The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Keeping the Room Clean

My desk in my classroom is kind of messy right now. And when I say “kind of” I actually mean “ridiculously so.”

I’m not really sure why. I normally keep my desk neat and orderly. Sure, papers and things accumulate on it during the day, but I usually manage to get it all cleared up and put away in an orderly fashion by the end of the day. But for some reason, this hasn’t been happening lately. I’ve got piles of papers all over it, and random items, generally things that have been confiscated from students until the end of the day and then forgotten for days or weeks, lying in random places. I fully plan on cleaning off my desk tomorrow so I can have some clear space when I need to use it.

Of course, I really don’t spend much time at my desk, anyway. If I’m not entering minutes from reading logs, updating attendance, or responding to emails from parents or colleagues that need my immediate attention, you are not likely to see me at my desk. At least, not when my students are in the room. I much prefer to be circulating the room, checking on students’ work when they are doing independent practice, or directly teaching lessons from the front of the room. I don’t believe in teaching from behind a barrier.

Even though my desk is messy right now, I don’t want the entire classroom to look that way. My students do a fairly decent job of keeping their own workspaces clean, although there are always those few who seem to have towering piles of books, folders, and papers that seem to defy gravity. Over the past week, though, I’ve noticed that our floors, counters, bookshelves, and back table have been getting very untidy on a regular basis.

So we’ve started doing something new. Instead of just stacking chairs and cleaning up at the very end of the day, we do a mid-day inspection of the room. I asked my class to think about what they would like a visitor to see when he or she enters our room. They shared ideas such as a clean floor, neat bookshelves, students working, and things generally put away. Then I asked them to close their eyes and tell me what a guest would see. I was given a list that included papers, pencils, markers, and crayons on the floor, papers all over the counter and table, wet paper towels near the sink, garbage on the floor instead of the garbage can, and desks in crooked rows and too close to each other.

The purpose of the mid-day inspection, then, is simple: fix the things that aren’t as we would like them to be. Before going to lunch, we take just a couple of minutes to pick up the papers and pencils, put dry erase markers and erasers where they belong, straight the desks, and make sure everything is put way. This has a number of benefits. First of all, it is easier to straighten up the room at the end of the day, which means our even custodian doesn’t have to spend most of his time picking up papers and pencils from the floor and can do more important things, such as properly sanitising desks and making sure our bathrooms are clean and not-smelly. (To be fair, he does these things anyway, but I’d rather he not spend a fourth of his time doing something the students should be taking care of. That is probably a result of having been an evening custodian and then managing a crew of evening custodians before owning a company that provided evening custodial services.)

Another benefit is that the students have a clean workspace available to them as soon as they get back from lunch. They are better able to focus on the work at hand when there aren’t distractions all around them and they are able to actually do their work. Also, it is just good practice to keep things neat and tidy. Sure, my own desk is messy now, but that’s because I don’t really use it much. The small desk at the front of the room that I use while teaching is always clear of junk and has the items I use in proper places. My back reading table is always clear of papers and books before I start working with any students. After all, if I want my students to keep our room clean in order to guarantee a positive work environment, it only makes sense that I try to model what that looks like, and that I be honest if I am not doing everything I can to keep my own spaces neat and clean!

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