It being the week before school starts, my co-teacher and I are scrambling to "prepare the environment" and get the two classrooms we will be using ready for the students when they arrive on Tuesday, September 1st exactly at 8:20am. We have both finished our Montessori classes and are full of enthusiasm, ideas, and newly-found wisdom that we did not possess before training.
When I first began my teaching, I was sort of thrown into an upper elementary classroom (mixed ages, grades 4-6) without much to go on. However, zeal can go a long way, even if there is limited knowledge to accompany it. I plastered the high classroom walls with commercially-designed posters about the 6 writing traits, along with color motivational posters encouraging students to "Respect Each Other" and to "Be Responsible." I made sure all the walls were properly decorated, including pictures for the first theme of the year: astronomy. I arranged the desks in neat rows, four by four, and got ready the worksheets I would need for the first week. I made sure there was a "Writing Center" and a "Reading Center." I reserved a small wall to the side of my white board for the rules the classroom rules the students would come up with themselves and then sign their names to. That was two years ago.
The Montessori classroom is quite different from the classic conventional classroom (in a good way). First of all, there is an emphasis on creating a calming, welcoming atmosphere that is child-centered, not teacher-centered. The environment should be beautified with things such as plants, cultural items, a nice lamp, decorative art, etc.
There should be minimal to no commercial posters, the walls should be left for the students' work or that small painting you bought at Cost Plus World Market (for example). Would we as adults want our office covered in multi-colored of bulletin boards bordered by rainbow butterflies, along with cheap commercial posters urging us to "Do your Best"? Especially for younger children, the colors are actually distracting and do not lead to a calm environment. I would say that the same goes for older students. Myself, as an adult, I find too much visual stimuli distracting. Sitting here in this coffee shop near my home, the wall across from me has more than 50 posters advertising various singers, shows, etc. I have not read or noticed a single poster. The other wall, however, has paintings sparsely displayed for sale. They are much easier to see, because they are not a sea of images, but just four or five. It is easy for my eyes to focus on the individual paintings.
Our current classrooms have no posters, and only one teacher-created bulletin board - the other bulletin boards are open for posting student work. We also have potted plants and decorative times, such as a small reading lamp that has a stained-glass shade, as well as cultural items for our shelves. Once it is clean and organized, I will be taking photos and posting them. It's a shame I have no photos from my first classroom to compare to this year. But, oh how I've learned.