Safety, comfort, encouragement, knowledge, goals, rewards and, just to make everything perfect, color coordination.

That’s a lot to ask of a bulletin board or even a whole classroom of decorations, but that’s what teachers aim for—and pay for—every year.

“It’s just like your home environment, you want to be comfortable, you want to to make sure it’s conducive to learning,” said Shawn Gavin, principal at Lincoln Elementary School, Janesville. “Pretty posters are great, but if they’re not a resource to learning, well, that’s the most important thing.”

Along with the traditional items such as alphabet borders and illustrations of cursive writing, teachers put up word walls, post “standard operating procedures” for tasks such as lining up and “I can” statements, such as “I can identify a numerator and a denominator” or “I can write a number in expanded form.”

On Friday, Lincoln second-grade teacher Amy Eckels was working on her classroom. Her 4-month-old daughter, Finley, came along for the ride.

While the younger Eckels distracted the media with a crinkly toy giraffe, her mother arranged her room in hopes that every type of kid would have a spot where they felt comfortable. One area was for quiet work and another for “collaboration.”

It’s difficult to imagine second-graders collaborating, but apparently that’s a part of modern schooling.

Eckels has tables in her classroom instead of desks, and she used to allow students to sit wherever they want.

“I found that it caused kids some anxiety,” Eckels said.

Understandable. You might have to collaborate with a classmate on occasion, but it might make you nervous to sit next to him or her.

Eckels puts up a lot of Badger gear in her classroom. She went to UW-Madison, and it gives her a chance to talk to them about college.

Down the hall, teacher Ashley Deininger was getting her third-grade classroom ready.

Like Eckels, she had created a space for quiet work and reading and another for collaboration.

On Friday, she was tackling the task of sorting through crates of books. Deininger’s grandmother lives in a community with more school resources, and she collects cast-offs for her granddaughter.

Many of the books were quite new, and Deininger was “leveling” each one and placing it in the appropriate reading-level bin. That way, kids can be directed to books at their reading level or higher.

She’s grateful for the donations. Like all teachers, she pays out of pocket for a variety of classroom items.

Gavin estimated teachers spend between $500 and $1,000 of their own money on classroom items and supplies for children in need. That matches what national studies show.

Blackhawk Community Credit Union and Asbury United Methodist Church are a “great help” with school supplies, Gavin said.

Deininger estimated she spent about $1,700 during her first year of teaching. But much of that was for items such as bookshelves that she’ll use for several years.

Eckels estimated she had spent about $200 so far this year.

“We get a lot of help from the PTA,” said Eckels. “But I like to save that for later in the year.”

Eckels admitted she might be spending more.

“There might be stuff I try to get without my husband knowing,” she said, laughing. “He’ll say, ‘Are you done buying stuff yet?’”

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