With the first day of school just around the corner, I thought I'd tell you a story. Are you ready? Once upon a time, I went in a teacher store thinking I would find some useful and tasteful decorative products.
I walked out of that store almost immediately, cowering in fear from the prices, the overabundance of primary colors, and the Garfield posters. Also, who decided that Garfield, a fat, lazy, cynical cat, should be the cartoon persona for educational posters? I would like to slap that person's hand.
Since that day, I've made or inherited most of my classroom decor myself. Not only was it less expensive than buying stuff from the teacher store, but I was able to customize it to my liking. And let me tell you (listen up, first-year teachers!), having a space that you like might not seem super important, but you will thank yourself the first cold and rainy 7 AM Monday morning that you turn on the lights and it's not ugly. Plus, I think people who have their PhDs in education and wear glasses would say that children feel appreciated when a room looks warm and inviting. Plus (again), it's easy and sort of fun to do if you have music playing or Ryan Lochte on TV or another poor person to work with. Plus (last plus I promise), they're decorations that I can assimilate back into my home should I ever get fired for some of the ridiculous shenanigans I pull.
Here's some of my posters/decorations and how I made them:
One of my extremely talented and lovely friends made this bunting banner last year for a bridal shower. I nicked it off her, cut out some black letters from construction paper and used it for my word wall. Just cut sturdy cardstock into triangles, fold a small flap at the top, and hot glue it onto some sturdy string. Obviously you couldn't use one that says "Word Wall" at home if you got fired (unless you live with an ESL and are serious about his/her vocabulary) but you could leave it plain or have it say something cute. You're not allowed to use "Live, Laugh, Love" though. It makes me cringe.
This is something I made for the decor in my house this summer, but it totally works in the classroom. I went to a thrift store nearby and found an old, framed picture (for $4.99!) stuck some adhesive letters on it, and BAM: something pleasant. ("Depaysement" is a French word for the feeling that comes from not being in one's home country. This neat article has a list of other cool words that you could use for an etymology lesson, or just for fun!)
This one is a favorite among my fellow teachers, although I can't take credit for the quote. I splurged by using an online company that makes custom vinyl banners (it was something like $20), but you could easily create a poster yourself using paper or paint. When students ask "Why are we doing so much reading/writing?" you can just point to your sign and say, "To save Grandpa." Then they say, "You're weird, Miss," and you pretend to get distracted by something outside your window. Also, those things that look like my groceries holding down the corners... are my groceries.
I forced a lovely friend into making these for me last summer using some of my favorite quotes from young adult literature and pretty paper! I used Narnia, Harry Potter, and Diary of Anne Frank.
I used these to build anticipation before our Hunger Games unit. Zero dollars. Actually, I remember I had some kids make this during Saturday d-hall. Zero dollars AND zero effort.
Bring art into your room by recycling old calendars or ripping out pages from art books from used book stores. You could pair the castle one (Magritte's Castle in the Pyrenees) with a cool quote from British street artist Banksy ("You don't need planning permission to build castles in the sky.") or Thoreau ("If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.")
Decorate your desk (or your coffee table at home) with a dollar store vase and fake flowers. I took this a step further and wrote down a quote from Rumi on a notecard and stuck it inside the glass. It makes me wildly happy, and substitutes usually leave notes that say things like, "Your students are horrible, but I love your flower arrangement on your desk."
I once visited a tiny, wonderful book shop/publisher in San Francisco that had large posters like this on their windows that faced the street. So I had to copy them.
And then you can always blow up a picture of your dog reading Harry Potter, like my friend from whom I inherited this gem.
Whether you're a teacher or not, I hope none of you people out there are losing your minds yet. Just today, someone asked, "Summer's almost up, huh?" and I involuntarily struck out and smacked his ribcage.
-Use inspiration from your life! All the art, quotes, literature, and photography I've used are things that inspire me outside the classroom as well. Don't use stuff that you think is cheesy or outdated or cliche-- you won't like being surrounded by dumb things, and your students probably won't either.
-Ask your school for help! I just assumed my Title I school didn't have a laminator until its whereabouts were revealed to me by a veteran. Also, my librarian was able to print out large copies of any fair use pictures from online, which was baller. Some school districts even give teachers a small stipend for supplies/decorations.
-Ask your crafty friends for help! They usually have hot glue guns, pretty scrapbook paper, and you can threaten them
-I use the website Brainyquote for all my quote-finding needs. It runs quote searches by keyword or by topic, and they have a variety of different sayings from various eras.
-Have your students help you. Don't feel like cutting out letters/gluing/stapling things to the walls? If your students are anything like mine, they are itching to do mindless tasks like these. Tell them what you want and let them have at it!