Updated: Dec 13, 2022
With many a teacher heading into a new classroom on the other side of summer, and a slightly smaller number of whom will be getting their first ever classroom, it's a question on many a teacher's mind.
After all, you're going to spend a decent chunk of your life in that room over the coming year and you want it to be a nice place to be for both you and the children who are lucky enough to have been given you as their teacher. And, it's not just about how it feels, but how it will function as a classroom - it's a work space and it needs to work.
The temptation of course is to head off to Teacher Instagram or Pinterest and to immerse yourself in all the wonderful (and, TBH, weird) inspo ideas that can be found there. You could lose hours just scrolling, liking and pinning, creating a mental vision board for your ideal classroom setup. And that's before you've trawled IKEA, B&M, Home Bargains and all the local high street's charity shops for bits and bobs to adorn your new room with.
But is it all necessary? Sure, it gives you something that feels productive to do as the weeks of the summer holiday drag on (JK - they're long and amazing and we love them), but does it serve a true purpose to spend hours filling your classroom with little sets of drawers, laminated posters and thingamajigs to organise water bottles in?
Being prepared is awesome, and that's the reason why we feel the need to do all of the above. But you can be prepared without spending a) your own cash, and b) your own time. Obviously, it's almost completely down to personal choice, but much of it is not necessary.
Here are a few things that might help you to narrow down what's useful and what's not:
Items That Promote Routines
Having good routines maximises the time you have to spend on teaching and learning. Make sure that anything you do put in your room helps with this in some way. If its purpose is tidying and organisation think about the routines you might develop around it. For example, how will it be best to store exercise books if you want one child from each table to access them prior to each lesson in order to hand them out quickly? What's the best solution for stationary if you want every child to be prepared with the basics at any moment in time? What about resources that are used less often? Where will they be stored so that they can be given out with minimal fuss?
These routines will be tweaked as the days and weeks go on, along with the pieces of furniture and such like that support them. It might be worth going in without too much expenditure so that you can find out what really works.
Displays That Promote learning
This one's potentially a biggie, but a couple of rules of thumb will suffice for the purposes of this blog post:
'Wallpaper' is unnecessary and can be distracting - I don't mean actual wallpaper, but stuff that becomes wallpaper. Printing off a load of things from your favourite resources site, (inexplicably) laminating them and rinsing a ton of blu-tac can have the same effect as wallpaper: it covers the walls, looks quite nice, but isn't the sort of thing that has any other use i.e. for educational purposes. Even worse than this is when it creates visual noise and becomes distracting - particularly bad for neurodivergent children, but not great for the rest of the class either. Only pu up what will absolutely be useful, and that will actually be referred to.
Co-created is king - this is a great get-out clause when it comes to putting up displays in the holidays. Basically, children are more likely to use what's on the walls if they've had a hand in creating it. I don't mean putting up their finished pieces of writing or best bits of art work (although that is a good thing to do, by way of celebrating children's work this potentially generating motivation in future work). What I mean is, during lessons, you make things together, relating to the content of the lessons, that then go on the wall: a walk-through of a maths problem, examples of particular sentence structures, the key science vocabulary and definitions.
Even better if you can just write directly on the display board - I've had sticky-back plastic-covered boards for this reason in the past, and even whiteboards instead of display boards. An anecdote if I may: although during SATs week we have to take down all displays, I once caught a child looking at where a co-created, and often-referenced, display had once been on the wall in order to answer a question. They got it right so I can only assume that they could actually visualise what had once been there.
Taking this approach means that you might need to back your boards (something like hessian is neutral in colour (so not distracting) and it lasts for multiple uses (whereas backing paper is pretty much single-use)) and put a title up, but you don't need to fill it with stuff before the children arrive.
(Non-Consumable) Resources That Support Learning
Visual aids, models and images, manipulatives, enhancements, books, magazines, pictures - all of these and more have an important place in the primary classroom and the presentation and storage of these is important. Most of them will need keeping in an accessible place where children can get them when they need, and should be organised enough that children can easily tidy them away again - you don't want to be doing that for them. Photographs of what it should look like when tidied away are a helpful visual reminder which can truly maintain order.
However, the main thing to say here is that schools should have the bulk of these things already, and teachers should not need to buy them themselves. Speak with your line manager about budget and ask how to claim back any money that you do spend. Do this before summer so that if you spot something in the holidays - some nice Greek-style pottery or some dusty maps of England perhaps - you can snap them up safe in the knowledge that you won't be out of pocket for it.
YOU Are Your Classroom's Greatest (And Most Expensive) Resource
If you really do feel the need to work in the holidays, then the best thing you can do is to work on yourself. You are the one who will make the most difference in your classroom - not the pencil pots, not the place where you keep books and not the little picture frame things you've got because you saw them on a Facebook group.
Get to know your units of work. Brush up on your history knowledge of your art skills. You can even do this poolside (or at least in the garden or the kitchen table). Do some video CPD on teaching techniques. Invest in you. You'll probably really enjoy it.
And, don't forget that rest is an investment too. Come October you'll be wishing you'd made the most of the big hols. Being fresh and ready for the new academic year can carry you a long way, potentially being much more important than sourcing the perfect solution for the distribution of felt tip pens and plastering your walls in sparkly print outs.
You are the one that will make all the difference to those children when they walk through that door on day one of autumn term. They won't appreciate much of what teachers spend hours doing as what they're really concerned about most is who you are and what you're like. You might not have a Pinterest-worthy classroom, and your Insta might not be awash with classroom hacks, but that doesn't matter if you are there doing a great job.
You will stamp yourself on that classroom much more by what you do in it with the children than what you place in it during the holidays. Your personality is located within you, and although a classroom can be an extension of your personality it doesn't need to be (and arguably it shouldn't be, if anything it should reflect circa 32 personalities).
Yes, a classroom should be a comfortable place to learn but your first thoughts regarding this should be about access to air, natural lighting and water to drink, rather than scatter cushions, throws and other assorted odds and ends. By all means, go all out grand designs on your room, but remember the things that really matter, and allow yourself a bit of a break before the hard work of teaching and nurturing children starts.