A Journey Through Time and Personal Spaces: how classroom decor tells the stories of the teachers


Familiar Faces Photos of Mr. Davis’s students dot the walls, commemorating many years of fun memories made at UHS. (N. Pillai)

Staff Writer
For five days a week, students sit in classrooms. Classrooms are meant for learning, and this purpose gives students the preconceived idea of walking into a room with little to offer upon the walls. However, some teachers at UHS have completely changed that view.
A teacher’s room may reveal little details about who the teacher is to students, such as the items found inside Mr. Tim Smay (Science Dept.)’s room.
Mr. Smay has adorned his classroom with all things Star Wars to give students something to look at if they get bored. He is known not to like white walls, even by his son.
I really like movies, especially horror movies, but horror movies are inappropriate for classrooms. Star Wars is more appropriate,” he said.
Mr. Smay frequently watched all of the Star Wars movies with his kids when they were younger, so he has found ways to convey his love in his classroom,
“I put movie quotes in [my] PowerPoints because I love movies so much. I put Star Wars because everyone knows Star Wars,” he explained.
While some decorations are fun and interesting, others may carry more sentimental value.
I love the pictures of my family; they make me happy,” Mr. Smay said. “My favorites are the ones of my son’s first haircut, his first piano recital and my whole family together.”
Other teachers, such as Ms. Dana Kramer (Visual and Performing Arts Dept.), have chosen to include decor that is inspired by the subject that they teach. Ms. Kramer’s room decor goes hand and hand with her desire to influence students in the UHS arts program.
“I need stuff on the walls. It just sort of happens as I see something I want to put up,” Ms. Kramer said. “My students will do things I love and I will just have to put it up, and it stays there. It’s a combo of laziness and planning.”
Ms. Kramer also wants students to look at interesting visuals while she uses them for references to show what is expected of them. Most of what is upon her walls are from her travels, things she is interested in or even some work from graphic designers that influence her.
The things students have made for me and have given me are my favorite. This girl made me a self portrait [pictured above] and I love it,” she said.
While she enjoys bringing her artistic side into her house, her room is the main space where it presides. “Every time I clean my house, more things from there end up in my room here,” she said.
Rooms like Ms. Kramer’s allow students to acknowledge their artistic side while rooms like Mr. David Knight (Science Dept.)’s have more of a scientific background.
Mr. Knight wanted his room to allow students to be engaged in science from the moment they enter the room, so he has gathered many of his classroom decorations from the trips he takes with his AP Biology classes or from his students themselves.
Other decorations, such as the colorful college pennants hanging on his classroom walls, are meant to give students hope for their futures.
“My former AP Bio students [have given] them to me from their college since my first AP Bio class in 1997. It means alot to me because on the back is their graduation year and their name,” Mr. Knight said. ““I feel like it shows them how many diverse schools there are…beyond state schools and UCs.”
Another decoration he particularly likes are the certificates behind his desk which students have given to recognize his influence on them.
”When I feel like a terrible teacher or that I’ve done a bad job, I can look at the certificates and remember that some people loved me once,” he said.
Similar to Mr. Knight, Mr. Josh Davis (World Languages Dept.) wants his room to be all about UHS students. His room is known around campus to be extremely well-decorated with photos of students covering the walls.
“[My room shows] that I am student-centered – I am here for the kids,” he said.
Mr. Davis believes these pictures give students the opportunity to see people like themselves and see that he is “all about them.”
The dozens of photos have accumulated over many years, with a humorous origin story. “Nothing influenced me,” he said. “I just started. Every senior had to take a photo and give it to me or else I said they would fail.”
He also wants his students to look around and see that they are surrounded by classics like the Colosseum in Rome or the David statue, relating art and culture to the Latin language he teaches.
When thinking of his own room, he said, ”This is kind of an evolution. Other rooms are nicer, but this reflects me and the environment.”
With some of the UHS staff taking steps to decorate their classrooms, they are giving their students the opportunity to be engaged with what is upon their walls as well as their lessons. Each time a student looks upon one of these decorations, they can gain knowledge, perspective, motivation or influence. Students are given the ability to learn in an environment completely structured to be, as Mr. Davis says, ”all about them.”