Setting Up a Classroom: Expert Tips for New Teachers

Setting up a classroom for the first time is a large undertaking. Don’t overly stress or spend too much money, though!

You’ve researched the influence of classroom decorations to keep students focused, without being distracting. You have posters and organizational items to keep students engaged but not overwhelmed. You have Pinterest board(s) full of dream classroom ideas. You’ve maybe shopped for bulletin board borders and posters. You’re a new teacher, and you are itching to decorate that classroom, to create an engaging learning environment.

Now you have the keys to your very own classroom. Before whipping out paint cans and stapler, consider a few ideas before setting up a classroom. I can only speak specifically to ELA classroom setup, but these ideas will flow into other secondary classroom organization. Setting up a classroom for the first time can be fun & overwhelming. With these ELA classroom setup tips, you can ensure that your room will be organized and student friendly. Make your first classroom one with a welcoming spirit.

What is the best way to arrange desks and furniture in my classroom?

The best way to arrange desks and furniture in a classroom is to create a layout that promotes a sense of community and allows for easy movement and interaction. Don’t worry if you need to experiment to get a comfortable layout!

When you are setting up a classroom for the first time, here are my guidelines.

setting up your classroom

Be Safe and Smart

First, ask about boundaries. Are you allowed to paint? Do rugs need rubber backings? Holes in the walls? Certain rules for your classroom—emergency procedures displayed? Be sure you don’t violate any fire safety rules. It can not hurt to ask to see if anything is forbidden, if anything is frowned upon, if certain things are required.

Hopefully, you have a mentor who will help with these ideas. If not, ask another veteran teacher or an administrator. Simply note that you’d like to make your classroom welcoming, but you want to follow fire and safety rules. Simple!

new teacher tips

Make a Plan

Next, plan before you dive in. Many times teachers must draw the setup for their classroom at the end of the year. This will be good practice for that. Obviously, start with doors and windows and anything else that cannot be moved. Sometimes the teacher’s desk can be moved and other times Internet/ phone/ electronic hookups require it be in a certain spot. Be aware of this. Decide the student desk or table design, reading corners, bookshelves.

When I enter a new classroom, I sit for a few minutes with a piece of paper. I sort how I would like the desks, where I’d like my bookshelves, and what I know needs to stay. (For instance, you might have a filing cabinet that you won’t file papers in, but it needs to stay in the room. You can decide how you’d like to use it.)

Basically, design a classroom layout before hitting the thrift stores and shopping. Before you do, make a plan, especially as you are setting up a classroom for the first time.

classroom design ideas

Think of Specifics

After the basics (the larger items), determine the details. Will your have a designated area for current novel studies, another for current events? Where should anchor charts go? The nice thing about the smaller items is that it is easier to change your mind with those. Bulletin boards, posters, craft storage—those are easier to move around.

With the rules and logistics out of the way, you can use your imagination! Secondary teachers typically don’t have classroom themes such as owls or superheroes, but creating a color palette could help if you wanted to tie classroom decorations together. My usual theme is books, and I’ve acquired book lamps, book tissue holders, book bulletin borders, and book posters throughout the years. I’ve seen creative secondary classrooms with eclectic decor, usually involving many units of study.

My ELA classroom setup is functional. I don’t have ornate lamps or backgrounds. Students can spread out and make themselves comfortable. To save your sanity that first year of teaching, don’t spend a lot of time building a theme. Details can come later!

classroom setup and design


I know you want to make it pretty, but before you dive in, clean. (I know.) This stinks. Hopefully, some degree of cleaning occurred at the end of last year or over the summer. Still, bookcases may need dusted, windows wiped. It’s easier to clean at once, rather than as you are taping and assembling. Finding cobwebs in the middle of a beautiful display will ruin your spirit.

If you’re planning to paint, do it now! Again, get permission for this.

Otherwise, shape your classroom! Move the big items and slowly add the final touches. Grab your plastic tablecloths, large paper, or material and adhere them to bulletin boards. Add borders, pre-made or a fun burlap.

Decide where to post classroom guidelines, classroom expectations, and classroom procedures. Unless you are positive you have the perfect wording for these, don’t laminate them yet. You may need to tweak. Depending upon the type of walls you have, tape or tacky putty hold posters well. I’ve used a hot glue gun with success too.

As you settle and add final touches, decide if you will have a spot for late work, missed work, exit slips, and comments. Do you have storage for large paper, markers, and other fun tools? Are you hanging encouraging posters to encourage young readers? Even if you do not have a large classroom library, set out what books you do own.

class design

Setting up a Classroom: The Pinterest Layout

Yes: Social media exists. Do not feel as though you need to copy setup ideas from Pinterest. Create a wish list? Organize lesson plans? Sure, be inspired.

But, overall, realize that the day-to-day workings of a classroom are not picture perfect—which makes sense. Learning can be messy, and your students will experiment. What teachers show you on social media is not always accurate. Many online educators are no longer in the classroom and have a mock classroom for filming.

While pretty and picturesque images exist, remember that your mental health, your bank account, and your work-life-balance matter more than a perfect room. In the long run, perfect pillows, lights, and framed quotes are not your focus.

classroom setup

Be Proud!

And finally, realize that all of this is secondary to you—the teacher, the driving force in the classroom. I was thrilled to decorate my first classroom but left disappointed after that initial hard day of work. The classroom wasn’t perfect; it wasn’t what was in my head. It takes time and will always be a process.

If you are a new secondary teacher setting up a classroom for the first time, I hope these tips help you. It’s lots of prep work (the story of teaching!) and lots of setup. Let your personality shine through so your students can see how enthusiastic you are about teaching them.

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