When I was a child, I used to stare in wonder at my teacher’s display boards. His classroom was a spectacular milieu of colour: a truly magical place. As I peered curiously at those laminated verbs and nouns, I knew I wanted to some day be like him, to make a place look just as flash.
Twenty-five years and 250 paper cuts later, I’m starting to question such aspirations.
Many teachers, including yours truly, find putting up displays (quite literally) a pain in the backside. And who can blame us? I don’t. The removal of all those awkward staples, the tedious measuring of backing paper, the cutting, trimming, sticking and slicing - it’s enough to send us into early retirement!
Unlike many of my dear NQT friends whose heroic mentors appeared in magical clouds of smoke, staple guns in hand, I was on my own. Armed with a pair of blunt scissors and a second hand Stanley knife I had acquired off eBay, it was a straight jump into the deep end during INSET week. And I sank right to the bottom.
I spent my first year practically gasping for air. Did I seriously have to change these bloody things three times every term? Why was it so impossible to get the air bubbles out? What do you mean, “staple sideways?”
Was this all part of Ofsted’s secret master plan - a way to separate the weak from the chaff?
You’ll be glad to know that I somehow survived. Somehow. And, during my six-year tenure in the classroom, I have actually produced some pretty fantastic displays to engage my children. Of course, driving myself totally bonkers in the process.
It has taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears (all three, possibly in equal measure) but slowly, surely, year after year, display after display, through the carnage of backing paper and laminate covers, I’d actually say I’ve become a bit of a pro.
And whilst, I certainly don’t consider myself the Christiano Ronaldo of display boards, I do have some top tips that could make your life much, much easier, especially if you are new to our wonderful profession. So…before you buy out Tesco’s stock of plasters and frozen peas, check out the following top tips:
- Achilles wouldn’t have gone into battle without weaponry and neither should you: it’s a recipe for disaster. Acquire a sturdy and reliable Stanley knife, a proper staple gun and, of course, plenty of staples before you plunge headfirst into reams of paper: one must be equipped, after all.
- On the subject of staples, they can be an absolute devil to pick out so try to make yours stick out slightly when inserting them into the boards (hold the staple gun at a slight angle when pressing it against the board); this makes it much easier to later remove said staples without ripping the backing, which leads me neatly onto my next point…
- Change your displays regularly. The best teachers are, in my opinion, the ones that do this at least twice or three times per term. I know it’s frustrating (see earlier note) but your children will begin to get demotivated when they aren’t. Changing backing paper, however, is a lengthy procedure; so try to do this only once per term. When you do change it though, enjoy it. There is no greater pleasure than ripping it down. Slowly or quickly…either is immensely satisfying.
- Be consistent: I think professionalism and uniformity in displays is excellent PR for teachers especially when your displays are not necessarily in your own classroom. For example, I always try to use the same font on ALL my displays, which are based across my school’s campus. I have an “English” label on the top corner so students/staff/parents know that they are a demonstration of my students’ work.
- A colleague once asked me if my displays showed “the students’ best work.” I told her “No, they show the best of the students’ work…” Whilst this might sound like a simple change in syntax, both phrases carry separate meanings. I think the latter refers to ALL students having the opportunity to display their work, regardless of ability. Make sure each child’s work is included at some point during the year. Students will quickly notice if their work is not being selected for display.
- Do not try to put up backing paper alone. Trust me. It’s no simple feat. If, like me, you aren’t in the enviable position of having a TA, then sweet talk and butter up another staff member to help you; coffee or doughnuts always go down well.
If you’re reading this and thinking how much you actually LOVE creating displays then you are clearly a real glutton for punishment. That being said, there is no greater sound than the harmony of “ooohs” and “ahhhhs,” as your children enter your newly decorated classroom on their first day of school and you realize how just how worthwhile all those paper cuts were.
Adam Bernard is head of English at a school in New York