Dealing with Cleanliness in the Classroom

Girl cleaning chalk board
Photo Courtesy of Georgijevic/Getty Images

Maintaining a clean and tidy classroom environment is important for a number of reasons. A clean classroom minimizes the spread of germs, prevents offending smells from lingering, and runs more smoothly overall than untidy classrooms.

Aside from health problems they can cause, your students just won't be able to do their best learning in a filthy room. Teach them strategies for maintaining a clean environment to prepare them for real life and help them thrive in school.

Get the Students Involved

Building a classroom culture that values organization and cleanliness is up to the teacher. Students should be encouraged to take care of their classroom and be held responsible for their own actions from the start.

Teaching Accountability

Rather than spending your valuable teaching time picking up garbage and tidying up after a long day, show your students the importance of individual accountability and prevent clutter from ever becoming an issue. Demonstrate that when they don't clean up after themselves, the classroom becomes too messy to learn in and nothing gets done how it should.

Make the time for a valuable lesson in cleaning. Tell the students to go a whole day without putting anything away and then meet at the end of the day to discuss the outcomes. The students will see how chaotic school can be when garbage and materials are not put away and recognize their individual parts in the process. Devote the next day to developing cleaning techniques and routines together.

Cleaning Jobs

Pass the majority of the cleaning responsibility to your students. One way to do this is to design a system of classroom jobs designated solely to the cleaning and organization of the room. Some jobs to try implementing are:

  • Beginning- and end-of-day recorder: This student will assess the state of the classroom at the beginning and end of the school day and give it a cleanliness grade. Display this somewhere for all students to see so that the class can feel pride when they do well and work toward improvement when the grade is not ideal.
  • Table monitors: The role of these students (two or three) is to keep the tops of tables and desks neat. That means returning supplies to their proper places and wiping down desks that get messy.
  • Floor scanners: The one or two students with this job keep everything off the floor that shouldn't be there. They dispose of garbage scraps and return materials such as technology and folders to the correct students so that they can quickly be put away.
  • Garbage tracker: This student helps out during snack time by gently reminding their classmates that food wrappers need to end up in the trash and lets the teacher know if the garbage cans get too full. If you would like, have this student wear a pair of gloves and help to collect trash.
  • Cleaning motivator: This student is in charge of keeping everyone's eyes on the prize. During periods of clean-up and transition, have them use a microphone to motivate their classmates to keep their areas clean, giving reminders about what needs to be done as needed.
  • Job checker/filler: This job is simply in place to make sure that the other jobs are getting done. Have them record who has done their cleaning job and who has not, filling in for anyone that is absent or unable to perform their duties.

Model each of these jobs multiple times before asking students to carry them out themselves then rotate jobs weekly so everyone gets a turn. Individual ownership will increase over time as students assume these cleaning roles and recognize the importance of everybody's actions—they will also learn to help each other out when mistakes are made. Before long, you will have more instructional time and your students will have good cleaning habits that they will carry with them forever.

Tips for Keeping the Classroom Clean

Make sure that you foster good habits outside of jobs and accountability and an environment that is conducive to keeping the class clean. Try the following strategies for ensuring that cleaning is an efficient and effective part of every day.

  • Designate cleaning times. Set routines for cleaning multiple times a day and don't allow anything to cut into these times (within reason). Your students might be inexperienced and need longer for certain tasks.
  • Have a place for everything. You can't expect your students to make sure that things are where they belong if they don't belong anywhere. Use organized bins, shelves, and cupboards to store materials and show students where every item goes.
  • Be explicit about what clean means. The concept of clean is learned, not innate, and it looks different in every home. Teach your students what clean looks like in school and don't allow wiggle room (e.g. "It seemed clean enough to me.").
  • Give students their own space. If you are able, provide each student with a cubby and hook to call their own. These should be homes for all the stuff they will need such as folders, coats, homework, and lunch boxes.
  • Make cleaning fun. Cleaning is not naturally fun but that doesn't mean your students can't enjoy it. Play music during clean up times to make it fun and set classroom goals to work toward. For example, 50 clean days earns a pajama party.