When teacher Mike Schaefer first saw his new room at Colter Elementary School, there were boxes piled “up to the ceiling.”
“Physically, there’s just a lot of stuff,” he said. “It’s taking awhile to unpack the 75 boxes that were in a mountain in the middle of the room.”
While school doesn’t start until Tuesday, and teachers aren’t officially contracted to start work until today, teachers across the valley have been busy setting up their rooms for a new year. And many Teton County School District No. 1 teachers are working extra hard after moving rooms from building to building.
Jackson Elementary School, formerly just for kindergarten through second grade, and Colter Elementary School, formerly just for third- through fifth-graders, were reconfigured to serve kindergarten through fifth-grade students this year.
With that came months of planning as teachers, students, classroom supplies and furniture needed to be shifted around. Tracy Poduska, the new principal at Jackson Elementary School, was in charge of ensuring a smooth transition, down to details like making sure that there were age-appropriate books in both libraries and that chairs weren’t too big or too small for the new grades.
Schaefer, who teaches second grade, said miscellaneous classroom supplies for younger students really add up. He was in a modular classroom last year at Jackson Elementary but estimated that teachers who had taught in the district longer or had larger rooms might have 100 boxes or more to unpack.
“It takes a lot to get a room set up,” he said. “It’s an integral piece of the experience for kids. You’re creating a community, and the physical space is really important. For elementary school students, it’s almost like a home. The classroom is a big part of their world, and I want to get it right.”
Buffy Allen, a third-grade teacher now at Jackson Elementary, taught at Colter Elementary for nine years before. Her son is “helping” her sort her classroom’s library books, but she wants to make sure her students feel like it is their room, not hers.
“That’s the part that is fun for kids,” Allen said. “I try not to overdecorate, and I try to make it about them, not about me. It’s not my room, it’s our room.”
She, too, wants the room to be cozy, inviting and meaningful. That means hanging things on the walls that relate to what her students are learning or things they’ve created.
Schaefer said he and other teachers have been working on their rooms little by little. Over the past two weeks he has been coming in for a few hours every other day so he can still make the most of summer. Allen has been sneaking in time to work on her room here and there while her husband watches her children during nap time.
Arranging and purging
Thankfully, none of Schaefer’s boxes were lost in the move. Teachers are responsible for setting everything up in their rooms but not actually moving boxes from one school to another. It’s just one example of educators spending time outside school hours to be the best they can be for their students.
Some areas of the room are fixed — the need for a group meeting area in front of the board where the entire class can fit — while others take more creativity.
“Desks are a big piece of the puzzle,” Allen said.
The move, other teachers said, is helping them purge things they don’t need. Like file cabinets: With so much work done online now they’re becoming obsolete in classrooms.
Teachers’ work is never done. Schaefer and Allen will adjust their rooms as the year goes on.
“It changes weekly,” Schaefer said. “I like to move ’em around all the time. It keeps the kids on their toes.”
Beneficial to all
Despite the extra work of moving classrooms Schaefer said he’s excited to have all the elementary grades in one building.
“It will be cool to go down the hallway and see a kid I had in second grade,” he said. “We’ll get to watch them grow throughout their academic career.”
Having old teachers in the building will help as children progress through the grades, he said.
“There’s a certain level of comfort knowing I’m right around the corner,” Schaefer said.
He’s also excited for the opportunities for teachers to collaborate in different ways. Walking the halls, Schaefer is already interacting with a wider circle of teachers than the ones he was sad to leave behind at Jackson Elementary School.
“The potential is so much greater,” Schaefer said.
Allen is looking forward to teachers not having to travel across town to learn a wider variety of expertise.
“There’s a lot we can learn and play around with,” she said.
Allen, a dual immersion teacher, said having older students as language models will be especially helpful. Most dual immersion teachers didn’t have to switch buildings this year because they will all be moving down to Munger Mountain Elementary School next fall, but Allen didn’t get as lucky.
She still said minimizing transitions for students is the most important.
“One less transition is really big,” Allen said. “The less, the better. It takes them a lot longer to settle in when everything is brand new. They’re starting over, and it takes us longer to get into what we need to do, learning-wise.”
Having the summer off is a welcome respite and a great time to enjoy the Tetons in all their glory. But with crisp mornings signaling that fall is in the air, teachers say they’re ready.
“There’s something about getting in your room that gets you excited for the school year,” Allen said.
“Teachers are excited for back to school, too,” Schaefer said. “It brings out the kid in you.”