One of the best things about being a teacher is the feeling at the beginning of the new academic year. Everything feels new and refreshed, and each year you have the chance to reinvent yourself, your classroom and your teaching style – there’s not many other jobs that you can say that about! Each summer, teachers all over the country head back into the classrooms over the long break to set their classrooms back up in time for their new classes come September. Sometimes the classrooms are half done already, sometimes you are starting from scratch. Regardless of what your classroom looks like, there are some key areas you’ll want to be focusing on to ensure that the children can hit the ground running on the first day back and you’ll set yourself up perfectly for the new year.
Tables And Chairs
It can be surprising to realise how very important the placement of tables and chairs can be. Different classrooms often require different seating arrangements! Once you’ve set your tables up how you want make sure you do the following:
- Sit in each one of the children’s chairs around the room and experience the room from their point of view.
- Can you see the whiteboard?
- Can you push your chair back easily without banging into furniture or another chair?
- Is there a table leg blocking the leg space?
In most classrooms, especially if you set up the tables in groups, you will find there are a number of places where the children will not be able to easily see the whiteboard. Be very aware of these spaces, and one of the first things to do when the children arrive is to teach them how to carefully turn their chairs around when you need them to see the board. Don’t expect them to naturally do it – more often than not they will just turn their heads rather than their chairs – which is not a great position to learn in!
Also, unless your school has particular rules about how the class has to be set up, remember that you don’t have to group the tables. Throughout the years I’ve had the tables in lines, in horseshoes and in uneven groupings. Try out various different set ups and think what will work for you and your children.
Some teachers feel that the older the children then the less need there is for a carpet space. It’s very much a personal preference, but having a carpet space, even in Year 6, is a great idea. Having the children on the carpet with you can help you to quickly assess which children need extra help, will facilitate paired talking and will take away the distraction of being at a table with books, stationery etc. If you are having a carpet space in the older years, make sure there is enough space for the children to all sit comfortably – it can be surprising how tall Years 5 and 6 children are!
Always, always, always have a reading/book corner in your classroom. You can stock it with books relevant to the topics you are studying and high quality texts, helping to encourage the children to read more widely. The easiest, and cheapest, way to fill your reading corner is to borrow books from the school library. To give older children a sense of responsibility, you could use the first few days to explore the library and ask them to select books appropriate for their topic and general reading!
Don’t forget to ensure that you have key questions and help points around the book corner to help guide children in their choices, and if you have put down cushions or bean bags, make sure you know when the children will be using these. There is nothing more frustrating for children to see a lovely cosy nook to curl up in, and then have no time in the school day to use it!
The biggest point here is to ensure that each drawer is labelled. Even the youngest of children will be able to help tidy up or get out equipment, so a picture and a label will help everyone know where everything goes. Make sure that your equipment drawers aren’t right next to a group of tables – no child works well when there are other children clamouring to get out the tracing paper or rulers!
One of the biggest mistakes teachers make with regards to books is in forgetting that, over the term, the children’s exercise books become fatter as they are filled. Too often there are drawers for each type of book, but by midway through the term the books no longer fit, and the books spill out or are shoved in, neither of which make the room or books look cared for! Be aware that you will definitely need more space than you need at the beginning of the year, and cater for that right at the start.
When you are viewing the room from a child’s perspective, take a look around the room at the displays. Yes, the flower petals with the timetables on them might look lovely close to, but can a child use them from across the room? If not, then ask yourself what the purpose of them is. Remember, displays should be used to enhance the learning, and if they are not doing that for all children, then they are probably not useful!
The other thing to consider with displays and the use of wall space is your whiteboards and noticeboards. Most classrooms have an interactive whiteboard already installed, but that doesn’t mean that should be the only one! The IWB is great for whole class teaching, but a smaller standalone one works brilliantly for guided writing or guided maths. A magnetic one would be a fabulous asset for any outside space where the children can do their learning outdoors, and a small one on a display board is a great place to put a daily question or thought. You can definitely never have too many whiteboards!
The final point would be to think carefully about your cloakroom set up. It’s very tempting when the cloakroom is empty, to put children’s names above each peg and leave it at that. After all, how much space does a coat take up? Well, in winter a huge amount – and add the PE bag, book bag and perhaps swimming bag to that, you can guarantee that the cloakroom will have more coats on the floor than on the pegs before winter comes.
It’s of utmost importance that the floors in your classroom and cloakroom stay free of clutter, so the best way to do that is to ensure the set up will allow for space. Some teachers will create a box area where PE bags or book bags can be stored, and some will space out the pegs to give the children more space. Whatever you do, remember that small children aren’t great at keeping things tidy and so the more space you can give them for their belongings, the easier it will be all round.
The very last thing to remember is that as the term goes on, especially if this is your first classroom, you will come up against frustrations with your set up, and it is perfectly OK to change things around if you want to. After all, it’s your classroom space too, so it needs to work for both you as the teacher and the children. Ultimately, the better the classroom is set up, the better the learning that will happen within it!
Written by Cherry Newby: A former Primary Headteacher who now blogs over at The Newby Tribe, giving hints, tips, suggestions and advice to primary school teachers to help them gain an excellent work life balance