A room of your own

3rd May 1996 at 01:00
Lez Smart says the first time you enter your own classroom at primary school is a magical moment that you'll never forget

As you move into the final stages of your course many questions will arise and require your careful consideration before decisions are reached. Matters like "Where should I teach ?", "What's my preferred age range?", "What support will I get during my first year?" and even "How much will I be paid?" will all feature in your thoughts and conversations. One thing you can be certain of is that there will be no shortage of advice: friends, partners, college tutors, teachers in the staffrooms during final school placements will all have an opinion on what is in your best interests.

At times it may all start to sound rather like a survival guide for a dangerous mission. But there is another dimension to beginning your teaching career - a more magical dimension which should not be overlooked. Sometime, most likely in late July or early September, you are going to open the door and walk into a room that will be your classroom. Your first-ever classroom.

For the duration of your course you have been operating in other people's classrooms and no matter how friendly, flexible and supportive the teachers you have worked with during your school placements have been, at some time you must have wished the room was yours to arrange differently.

Looking in at your first classroom for the very first time is a wonderful and exciting experience. Once the head or senior colleague who took you to it has left and you are there on your own you will almost certainly stroll around, open every cupboard, pull open the drawers, look at what can be seen from the windows . . . and then the imagination comes into play. "Shall I leave it as it is?" you will ask yourself. The answer will almost certainly be, "no". Just as when you moved into a new room in halls or into a shared flat or house over the past few years, you will want to add your "personality" to what is there already. It is a form of taking ownership.

So, will you have a desk? If so, where should it be? Near the door, by the board, in the corner, at the back? Is that the best place for the book corner? Shall I have the drawer units in the middle of the room? Should I put the tablesdesks together in fours or sixes . . . or rows?

You may have always wanted a writing corner with the computer as part of the equipment there but the place you choose turns out not to be anywhere near the plug point.

The carpet in the reading area may look in need of replacement but your mind is already running as to what a few scatter cushions and that big beanbag you left in your bedroom at your parents' house might do for it.

If you are fortunate, you may have a sink. If you are very fortunate it will not be blocked with the remains of last year's technology project. Even if it is you are not dismayed for you remember an earlier school placement when you did art with no sink and washed everything in the girls' toilets. Blocked and smelly or not, a sink is a definite bonus you decide.

And what about display boards? Enough? Too high? And storage facilities? You realise you will be able to bring in that bag of material off-cuts, that pile of pictures saved from magazines, that jar of corks and bottle tops you saved. In fact all those things you currently keep under the bed can now be properly labelled and organised.

At some stage during this initial look around you may even sit down in the teacher's chair and survey all that lies before you. With a shy smile you realise that it's not just "teacher's chair" but your chair, in your classroom.

There may well have been times during your course when you had doubts that you would ever complete it successfully. In many ways the experience sketched out above is a tangible manifestation of your success and there is no reason why it should not be savoured momentarily. Momentarily, because all of a sudden you will realise how long you have been looking around and it's time for the staff or team meeting or time to collect your first allocation of "stock" - pencils, rubbers etc.

I doubt if you will be able to resist a last look back as you close the door. Your first class of children will be there with you. And then you can start to talk about "our room" and what "we" are going to do with it and achieve in it over the next 40 weeks. Forty weeks . . . at that point other emotions are likely to come into play!

Listen to all the advice and ideas on what to do in the first week and how to do this and avoid doing that but also, amid all the hustle and bustle of the beginning of the school year, make time to savour and quietly enjoy the first experiences that you have worked so hard for. Your first-ever visit to your own classroom is one to remember.

Lez Smart is senior lecturer in primary education at Roehampton Institute London

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