state standards as I teach. I hope to find and/or create resources that challenge my students while meeting their needs. I did decide that I wanted to change the color scheme in my room so I embarked on overhauling my bulletin boards. It was a lot of work, and costly is some ways too. However, it is pleasing to me. I have worked hard in the last 2 weeks so that when we teachers return to school, my focus is on what and how I will teach. Those bulletin boards will remain blank so that they can be filled with class-created anchor charts, vocabulary, and student work. I actually find that this approach serves be well in that it satisfies my desire to decorate and be functional and meaningful.

I write all of this to say that teachers are an ever-evolving group. Hopefully we chose to be in this profession because we love to teach not just to be “around kids.” There is a big difference. If we are unwilling to make changes for the benefit of the children, then no amount of decoration will cover up the problems. I am learning more and more every day that we are all different and therefore our approach to education is varied. One style is not better than the other, they are just different – as long as the children are learning with depth and complexity.

Thank you for this post. These thoughts challenge me to consider how I can be an even better teacher this year.

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37 Melinda August 1, 2013 at 12:08 am

Great thoughts Cherrie!

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38 Charlene July 30, 2013 at 12:39 am

Hi Angela. Thank you for this perspective. I have never used a theme, but with all the blogs I’ve been reading lately, I was wondering if I should be. I have added things in my classroom to make it feel special for my students, but not for decorating purposes. This summer, I did do some painting of some of my shelves and cupboards because they were looking so beat up, so I ended up with a color theme of sorts. I am okay with that.
I want to focus on my students, so when I do activities that look interesting for them, I feel like I have accomplished my goal of capturing their attention. Then they can get to work on the meat of the project.
I usually try to change up my bulletin boards with student work throughout the year, but I don’t do too much else in the room once I get it set up the way I want it to be. I do minimal decorating for holidays, but I do like to use holiday themed material for subject work. That is my compromise.
Having said that, I love seeing what some teachers are doing and I am more inclined to coordinate than I used to be.
Luckily, I have been out of the country for a few weeks, so even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be in my room doing too much. That being said, I did buy a few small things while in Korea that I will be using in my classroom.

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39 Natasha Friegang July 30, 2013 at 1:03 am

I appreciate this discussion. I teach Kindergarten. I have to say, I feel better teaching when the room isn’t messy. I feel better when I see bright colors. However, I don’t have the money or energy to do much more than put up 4 big bulletin boards at the beginning of the year. Then I spend my time working with my students to create learning charts, shared writing, art projects, etc. That is what ends up decorating the room. The very best decorations are the little pictures the kids make for me. It’s not my classroom, it’s our classroom. The focus really shouldn’t be on how cute it looks or doesn’t look. The main reason we are there is to learn and grow with each other.

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40 Donna July 30, 2013 at 7:47 am

Thank you for your liberating post!! I’ve taught 5th grade for ten years and used to have a somewhat theme of race cars. Now, like most other teachers who commented, I have a calming color scheme that makes for a clean and comfortable environment in which to learn. I look back at my racing theme items and cringe! When former students come to visit they remember how I let them read on the floor or the Pilgrims simulation. They never talk about what the room looked like! So I feel that I’m doing the right thing as a teacher : )

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41 Cindy Doran July 30, 2013 at 9:45 am

This post brought back my first days of teaching when I scrambled to come up with a new theme every year and spent hours readying everything in my room. Thankfully, like so many other teachers, I came to the realization that the effectiveness of the space and the quality of the student work or class charts I posted around the room was more important than the overall look of the decorations. I now start my room with many blank bulletin boards covered in only complementary fabrics awaiting the work we will do throughout the year. I hopefully send the message that the room needs the students and their work to become complete.

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42 Terry July 30, 2013 at 9:55 am

I personally don’t have time for “cute”. I taught summer school and my room is already set up. Some teachers at my school have been working since the last week in July setting up their rooms. I have to report next week for the beginning of school and am taking time off to recharge since I taught summer school. “Cute” doesn’t necessarily reflect the learning in the room. If kids aren’t using it, it is only wallpaper.

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43 @8amber8 July 30, 2013 at 10:24 am

I have always thought there was a divide between secondary and elementary audiences in my training. There is a natural divide when it comes to especially this, the “cuteness” factor. When I’d present to an elementary group, the funny themes, the cute fonts, all were appreciated. Secondary wanted content, no fluff, get to the point. Knowing this made my presentations go SO much smoother, 😉

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with cute. Just like I don’t think anything is inherently wrong with using activities on TPT. Now, if you have no idea what you are teaching…are totally unaware of your curriculum, and are only concerned with theme that includes adorable stationary…that’s a whole ‘nother issue.

I like cute. I spent my money and my time to make my classroom themed and cute. I didn’t redo it every year, but always added to it. I also stayed up at late poring over data and finding ways to address my students needs. The assumption that a cute classroom means people aren’t as concerned with the academics that are taking place within that cuteD up environment is asinine.
I also strived to match my jacket to my shoes…that doesn’t mean I am unintelligent. I can fix my hair and makeup and look fabulous and still know what the heck I am doing. The assumption that cute and bouncy isn’t qualified is annoying. There are different cliques of people, peI also strived to match my jacket to my shoes…that doesn’t mean I am unintelligent. I can fix my hair and makeup and look fabulous and still know what the heck I am doing. The assumption that cute and bouncy isn’t qualified is annoying. There are different personalities, cliques, and sports affiliations…this obviously means there will be different styles of classroom decor. I won’t knock you for your lack of a theme, but don’t think I’m a ditz or a bad teacher just because I want to be surrounded by cute matchy matchness!

owls, polka dots & hugs,
Amber

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44 Karen July 30, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Thank you so much for this post! I am not at all a “cutesy” person by nature, and for years I have stressed over that fact. However, I can’t see spending many hours and dollars on something that’s very difficult for me to do, when that time and money could be better spent developing quality lessons which meet the needs of my students. Thank you (and all those teachers who have commented!) for letting me know that I’m not alone!

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45 Tiffany July 30, 2013 at 12:53 pm

I was also starting to feel that I was not “measuring up” because I was starting to think that this is what everyone does. I appreciate your insight and think that just like everything else in life you have to find what works for you and what helps you be your best.

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46 Anne MacLellan July 30, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I agree with you. I will say that as a supply teacher who does grades junior kindergarten to gr 8, the majority of the classrooms I see are not ‘cute’. At most, there might be cute graphics of the teacher & the students on the door and more ‘cute’ stuff usually appears before parent-teacher nights. I have noticed that the amount of ‘cute’ varies from school to school and grade 1 teachers seem to be particularly prone to it.

The concern I have with cute is particularly for some students, it may be counter productive – distracting for some students with ADHD and autism. As well, some students with autism need straightforward classroom aids, not one where theme obscures function. (I’m the mom of an adult son with autism so I’m always aware of this.) I would ask the teachers who use ‘cute’ to remember these students and please not to go overboard with themes and decorations.

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47 charlmarjo July 30, 2013 at 2:24 pm

I admit, I drank from the Pinterest Kool-Aid last summer and decided to go with a music theme, since I play the violin as a hobby. I also tried to make those pom-pom fluff things and some other ideas I liked. I spent a lot of time and my own money and this really didn’t make a difference for the kids. My room was an oasis in the midst of craziness in my school and the music theme cheered me up. I don’t have the time or inclination to make my room cute.

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48 Laura July 30, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Thank you, Angela, for such a nonjudgemental post!
My very unsolicited advice:
1) If you like to decorate and create a visually appealing space for your students, DO IT with no apology!
2) If your decor is an excuse for ignoring standards, step it up!
3) If you “do cute” because you feel you must, rethink why you are doing it. Are you being forced? If not, then stop.
4) If your room is of minimal decor AND you like it, rock on, again with no apology!
5) If your room is minimal as an excuse for clutter, clean it up!
6) If you have a minimalist room and wish to create a more colorful space, find someone who does that well and seek that person’s help!
Whatever your preference, respect the opinions and preferences of others. There are many different favors of ice cream, folks! Some like vanilla, others lots of sprinkles! Enjoy your favorite! There should be no judgment here!

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49 Melinda August 1, 2013 at 12:12 am

I think you nailed it Laura!

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50 Ashley July 30, 2013 at 9:07 pm

Angela,

THANK YOU for this post! As a 2nd year teacher, I have found myself struggling to get things done in order to make it “cute.” Last year (my first year) I concentrated on my students learning. We did TONS of differentiated projects that got students invested in their learning. We did things like research papers and powerpoints that can’t really be displayed unless just pinned to a bulletin board. My kids were learning amazing skills like collaboration, independence, presenting, and problem solving… yet at my end of year summative I was told that I needed to focus more on content over projects AND that I needed to post more things around my room (It was like I was being told that I was doing “busy work” with them and that my classroom wasn’t “cute enough”). I was frustrated that I had spent so much time to be sort of crushed. Not to mention that I didn’t post things around my room because anything I did put up, it fell off… something I expressed constantly. My admin is completely about the “LOOK”… if it looks good, it must be good. IT doesn’t mean that because it doesn’t look good it’s not, but you are probably less likely to be noticed. An entire school make over has been done/is still in the process because it’s old and doesn’t LOOK good. But our students/parents/test scores/teachers can tell you what an amazing school we have. Isn’t that what matters?

I think that you can do cute and content but I do feel like some people use cute to compensate for something that they are lacking. I like cute/creative bulletin boards that I can do once and keep up all year. I’m not about the “holiday” themes or anything like that. I feel like there is a pressure to be cute when you don’t have to. Due to that pressure, I spend A LOT of time trying to make sure I have things that LOOK good.. without sacrificing content, which for me is exhausting. I’m only in my 2nd year, this is hard enough as it is.

I LOVE reading blogs and seeing all the amazing things that teachers come up with, but it’s just not me. However, I think that’s OK. If I want to do something cute, I can buy it through the amazing teachers who create them… I like to create and like cute- but I’d rather wake up in the morning not exhausted from creating “cute”. And this is NOTHING against any teachers who do use “cute” I think you are all amazing and do wonderful things everyday.. It’s just not my way :)

Ashley :)

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51 Karen July 31, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Thank you, Angela. I thought I was the only one with these thoughts.

One point that hasn’t been discussed yet is balance…not balance between cute and not cute, but balance between work and free time with family and friends. I would rather spend my time creating a great year-long bulletin boards, meaningful graphic organizers, personalized learning activities, and then spending more time with my family. I choose not to recreate worksheets and activities to match a theme, tradebook we are reading, etc. I keep my students engaged by having them participating in the learning opportunities, not by focusing attention on cute clip art in the corner that took me a while to find/create. I try my best to be efficient and to constantly ask myself one question: Will students learn better if I ____? If the answer is no, I don’t do it. My goal is always to do what is essential at school and to do my best to spend as much time with my family as possible. Without rest, exercise, and fun, we are not able to be our best for our students…with or without cute activities. We all need a life outside of the classroom.

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52 Kim July 31, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Thank you for saying what I have been thinking as the summer closes in on the next exciting school year! It seems this is the time for cuteness-ad-nauseum and deco linky-party overload. This will be my 22nd year teaching and each year I have become more of a minimalist in my classroom decor. What I do prepare are relevant lessons, activities and global learning opportunities. My classroom is designed solely to promote these. Now I do admit we maintain a theme surrounding our identity as Collazo Cove, but the theme is not splattered across the room with palm trees and grass skirt table covers. It is embodied as we live up to the expectations of becoming The Cove Kids, known around our county as dedicated, well-spoken, independent life long learners! So thankful I found your blog!

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53 Cheryln July 31, 2013 at 8:09 pm

I teach 5th grade in a Catholic school in NYC. I don’t have a theme in my classroom. I make sure it’s neat, clean, bright, lively, and has educational posters.

I do understand why teachers of younger grades would have themes and “cutefy” their classrooms. It excites the younger kids. But I wouldn’t do so much that you aren’t focused on creating lessons and doing what you need to do for your kids. But if a teacher has time or has an aide, he/she can have a theme.

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54 Lisa July 31, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Great thoughts on the cute-factor of a classroom. My goal is always to make my classroom warm and welcoming to my students. Sure, my classroom could be termed as cute, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making what you display pleasing to the eye. Most of my bulletin boards were year long boards–calendar, word wall, super work, job charts, colors, numbers, etc. I didn’t change my theme yearly. Everything in my room has a purpose. I certainly am not in the ranks of most bloggers as far as décor goes, but I appreciate a neat, organized, colorful room. Two years ago, I moved from first grade to sixth grade in the same district and many of my former first graders remembered my classroom and how much they loved being there….they said it was warm and welcoming, that they learned a lot and will always remember how good they felt there. That’s really what it’s about, isn’t it?

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55 Anna July 31, 2013 at 8:25 pm

A lot has been discussed about whether or not a teacher should make his/her classroom ‘cute.’ and I believe that it’s a matter of taste– I don’t really feel the nee to elaborate much on this, because what I’d say has mostly been said. I’m a high school teacher who teaches in a room with very little decoration in the room; it gets more decorated as the year goes on, though– students’ projects and posters go up on the walls so that by the end of the year, they look at walls filled with their own work. I like this because it means that the poster a student made for a presentation wasn’t $3.00 in art supplies spent for a 4 minute moment in the spotlight– it’s a contribution toward the ambiance in the room.

The one ‘cute’ thing I do… I put clip-art on tests. I teach chemistry to college-prep kids and the clip-art relates to the questions nearby — sometimes the clip-art is a clue, sometimes it’s amusing. Either way, if for some reason I don’t have time to put the clip-art on the test, kids complain. the pictures lighten the mood on an otherwise daunting test.

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56 Barbara July 31, 2013 at 8:34 pm

I agree with the people that have said that both can be done. Some people have a very creative side and need to create things…sewing, painting, making displays, etc. They do not feel it is stressful, it’s actually an outlet for them and can be very calming. If you are one that feels stressed out working on school stuff all summer, then don’t do it. But don’t look down your noses at those that choose to spend their time and energy creating things for their classrooms. I will say that many parents expect to see their child’s classroom look like the ones on pinterest. The class that is plain and simple stands out as a weed among the roses. I also know principals that insist that effort be put into decorating classrooms. Is it fair? No…but it is what it is.
I will say that these teachers with all their matching word walls, posters and labels usually DO leave them up all year. We are expected to change out the students’ work displayed on bulletin boards every 2 wks, although the décor of the boards doesn’t have to be changed. I have one hallway board that I do change monthly. It is relaxing for me and I don’t mind staying one evening per month to update the theme for the bulletin board and for my classroom door.
People have made some great statements about not judging others if they choose not to have the cute factor in all classrooms, but be mindful of teachers on the other side, too. Cuteness does not automatically negate the level of learning in the classroom. I will tell you that my 4th graders have always noticed my theme and décor, and since I spend 10 hours a day in that room…I want it to be welcoming and comfortable just as much for me as for my students.

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57 Shari July 31, 2013 at 8:35 pm

In my real life, I like my environment clean, organized, and pretty. The same goes for my school life. I spend about 9 hours a day in my classroom……most of that time with 20 – 30 other people. A place for everything is a must. Being a creative person, while at the same time having an eye for decorating, my classrooms have always been color coordinated and neat. I spend hours on my lesson planning and preparation each week, so after the initial cleaning, set up, and decorating (which takes me a couple of weeks), the rest of the year can be dedicated to the hard work of normal teacher duties. I continue to put up creative student displays, but after 33 long years, I spend a fraction of the time I used to on displays!

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58 Kathy July 31, 2013 at 8:39 pm

I like to balance cute and functional. To be honest, the cute is for me, it is my motivation to stay in a room that I will generally be in ten hours plus each day when classes resume. I tie my theme into the early lessons I teach to set an environmental atmosphere. Examples: last year was about team work and I had a sports theme and this year after moving down a grade, I have a construction theme to stress work and effort. I don’t over emphasize the theme after the first weeks of school but the few decorations I use are there for a gentle reminder to my students of why we need to be on task and work together to learn. I have been in rooms that seem overly busy and was discussing this just the other day with my husband and a co-worker. I get too distracted when the room is overly filled and figure some of my students would as well.

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59 Christina July 31, 2013 at 9:01 pm

I really like your article about the “cute-looking classrooms”. I am a fairly new music teacher and as I went on observations and my student teaching I always felt a little intimidated with some classrooms when talking about decoration. You see, I am creative, I am a musician; yet I suck when it comes to bulletin boards and stuff like that, cuz that’s just not my way of being creative. But now I see I’m not the only one that feels that way. When I had to come up with lesson plans for my mentor teacher I always put so much effort into making sure the activity helped the kids learn and was relevant to the lesson and according to her I was very creative when it came to that… In other words, some of us just can’t do cute and I feel that no teacher should be seen as less because of that. The real value of the teacher should come from their teaching skills, the way their students learn and their efficient, NOT from a bulletin board. This year I am teaching in an afternoon Music Academy where we use the facilities of an elementary school so we just use the classrooms but we can’t do anything to them, and I have to say that I feel great I don’t have to worry about decorating anything right now and making things cute, so I can focus on learning myself and helping my students to learn. Thanks for sharing your opinion, it made me feel better :)

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60 Melissa July 31, 2013 at 9:05 pm

As a special educator, I do what I can to make my materials interesting for my students, who all face learning challanges. Content is paramount, however, for some students, adding colors, themes, and images is critical to their engagement. Similarly, I find parents are more likely to read my newsletters when I make them colorful and include pictures.

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61 Mark W. July 31, 2013 at 9:30 pm

The school district follows a fire code that allows for not more than 20 percent of a wall surface to be covered with flammable material. That said, journalism doesn’t have much in the way of premade material to put on the walls so I’ve made my own that matches the concepts I need to teach. I also have a space that has awards the student paper has received, and that’s it.

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62 Mary July 31, 2013 at 9:42 pm

I posted this on FB and then realized it fits better here…This is something that I really struggle with. I love Pinterest, and I love “Pinterest Classrooms”. I’ll just never have one. When I started teaching, you were still Ms. Powell, and I scoured your website on a daily basis. When I was putting my room together, I would look at your classroom pictures for inspiration, and each year come back to see the updated version. At that point, I don’t think there were blogs out there that were “cutifying” things, and I only felt the need to have a fresh, clean classroom. A few years in, Beth Newingham emerged, and I felt inadequate. Her gorgeous room, the themes, the videos she put together…I felt like I could never compare! I started to do a theme one year and realized that it was eating up so much of time, and so I gave it up. With no regret. My room still looked clean and nice, and it was the room that they would bring prospective families in to tour, so I felt like it was enough. Last year, I shared a room, and I didn’t spend ANY time making it cute, and it wasn’t even fresh. This year, I told my husband that I felt like I needed to make my part of the room cuter. He wrinkled his nose and said “Cute?! You’ve never done cute before!” I stopped and said, “Okay, I want to make it more homey. It needs to feel like home. It’s where these kids and I spend 7 hours of our day.” So, as opposed to cute, I want it to feel comfortable, clean, and welcoming. As tempting as it is, I won’t start theming this year (even though there are SO MANY beautiful decor packs out there by so many talented people). There just isn’t enough time for me. As a blogger, I am always hesitant to post pictures of my less-than-cute room, but I feel like with all of this talk, I don’t have to feel so bad about posting those pictures. Now, I WILL say that I make student activities cuter, but that’s something I have always done. The original gentleman who posted that blog post mentioned that kids never notice the cute, and I respectfully disagree with him. My kids (grades 3-5) notice every single time I hand them a worksheet that has been copied out of an older resource book rather than one I or another teacher has created. They love the color and they love the graphics. They love themed task cards, projects, and games, but they would not care if I made a themed bulletin board. These are the things I’m learning as I go, and just like teaching is a balance, so it the argument of cute vs. practical.

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63 Amanda July 31, 2013 at 10:47 pm

I am grateful for seeing this post! I am a first year middle school science teacher, with no budget, about to set up my classroom tomorrow. I was panicked because I don’t have a “cute” theme for my classroom and don’t feel creative enough to come up with anything on my own. These comments have reminded me to just make my classroom welcoming to my students and it will come together.

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64 Amber Boadway August 1, 2013 at 12:27 am

I have visited several classrooms in Russia (middle school levels) and in Germany (elementary level).
What really impressed me was the seriousness of the displays in the classrooms and hallways etc. There were no cute things displayed. Everything had an educational tone. If leaves were displayed on the walls the types of tree leaves were labeled. Star were set up in constellation patterns. This was even at a pre-k level. Upper levels had math problems displayed, with story problems to solve in areas where the students may be waiting in line. Art work was even demonstrating perspective showing prism shapes that were labeled also. These displays were made mostly by students but were checked for spelling, grammar, and etc. This to me is a more effective way to display in the classrooms and hallways.

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65 Mo August 1, 2013 at 12:28 am

I am artistic, not cute. I don’t comprehend bulletin boards or much of what is demanded of teachers. I hold a doctorate degree and believe I’m a darn good teacher. Just moved to a new school that has 18, yes 18 bulletin boards inside each classroom and one outside. I used 250 feet of white border, so annoying and time consuming but I had to decorate them on some level. I will only do them once. They will remain the same for as long as I am at this school. The backgrounds are an oatmeal color. I don’t want to spend all day in a cute, brightly colored environment…it makes me crazy. If it makes me crazy maybe it makes the kids crazy too. My room will be calming and done in neutrals. I will only display student art projects, (each bordered in black and rotate them whenever I feel like it) and a few posters with inspirational sayings. It will feel like a home not an institution. I refuse to waste my time/money doing all the silly things I see and hear other teachers doing…first day of school goody bags, changing room boards constantly etc. I focus on the curriculum and of course my room is fun and entertaining, via technology and imaginations. So many teachers make things harder than necessary in my opinion. People need to keep it simple and just teach.

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66 Trish August 1, 2013 at 6:51 am

I am unsure as to whether I am really qualified to comment as I am a Teacher Aide – not a Teacher. However, I work with students with disabilities in a high school and in doing so, am exposed to many different classrooms within the school. Our high school doesn’t do cute. Displays are always educational/motivational/ based. I agree that this is how it should be. One thing I have noticed, is that if a child has ASD or sensory overload, “cute” classrooms cause overstimulation of the senses and it can lead to agitation and anxiety. We have all probably experienced that overwhelmed feeling when we have stumbled into a classroom where you can’t walk two steps without being entangled by something hanging from the ceiling etc. This is purely my opinion – of course.

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67 Rachel Evers August 1, 2013 at 11:48 am

WOW! Great article!! I have gotten caught up the blog-mania and cute-ing up my room for the past two years and have spent ENTIRELY too much time, energy, and money that could probably be much better spent. I do love making my classroom a place of comfort and appeal for the kids to enjoy, but I concur it can go overboard. I have kept my room theme the same, and it will be the same until I leave it! I do like to add new and interesting methods for delivering instruction, and find what works best for the class as a whole, as well as individual students. For that I’ve found the TPT/Pinterest/Blog resources invaluable; but, if I spend too much time (squirreling) from one to the next, I find that I’m exhausted and out of time to actually implement :) HA! I think we all want to be the best and most effective we can be, and, agreed, putting the time and energy into GOOD teaching practices is likely the better path to take. Thank you, again! Great food for thought!

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68 Katie August 1, 2013 at 7:47 pm

This blog entry is well thought out and fair to both sides of the “cute” debate. I have been following Matt’s blog and responses to his anti-tpt entry and found a lot of people up in arms about the cute factor. Personally, I think a little extra thought into the design of your room and materials CAN go a long way, but adding cute clip art for the sake of adding cute clip art without much thought into the actual material is not the way to go (and I’m definitely not saying that every teacher who DOES use clipart and themes and cute “stuff” is forgetting about the learning). Unfortunately, teachers have a lot of work on their plates without having the pressure to make their rooms look cute and their materials look publishable. Our main goal is to educate children and meet their needs.

Since the beginning of my love-affair with Pinterest, I’ve used it as a tool to glean new ideas to implement into my classroom with great success. However, I have also found that I sometimes got lost in the cute factor and my teaching suffered as a result. I focussed too much on cute borders and fancy bulletin board covers without much thought about what the bulletin board is actually for: the children’s work. I’ve since changed my opinion on what a classroom should look like and what bulletin boards should be used for. Personally, I prefer to use neutral colours as backgrounds to the child’s work is the main focus. They don’t care if I have chevron borders or polka dot paper. In fact, it takes away from the work that’s there and is far too busy for children to concentrate! Can you imagine a child with ADHD or autism coming into a classroom that is cluttered with tissue paper pom pom hanging from the ceiling, neon buckets on the shelves, and generic number and letter posters lining the walls? Information and sensory overload!

Classrooms should be clean, simple, neutral, and calming.

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69 WI Teach August 1, 2013 at 7:59 pm

You bring up some very good points. I have spent a lot of time getting my classroom ready this summer, and I would like to think that it is visually appealing. However, I have spend even more time curriculum planning, which is definitely more important!

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70 Linda August 1, 2013 at 8:05 pm

I agree with much of what has been said so far. My thoughts:
– I’ve been teaching for 20 years and my classroom doesn’t have a theme except Tidy, Organized, and Cheerful. I have a half dozen plants. As many have commented already, if I have to live in this room for 10 hours a day, I have to feel comfortable there. I was pleased to hear that my room would get a fresh coat of paint, and very disappointed to find they painted it lime green. Clashes nicely with the green chalkboards. Blech. Awful. I do my best with my décor to tone it down.

– I maintain one seasonal bulletin board, which follows the calendar events, as well as the church calendar events (I work in a Christian school). The background papers on the bulletin boards are calming colours (no red, orange or bright yellow which are anxious colours for some) that I leave up for a few years, until they start to look too worn. The rest of the décor is related to learning (ex. word wall, science). The borders stay up all the time, basic. The wall outside the classroom is reserved for student art (a school community effort, as all the teachers share the art in the hall). (every now and then I student returns late from a bathroom break and when I ask what’s up, the answer often is, “I got into looking at the art.” :) ) A great investment was a double set of purchased alphabet letters for bulletin board titles, in basic black and laminated, which I use for all boards. It unifies the room and I don’t spend any time cutting out letters.

-Although décor does not declare the quality of the educator or learning, it does make an impression. Walking into a classroom that is sloppy, disorganized, worn and torn does not appeal to many people, students included. Décor doesn’t have to be complicated or take hours and many dollars, but I believe it should be done. Students entering my room have often commented, “Hey, there’s some new stuff here!” and they proceed to take a closer look. If a bit of change can continue to inspire interest in learning, then we’re doing OK!

-A new-to-me, simple, versatile idea: a new colleague joined my staff this past year (K), and I was impressed with her hall bulletin board. It had basic paper, border, and a skeleton of a bare tree on the background. Using some dollar store items and mostly student work, the tree was changed every few weeks. For example, Fall: leaves painted by students, winter: snowflakes and poems by students, spring: pink tissue blossoms with student work on a flower garden and symmetrical painted butterflies. This display was on the way to the gym, and my class enjoyed walking past it to see what the kindergarteners had been making. Low maintenance – high impact.

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71 Linda August 1, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Oh, one more thought:
A pet peeve of mine – going to the teacher supply store to make a purchase and everything you look at has a cute happy face added to the design. Apple shapes with a :). Stars with a :) Bookmarks with a :). Stickers all with a :). Math drill sheets all with a :) design. Cute schmute.

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72 O-Fish-ally in First August 10, 2015 at 8:16 am

Linda, that drives me nuts as well!!!

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73 Nina August 2, 2013 at 12:17 am

I am so relieved to see this is being discussed! I think classroom environment is important, but I was starting to feel inadequate when seeing all these amazing products being created for teachers. I am very thoughtful about the colors I use (blue and yellow in appropriate shades stimulate problem solving and math portions of the brain), but too deep a shade in many colors can have undesirable psychological affects. I also worry that many of these classrooms are too visually stimulating for many students….and I honestly have no idea how many teachers have time. While an attractive form may help a student to organize their thinking and their work on the page, having matching themes doesn’t seem to add much. I am a newish teacher, so perhaps there is other thinking on this and I have missed the boat.

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74 Glenda August 2, 2013 at 12:25 am

Thank you! Thank you for saying this! I have spent a lot of time on Pinterest and TPT this summer and realized that my room will never be considered cute. Maybe people think I am old-fashioned. Perhaps I am since I will be starting my 29th year in two weeks. However, I am a firm believer that my room should be decorated with my students’ work both academic and art. I do have some collections that I display all year, every year and they grow each year. Every giraffe that is in my room (and I have plenty) has a story because a student gave it to me. Every coffee cup I use has been given to me by a student. I still have one that Charlie gave to me in 1989 (with giraffes on it)! So while my room is not considered cute by most teachers’ standards, it is a reflection of what is important to me.

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75 Glenda August 2, 2013 at 12:31 am

One more thing: the best investment I made was a can of chalk board paint and colored chalk. I painted the inside of my door and a couple of cabinet doors. The kids take turns creating murals for the seasons/months. The kids take such pride in their murals and they always make me smile.

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76 JULIE August 2, 2013 at 12:33 am

I love cute stuff, and I completely understand the point you are making here, and I agree. Cute is not the goal. But still, I love cute stuff. It helps me function within the space I occupy all day. I work on “cute” in the summer and making preparations (purging files, cleaning out stations, finding new station material, planning) and then I’m done with decorating. Cute-time is over and I’m ready to enjoy the cute as I get to work with the kids. So many of the blogs are written by 20-something teachers, and I absolutely love their enthusiasm and creative talents. I’ve been teaching for 25 years. I’m not sure they will be able to keep up the pace that cuteness requires for their entire teaching career, but if they can, yea! So far, I see that the blogs I follow are written by young dedicated teachers who love making their rooms look pleasing to them. Not everyone is into decorating their home. Some homes are basic, simple, functional. Classrooms are no different.

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77 Glenda August 2, 2013 at 12:52 am

Julie, I agree with you regarding the enthusiasm of the young teachers who are blogging and creating. In fact, I’m quite jealous of them in a way. When I started teaching none of today’s technology existed. I love reading their blogs and looking at their products on TPT. I even purchase their products because I don’t want to take the time to create something. I think this younger generation of teachers is going to do great things!

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78 Julie August 2, 2013 at 1:08 am

Hey glenda- start a blog, put some of your stuff on tpt. Never too late! Hey, and lets decorate our rooms in chevrons!!

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79 Glenda August 3, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Julie-that would mean taking down everything and starting again. I’m way too lazy to do that! As for blogging, I think I’ll stick to reading them!

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80 Nettie August 2, 2013 at 10:50 am

Wow! Loved loved this piece. And I had to laugh, I’m stressing over the perfect locker tags (I’m attempting to make) and feeling frustrated that I would rather be reading one of the resource books I’ve purchased or working on my National Board Certification prep work. I had to laugh also when you said “stressing over center materials that clash”. Guilty as charged.

In my school, the cute competition is fierce. Not overtly, but oh boy is it there. And I’ll be honest, it’s in my “genes” to want to make everything cutesy/ inviting. I do it (holiday/seasonal themes) to make my classroom more homey. But you bring up a valid point. “Why am I stressing over ridiculous things?” I mean my goal to become an NBCT is to become more reflective in my teaching. I want to reach my students better and do what’s best for kids. I don’t want to stress over my decor. Literally I was in Michaels stressing whether the birds I picked out would be cute enough .

So I’ve printed out your article. I will make my classroom “tweet”/twitter theme this year be the backdrop for an engaged classroom. If people say anything I will be quoting some excellent things you have said!

Oh and I love TPT. But I do leave thinking I’m so not worthy. I even felt bad because I didn’t have a sellers account (slacker me).

Thanks for saying what a lot of us are feeling. It will be interesting to read everyone’s replies.

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81 Teresa August 4, 2013 at 6:18 am

Kudos on actually reflecting on the article and considering the possibilities it suggests. Sounds like you’ll be benefiting from a less stressful beginning to your school year. Also, I like the suggestion that you can have a functional theme like twitter. It’s getting my creative juices flowing!

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82 Tassie August 2, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Thank you for being so honest! It was refreshing to hear that other teachers feel that they don’t measure up because they aren’t doing everything found on Pinterest. I have to say I agree with you but I also want to share my experience from this past summer. I ended the school year feeling burned out for the first time in my 15 year career. I was feeling this way because of all of the Common Core being forced on us. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is a great idea but until you get going it is very overwhelming! My spark came back when I saw a pin on making Truffula trees for my classroom library. This snowballed into a Dr. Seuss themed classroom and I have had so much FUN! I love being creative, so for me this was the way to find my spark for teaching again. I didn’t spend all summer making my room “cute”, however, I also spend a LOT of time preparing for Common Core and studying so now I feel relaxed, prepared and ready for another 15 years!

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83 Kesha August 3, 2013 at 9:27 am

I’m all for a cute organized classroom. I strive for one myself. I do think that sometimes it’s too visually stimulating. My theory is if its not relative for now it comes down. As far as bulletin boards, I use most of my bulletin boards from relative student work..

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84 Denise August 3, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Thank you for this post! Even as a high school teacher, there’s pressure to “cute it up” when organizing your classroom.

When it comes to themes, schemes, and holidays, I tend to follow three basic patterns. One, as someone who teaches many different preps I color code all of my classes and a lot of their materials, so that it’s easy for both my students and me to find the info and materials that they need. Hence, I have quite a bit of ROYGBV (no I :)…) going on in my room. Two, when it comes to bulletin board backgrounds, borders, etc, I like to use school colors for that bit of school pride – also, by sticking to those colors I don’t feel a need to change them out. Third, I do love Snoopy flags, so those tend to be what I change out depending on the season/holiday/etc – since I have them on cafe rods, it only takes about two minutes to change them out, and students are usually willing to do that for me.

I do occasionally cute up other things in the classroom, but usually they are things that need change and they’re almost all permanent changes – updating a hideous filing cabinet, recovering chairs with torn upholstery (after all, I am a home ec teacher), replacing stained and torn ironing board covers, etc. If I have to put effort into it anyway, might as well make it something nice to look at and something that will bring a little cheer to me, even if the kids don’t notice!

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85 Amber Thomas August 3, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Thank you for writing this. I have to admit that this summer I have been focusing SO MUCH on making my classroom more cohesive and everything fit my theme. And even still I saw some teachers asking each other what their theme will be this year and I think how exhausting it must be to change themes every year!

I do think that having an attractive room is important, but it’s really good to see someone saying “Stop! Think of the CONENT.” And although I think social media is part of the reason we’re so interested in the eye candy this year, I wonder if it’s also because so many teachers I know are feeling underprepared when it comes to the new CCSS and PARCC assessments. I sincerely hope once we start receiving more quality professional development to empower us, the tendency to devote our time to decoration will be curbed.

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86 Melissa August 3, 2013 at 5:28 pm

I think this is a fantastic post!! I spend a lot of time organizing my classroom but not to make it cute. I have fadless blue b.board paper that stays up for years!! I do not like store things bought especially when I can have my students make it. I do think you need to have your classroom organized, labeled and warm. I like to have boards empty but ready to be filled with my students work. The only colors are the backing of my students self-portraits that hang across the room. I am shocked at all the crazy themes…yuck!!! My goal is to create a beautiful space filled with kids work and the learning that is happening. Not store bought or crazy clip art.

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87 Teresa August 4, 2013 at 6:07 am

It seems as if some of these comments are equating clean, organized and welcoming with cute. My classroom is all of those things and is most certainly not cutified. I always get compliments on my room from parents and other teachers clearly seeing that “so much goes on in here.” I make it fun and functional by using interesting things to look at that also serve some purpose (someone gave me a tin rooster that turned out to be a place for spare pens and pencils), and I don’t have to spend time on that. I find that students appreciate the use and function. Just like some are judging/commenting that a cutified room means less substance, I’m a bit confused by the suggestion (by teachers offended by THOSE comments, not comments from students) that rooms that aren’t, are not as fun to learn in, or boring. If students, or teachers for that matter, are bored in that room, the decorations aren’t the problem.
If a student came back to visit, or completed a survey and commented on how cute my room was, I’d feel a little empty. That’s not the impression I hope they carry through the years when they remember my class. I want them to remember the culture and climate of my class and the room, the experiences they had there, and it’s certainly okay with me if they remember how the classroom set up contributed to their experiences.
Bottom line, neither side should be assuming anything – that cute rooms lack substance, or “boring” rooms lack exiting or engaging learning experiences (i.e. substance). In the end, for me, the time spent on making my room look cute has far less of a payoff than spending time on making my room interesting while functional, which takes up very little of my time. I bring in posters of things I love like movies or whatever, and the students like that window into my life. Therefore, I love being in my classroom, teachers’ comments on it always correlate to the learning that clearly occurs there, and I can spend time on the massive amount of work it takes to make my teaching and class engaging and effective.
Consider, maybe, that in this way you could “have it all.” If the goal is to make a place in which you and your students love learning, don’t feel like “cutifying” is the only option. And consider that some of these comments are accusing lack of substance on both sides of argument. We all work too hard, and love or jobs too much to have to deal with suggestions like that.

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88 Michelle August 4, 2013 at 10:40 pm

I agree with Trish. Too much stuff is distracting. Even worse is the highly disorganized “hoarder” classrooms. These are a real problem. I’ve seen some rooms that would be a fire hazard. I use a clean, two color theme that stays up all year. I teach high school science, so I want the focus attention on my front demo table, where I can change out interesting items each day or week.

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89 KT August 13, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Time, energy, & money have led me to opting out of the super cute room. I love them but I need to work on common core standards, behavior management, parent communication etc. instead of focusing on cute. However, I did see a room that I love that is so awesomely cute! I’d like to decorate my room that way…beach theme with tables that have large polynesian style umbrellas, so stinkin’ cute but so darned expensive. My school has parents that judge a teacher by cuteness…the room looks awesome so the teacher must be awesome. If you must judge me, judge me by how I treat your child and what your child is learning…not by my decorating skills.

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90 Lita Lita August 20, 2013 at 11:22 am

I have mixed feeling about this. I totally agree when you say that you want your classrooms to look beautiful because we spend many hours there. BUT I can live in a clean classroom and spend my extra money on books.
I agree with the color scheme. So I try to buy things in blue and green (except free stuff… that comes in many colors and is always welcome).
What I think it makes a big difference is organization. When a classroom is cleaned and organized it feels like home to me.
I would not follow a theme or superdecorate y classroom like those beautiful ones on Pinterest BUT I love them. It is just a matter of personality and being crafty.

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91 Lk August 27, 2013 at 9:20 am

A coworker of mine decorated her classroom recently. She teaches at the high school level and she went all out. She painted the walls, added decorations, and to me, it looks fantastic. It was as if she was a teenager and created her dream bedroom. She spent her own money on the project and many hours over the summer to get everything done. Upon walking into the classroom, you’re just hit with it. It’s extremely…cute. And therein lies the problem. As soon as I saw it, I was impressed, but also concerned. How is this welcoming to boys? Going into that classroom is like going into a teenage girl’s bedroom, perhaps worse. I could imagine a 9th grade boy walking up to that room, looking inside, and feeling very annoyed or even uncomfortable. It was a little much and “cute” just doesn’t work for everyone, especially if it’s over the top. Yes, kids do notice when you take the time to make your classroom look nice for them. They know when you spend a lot of time getting an activity ready for them and they respect you and the activity more because of your effort. I put up a few decorations and my students love them. When I make my worksheets look perfect, though, my students assume that they came out of a book and the appreciation is lost. My coworker could have painted the walls a solid color that was different from the other classrooms, hung up a decoration or two, and left it at that. There is a line. “Nice” is a better goal than “cute”.

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92 mattBgomez August 31, 2013 at 8:42 am

Thank you for including a link to my post. I have really enjoyed following your blog this year Angela. Keep being awesome friend!

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93 John Bullock October 5, 2014 at 10:21 pm

I have another angle on this. I am a male teacher of 12 grade History and Politics. I want my class to be fun and interesting, but all the made-by-teacher resources on various websites, even the High School level materials, are just so….feminine. Pinks and Aquas, with chevrons on every single thing, and cartoon kid clip art and borders.
Once, pressed for time, I printed an organizer for my students. I had to use about three minutes of classtime to justify the organizer because my students, even the girls, were a bit offended.

So then I have to create all my materials from scratch. To save time, they end up being plain. I’m not inspired when I pass them out, so I know they are not inspired when they use them.

If anyone has an idea or a resource I could use, please let me know.

Thanks

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94 Angela Watson October 6, 2014 at 9:35 am

Thanks for sharing your perspective, John. I can certainly see where you’re coming from, and agree that a lot of the stuff out there tends to be feminine-looking. I don’t know of any specific resources for your grade and subject to point you to, but I want to thank you for reminding all of us who create curriculum resources to try to keep things gender neutral.

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95 Nina October 6, 2014 at 11:08 am

Hi John and All,

I already posted on this last year, but wanted to echo the “request” (for lack of a better word) for not only more gender-neutral resources, but also items that are

a) Attractive, with fun fonts, but not fonts that make it too difficult for students to read. I teach primary, so it’s really important for them to easily access the print.

b) Attractive, but not too busy, because it can distract from the task.

WIth that said, I am so grateful for teachers sharing their work on TPT, here, and many of the blogs all over.

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96 Sue Butter June 9, 2015 at 7:36 pm

Yay!! You have said what has just been on my mind lately!! I am in the middle of cleaning my classroom from the year and feeling a bit overwhelmed. Nice to know everything does not have to be color coordinated! :) Thank you for this timely post.

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97 Amy June 24, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Well said! Recent studies show that students do better in classrooms without distracting print and patterns. I have always instinctively swayed more to the minimalist side since I found a room with every surface distracting and certainly less than calming. A calming environment is what a lot of our students need.

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98 O-Fish-ally in First August 10, 2015 at 8:07 am

I too have been overwhelmed with the number of “cute” classrooms that I have seen posted on the blogs that I enjoy, Pintrest and Facebook. While I do like things to be appealing to the eye, I make a conscious decision to put up very little that my first graders won’t use.
Last year I moved to a new school, 2 weeks before the open of school! I invited families to drop in and meet me. I was disappointed to have a parent tell their child that I wasn’t finished with my room because there was very little up on the walls. Nope Folks, this is done and just the way I like it! Too much on the walls and hanging from the ceiling is overwhelming for a huge number of adults and children.
This year, I spent $2 at a yard sale for several new stools and $13 on a small carpet for the book area. I have spent additional money on items that I feel will enhance my students learning experiences. A new book shelf to make books more accessible and alternative seating to ensure that kiddos are able to sit and move as needed!

Thank you for your honest post!

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99 Angela Watson August 19, 2015 at 11:58 am

Good for you! Thank you for sharing your approach and reinforcing that it is perfectly okay to decorate every square inch!

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100 Ann Sielaff January 23, 2016 at 11:57 am

Hi Angela
I love this article. I am a cute person. I like themed rooms. I love cute stuff. My biggest hobby is room and home decor. But I also love PBL, STEM, and authentic learning in an experiential setting.

So I loved how your article married the two. Everything you said was spot on. But I think that room decoration has weight and importance in learning. That doesn’t mean “cute” necessarily. It means welcoming, comfortable, and student-directed. I think it’s possible to have that type of environment that not only supports authentic learning with students who are engaged, but still pretty, cute, or homey. For a female or male teacher, at any age. It’s my mantra! This is my passion as an educator. Engaged and authentic learning (cross-curricular whenever possible) in a cohesive, welcoming environment.

I’ve spent some volunteer time/money to “re-decorate” some teachers rooms during my vacations. It was completely fulfilling and rewarding for me. The teachers helped some, and I found parents who were willing to help me. If I could travel the world and do it all over, that would be my dream. Since I haven’t won the lottery, and I continue to teach, I will continue to do it as a volunteer as much as possible.

I love your blog. Thank you!
Ann

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101 Angela Watson January 30, 2016 at 6:53 pm

This is a great perspective. Thanks, Ann!

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