NORMAL -- Walk into Dave McMorris' classroom, and you hardly know where to look first.
His room at Parkside Junior High School in Normal has been called the "T.G.I. Friday of classrooms," an apt description of the space that includes an artificial tree, a student-signed bowling pin, patio lanterns, and a couch. It looks like a giant seek-and-find game with hundreds of unusual items that reflect the sixth-grade teacher's personality and interest in his students.
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"I always knew I wanted to have an inviting environment," said McMorris, who many students call "Mr. Mc." "The rest kind of snowballed."
While McMorris has one of the most packed classrooms you'll find in the Twin City area, there are plenty of other rooms with plenty of personality that teachers use as part of the learning process, while also stimulating students with color and texture that helps build relationships as they ask about their surroundings, said Parkside Principal Dan Lamboley.
Still, there can be a question of how much is enough, or when it becomes too much, said Lamboley, adding that while McMorris' room is "busy," students like it.
"The first week I went into it, it was amazing. There are plants all over the room .. Very cool," said sixth-grader Brennan Mitchell of Bloomington.
McMorris used to worry some students would find the room over-stimulating, "but after a week or two, it's just our classroom."
Mitchell said he doesn't find the classroom distracting, but it is entertaining, adding, "I look forward to it."
The sixth-grader's favorite thing? "A Giant Mac and Cheese Box."
The room's reading lounge, with furniture brought from McMorris' home, lets students read comfortably and get together to talk about what they're reading.
"Students like to talk -- surprise, surprise -- but they also like to talk about the books they are reading. The reading lounge fosters that, as it is a comfortable place where books and conversation go hand in hand," he said.
Similar in-class libraries and reading nooks of various descriptions are abundant in area classrooms these days.
McMorris, who has been teaching 26 years, said students may not always remember what they were taught in class, but they will remember how they were treated.
"I have students who would walk through fire for me and they know I would do the same for them. . It's funny; when people ask me how many kids I have, I never know if I should answer `seven' or `90' . because they are all my kids. . I love them all,' said McMorris, who actually does have seven kids with his wife, Cara.
Last summer, everything was removed from the walls when Parkside was repainted -- and that meant removing more than 40 boxes of "stuff" from McMorris' room. He's packed up four previous times when his classroom assignment changed.
"Let me just say, we have awesome custodians here who have put up with my antics/stuff over the years," said McMorris.
Many students ask McMorris for a keepsake at the end of the year. "I always remind them I am not done teaching -- or dead yet. I think I've told them they could have stuff if I die. . I have this concern that if I were to die tomorrow . hundreds of students would be in my classroom trying to get my `stuff,"' he said.
They will be in for a fight. He's already promised it to his daughter Mara, 20, who is studying to be a teacher.