It was February 27, 2017. I will always remember this day because it was the day that I realized my dreams for myself as a teacher. I was sitting in Kim Bearden’s room at The Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. My friend and colleague Dr. Burnett was sitting to my right, and we were both overwhelmed at the physical environment surrounding us. Forget the fact that we were visiting a world-renown school with a theatre in each classroom for the 20-200 educators watching. The room design was amazing. Mrs. Bearden’s room was full of street signs, grammar class puns, and a cityscape with graffiti.
It was the most exciting classroom I had ever been in, and class hadn’t even begun yet. It even had a real VW Bug inside. This was like “1998 that’s-so-bomb” worthy. Then, we were taken to Ron Clark’s room, and I changed my mind that this was the coolest classroom I’d ever been in. To shorten this narrative, let’s just say that every classroom I saw that day was “the coolest classroom ever.” They were creative, artistic, and inspiring; they were also made to fit the style and needs of each teacher. Fifteen minutes into sitting in Mr. Clark’s room, I broke every chain of command rule and texted my superintendent: “You have to see this place. Please, please let me paint my classroom. I will raise the money.”
And then it happened — the answer I never anticipated. My superintendent texted back “Yes. Raise the money.” So, I started a GoFundMe campaign. I begged and borrowed from every family member and friend that I could. By April, I had the exact amount I needed to fund the $500.00 paint job (later, the school system created a GoFundMe page to raise money for all the other classrooms on campus due to some of our awesome elementary school teachers).
I had thought about tens of themes and drawn out three sketches of different designs and themes that I liked. I considered painting my classroom in my house colors like Ron Clark did or with a tattoo and graffiti theme my students would love; then, I thought about doing a farmhouse preppy theme with lots of monograms and repurposed wood. Neither of those really represented me though.
My third design wound up being my choice of themes — I call it Steampunk Chic. Steampunk denotes Science Fiction and Victorian Romanticism with whimsy. It is an artform that celebrates the absurd and the different. It also relates so perfectly to the subjects I teach in Literature and Composition. I would be able to incorporate authors, poetry, sea monsters, and robots all in the same room. Chic denotes my desire to make it feminine and “me.” I spent the good portion of May debating the color. After surveying most of my friends around school, I decided to take their advice and paint it in my favorite color, so that being in this space would make me happy every day. I chose Coral Passion from Valspar. It does indeed make me happy every time I enter this space.
I believe very firmly in the psychology of color and design. Colors affect our moods, our behaviors, and our psyches. Taking the time to transform a physical space is a sign to others that their presence in your space is important enough to spend time on. My students have thoroughly enjoyed their new English classroom this semester. It has affected their level of motivation, and it has allowed them to visualize how much I love them. I love them so much that I spent almost all of my summer break working on this project, and they appreciate the sacrifice.
Before explicating the design plan, I would like to take time to thank my major contributors (those who gave me resources, money, and/or their time to complete this process). First, many people contributed financially to my room. I would like to think my community supporter J & M Bar-b-que / Jarvis McNair from Warrenton, my husband David Moore, and my friend and former colleague Taylor Culjan for the extra generous financial donations. Thank you to my mom and mom-in-love for donating painting supplies.
Thank you to my colleague and work bestie Joanne Patton for helping me finish painting (those durn flames) and to the hubs again for helping me mount all of the physical artwork and objects in the room. My mom Mayrene also donated some props and shopped for the others I wanted. I would never have gotten my flexible seating without the help of Uncle Tique and Uncle Junk’s in Thomson, J & M Bar-b-que in Warrenton, and Dr. Tan Burnett. I had a whole lot of support! None of it would have even happened though without my superintendent Mrs. Carole Jean Carey.
The new layout of my room is exactly what I wanted — places for students to work with each other, places for us to work alone, and places for students to work with me! In the back of the room / main part of the room, I have four tables with four chairs each (each in a different “corner” of the section). Between each table, I have at least two student desks or independent stations. The desks also help separate the groups so that students are not as prone to talk across the room when working in a group.
I wanted the desks in case some students wanted to sit by themselves or needed to work alone without temptations. In the middle of the room and in the front of the work space, I placed what I call my throne chair — it’s a gold antique chair for me or a special student. In the front of the room, I have a large round table (not to scale in the diagram) that I wanted to call my Differentiation Station. I use it as an overflow table in some classes, but its purpose is to be a place where I can work one-on-one or in a small group with students. I really like how close it is to my desk area.
On the very short wall in my room, I paid homage to the very Steampunked Edgar Allan Poe, with a twiggy tree, and three black ravens. The poster picture of Mr. Poe is available on Amazon. On my largest wall, I painted a special steampunk cherry blossom tree that is losing its white and pink cherry blossoms to the gentle breeze; the blossoms continue for the length of the wall, uniting the elements of the mural. I chose to include a quote from Emily Dickinson atop the tree: “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” I also chose to paint the monochromatic word “Hope” extremely large to affirm the daily thought to my students’ minds.
Next to the quote, I painted a colorful, hopeful feather and a bicycle man who is being flown by birds, an allusion to the “anything can happen” theme, and the way I teach my classes (expect the unexpected). As you can see, I chose to incorporate my already existing corkboard strip into the design.
To the right of the cherry blossom tree, I painted nine author silhouettes. I chose the authors that I want my students to fall in love with the most. I’m going to spend the next section talking about these authors for the other Lit teachers in the room. Finally on this wall, I painted my little steampunk doxie dog that my students named Sherlock just because I like dachshunds.
For my author silhouettes, I chose Alex Haley for several reasons; I want my students to see writers who look like them, so they know they can be successful at writing too. I also formed much of my opinions on race relations in this country by reading Haley’s epic Roots and watching the miniseries in 8th grade. Elizabeth Bishop speaks to my soul, and I think my students would identify with “The Art of Losing” and “In the Waiting Room.” Flannery O’Connor is from our area, and her quirky symbolic stories are entertaining and challenging. I had to choose Harper Lee for the wall because I have been in love with TKAM since Mrs. Shadiow’s English class.
William Faulkner is the quintessential American author with lots of “front porch crazy” South. Alice Walker is from the next county over; The Color Purple is also a staple in African American studies and my students’ culture. They also love reading Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun; it is a hit every time we read it. I had to include Henry David Thoreau because several passages from Walden transformed my own character, and I believe in teaching character education. Sue Monk Kidd wrote several of my favorites, including The Secret Life of Bees, which I love teaching in 9th grade.
The largest portrait on this wall is mixed medium, combining photography and paint. The picture is actually a cardboard cutout I found on Amazon, following a suggestion by our elementary school principal. The portrait is of my favorite poet — Emily Dickinson. When I was emotional in middle and high school, I would read Emily Dickinson and take solace in the fact that other people struggle too. She gave me some real life lessons, that Recluse. I painted the angel wings in a more feminine yet still steampunk and folky fashion.
On the next full wall, I used Pinterest to give me some ideas. I painted a large picture of a ship above The Kraken in honor of my favorite Lord Tennyson poem of the same name. I then painted nine different hot air balloons in steampunk fashion. The first is floating between fiction and reality in Victorian black and silver. The second is an Asian design; the third is obviously from science fiction. I just had to have an elephant, so I made him balloon number four. In the middle, I painted an up-close balloon in silver and blue. I painted three smaller balloons in the center above the bulletin boards, followed by a hot air balloon made of dandelions. I fell in love with the daffodil idea because daffodils represent wishes or hope. To unite all of the balloons, I painted gothic stormy, dragon-like clouds.
I chose to keep my bulletin board, and gave it a very custom design to go with Steampunk Chic and an artistic flair. On either side of the bulletin board, I used Steampunk Chic material from Jo-Ann’s Fabrics that my mom found. The middle is made of recycled dictionary pages in traditional steampunk. I then added posters that I designed in Steampunk Chic decor; Mrs. Huff, our media specialist, made the posters for me and laminated them. I have one for iPad rosters, an Anchor Activities Chart, Google login information, an MLA Citations Scroll, a class jobs roster, and an extra white space for important news. In the middle, I made pictures of some of my favorite books — Harry Potter, Romeo and Juliet, Frankenstein, Lincoln and His Cat, The Secret Life of Bees, and MacBeth. To the right of the bulletin board, I painted a quote from and silhouette of Langston Hughes with a depiction of the poem “Dreams.”
On my wall with a window, I needed to keep a lot of storage space like bookshelves, a closet, filing cabinets, and my desk. I painted a free gold tray with a silver pocket, bought a globe and a lighted marquee “P” for my last name, was given a plant arrangement by my mom, and transformed my grandmother’s old suitcase with a depiction of The Bard. I was inspired by Mrs. K. Flanders’ artwork at another school which says “Write On,” and decided to make my slogan in Old English font “Read on. Write on. Learn on.”
The old school cabinet was awful to look at, so I transformed it with a black and gold paint job. I painted queen bees after my nickname in Victorian wallpaper fashion. To the left of the new “armoire,” David hung a $4.00 gold key from the flea market and a $5.00 pair of antique cars from Attic Treasures in Harlem. Above it, we hung an Old World map I bought on Amazon. Atop the armoire, sits a book in a birdcage, a steampunk skull, a bouquet of white roses, a diver’s head clock, and a steampunk hat with a golden Shakespeare and peacock feather. I painted more peacock feathers in gold to the right of the window.
I made these steampunk chic blimps to hang above my Differentiation Station by using trash and items from the Dollar General and Dollar Tree. I already had the scrapbook paper and old book pages I used to paper mache with; my mom gave me the used light bulbs. David and I took forever to hang them, but they are very sturdy and cost less than $20. The fishing line makes them appear to float.
The front of my classroom hosts my Differentiation Station donated by my mama. Students can sit here and work with me or close to me to get extra help, an extra push, or an extra challenge. It is also where I conduct writer’s workshop conferences. The artwork to the left is my life mantra painted by Joanne and I in silver. It says, ” Life Mantra: 1. Build relationships, 2. Work hard, 3. Exude passion, REGARDLESS.” I painted the dragon, and Joanne painted the flames. My dragon is trying to set a flame retardant bookshelves with antique books and magical items on fire.
My board is sectioned off my black electric tape and contains words made with vinyl on my Cricut machine. I have actually changed the words since these pictures were taken, deleting LT, Standard, and Text.
To the right of my painted books, I painted a fun Carpe Diem I copied from Pinterest. I also hung a picture of myself with Ron Clark and painted an antique steampunk clock. Above my closet door, I painted gears and roses to surround my steampunk clock I found at Dollar General. I repurposed an old mirror to go on my closet door. Above the entrance to the classroom door says “This is the level of expectations.” I later added gear silhouettes on the windows and covered the top two windows in a background fabric that matches my bulletin board.
Thank you for reading about my Steampunk Chic classroom. Get out there and beg your principals, superintendents, and maintenance department to allow you to do this. Your students will LOVE it, and you will love having a beautiful space. I hope your friends and family members will help you as much as mine did in this process!
It’s Lit Time!