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Tales from new teachers - Bringing order to chaos

The problem

Midway through the term, my mentor tells me that there is a "concern" that my classroom doesn't reach the standard a "learning environment" should. And the reason for this? The display borders are uneven and have different widths, and the headings are not all backed. And boxes are overflowing with the results of activities - my fault, I should have spent more time training my class in how to tidy up properly.

If I don't get on top of this, I could be at risk of being seen as "not on track".

The options

I ask my mentor what to do. They tell me that there needs to be a sign on every box in my classroom, that I need to keep my desk clutter-free and that I should let my teaching assistant know that they have not trimmed the borders evenly - make them do it again, essentially. Apparently, if the borders are uneven this sends the message to the children that they don't deserve the very best.

So, by making these changes, will I be making a big improvement in my practice? I am told that it would be a good start. So I put labels on all the boxes, only to be informed later that they are not all identical, which makes them look "inconsistent".

When I tell a fellow newly qualified teacher, she laughs. She suggests that surely there are more important issues to worry about, such as the actual teaching.

Another teacher offers more practical changes: colour- coding boxes into subjects and reorganising them so that they don't overflow; having clearly defined areas of the classroom for subjects; and having all display headings backed. She even offers to check my next display before I staple it. She is more help than my mentor.

I ask another new teacher, who thinks it is a case of fussiness and says that her mentor has not raised similar issues with her. Looking around her classroom, I can see how true this is. If schools insist on teachers being consistent in their teaching, surely mentors' expectations have to be consistent as well?

The result

During half-term, I reorganise my classroom. I colour-code my boxes, create identical labels and set up new displays. And I have to admit, it does make a big difference. Everything looks so clear and easy to find.

It all feels worthwhile when, on the first day back, a senior teacher comments on how good my classroom looks, leading me to hope that I am on track to pass my first term. Unfortunately, I am very much mistaken about that, but that's a story for another time.

The writer lives in London and is in her first year of teaching.

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