I cannot keep my classroom clean and organized. I try. I really do. Every year I start promising myself this year will be different. I label everything. I make plans so it will be easy for the kids to put things away. At open house my room always looks welcoming, friendly, and well-organized. By the time we go to lunch on the first day it is already in disarray.
Does this make me a bad teacher? The other rooms on my hallway are fabulously well-organized. If someone ever needs to take a picture of a model classroom they always go to the classroom across from mine. It is divinely perfect. The kid artwork is hanging straight on the walls. The library looks lovely, books perfectly put away in their places. The teacher's desk is neat. The calendar math is neatly put up, no pieces hanging off the board because they were frantically put up so there would be time for the math lesson. If I leave her room and walk into mine I break into a sweat and have trouble breathing. I can't figure out how to make my room look like that.
I try, I really do. I don't know if I get so into lessons that I overlook the markers rolling on the floor. Or the tops on the glue sticks escaping under the shelves. Or the classroom library books being hidden in secret places in the room where the reader can find them.
Ok, so I do see these things. But I find it touching when a kid is so inspired by a book that they hide it so they know where it is. And I would rather have certain children follow directions and come to the rug right away than take the time to put the marker away. (I don't see the glue stick tops. Those kill me. i wish I could make a glue stick that wouldn't require a top. I believe it is impossible for first graders to hold onto glue stick tops. They seem to magically fly away the minute children take them off. It doesn't matter how many times you model what to do.)
I've stolen every clean-up the room activity in the book. My favorite is pick-up Olympics, which I give full credit to my mother who taught me this fabulous trick.
"Ladies and gentlemen! We are reporting live from room 117 where the Cheetah team is about to take on the biggest mess of the year! Can they do it? you ask. Let's see. 1,2,3, clean! And they're off. Watch how ____ safely puts away those markers. And over in the corner ____ is getting the tissues that dropped. Wow! look at that skill. He really knows what he's doing. He's been training for this for a lifetime. And here's ____ and ____, look at that teamwork! Incredible!"
The room gets clean, and the best part is you narrate the safety and teamwork. When a kid isn't participating you hand them the 'microphone' and say, "So _____, what do you think you'll clean up next?" Afterward you do a team de-briefing interview where you discuss the teamwork, safety, and skill the picker-uppers used. (Also great for those ESOL students because you are literally narrating every move they make in a socially acceptable way)
Then there is magic trash, where you pick one piece of trash on the floor, don't tell them where it is, and tell them whoever picks up the 'magic trash' gets a sticker. This works great until some wise kid figures it out and accuses you of tricking kids just to get the room clean. I can usually get the game to last until March so I imagine it wont work in the higher grades.
Another great one is litter-bug. You wrap masking tape around their hands, sticky side out. They get to use their tape-hands to pick up tiny pieces of trash on the floor. This works the best after you've made symmetrical snowflakes and have tiny paper everywhere. This is their favorite but it requires a lot of tape.
To top everything off, I even have a broom the kids use constantly. They love sweeping and do it every chance they get. But somehow, by the end of the day, my room is still a mess.
I'm embarrassed when people come in. It doesn't matter what great lessons are going on, I get nervous they are noticing the crooked posters, the number tape hanging off the wall, the stack of papers under a child's desk, and the books scattered in our library. How can kids learn in a messy environment?
But how do I get them to learn if all we do is clean? that is a skill I still need to learn.