Welcome to our sumptuous new home

It might not get you a spread in 'Hello!' magazine, but your classroom should impress your pupils, writes Lynn Huggins-Cooper.

You've done it. Clambering over obstacles as diverse as skills tests, passing your assignments and school placements, you have attained nirvana - well, qualified teacher status. You have filled in mountains of application forms, trekked to far-flung schools where you have been shown round by bizarre, twitching potential colleagues muttering and giggling nervously about the delights of teaching 5A. You survived the interview and you now have the job.

So what comes next? If you are a primary teacher, it is setting up your classroom. With a bit of luck, the previous incumbent will have cleared the classroom of personal items. Try not to throw away anything stamped with the school's name, or that looks like it may belong to the previous teacher. Ask the deputy or head what you should do with it.

Have a quick clean. Cleaners can be brilliant, but their timescale may not dovetail with yours. Check that no major painting or carpet-cleaning is taking place during the holidays, or your carefully designed classroom may end up as a near vertical pile in the middle of the floor come the end of August.

If your school is picky about how its classrooms are organised - fine. Check with colleagues and school policies. If not, lay it out as simply as possible. Avoid creating "blind" areas, where you can't see what little Johnny is doing to the tadpoles, or where the technology tools are stored. Don't block "high-traffic" areas (such as near the bin, routes to the door and so on) or you will spend hours picking up knocked-over resources and grumbling at children.

Whole-class teaching is an element of numeracy and literacy strategies, but provision should also be made for organising the tables in the classroom for group work. Researchers at Northampton Trent University say teachers should consider varying the layout of tables for individual or group activities during the day, and found teachers could get pupils to move the furniture in less than 95 seconds. You should also think about using bays and displays for the various subject areas if this does not already happen in your school. Designate maths, English and science areas. Keep resources for these subjects readily available in the designated area to encourage independence. Cheap baskets are a good idea as children have open access to them.

Think about some displays you can have in place when the children come in for the first time in September. These can then be added to as the children complete work. Some teachers don't bother with this, but a bare classroom is a depressing, cold place. You'll be amazed at what you can achieve with some swatches of fabric and a staple gun.

Drape fabric over your display tables. For example, if you are studying Egypt, use a sand-coloured cloth, or have a sandbox on the table where the children can "find" artefacts. After that, the children will be dying to get into your classroom to see what you have prepared for them. A prepared classroom gives out a powerful message to children and parents - you think they are important, you want them to have fun, and it's going to be an interesting year. The biggest compliment I ever had from a pupil was along the lines of: "I couldn't wait to be in your class. I used to love coming along and bringing messages, because there was always so much to look at."

Start with the door to your classroom. Sounds obvious, but this is the first thing the children (and their parents) will see in September. Make a welcome sign - you'll be making lots of things this year - and be honest, if you didn't like getting busy with the scissors, glitter and glue, why did you train to be a primary school teacher?

Cut images of children's faces from magazines and catalogues. Write the words Welcome to Class XX on a piece of large card. Alternatively, trace letter templates on to felt or coloured card and stick the letters on the card. Ask around school for a spare set of templates, or borrow one from another teacher. Alternatively, cheap wood or plastic sets can be bought in remainder bookshops. Stick the faces around the words and you have made your door less scary and more welcoming - not bad for an evening's work in front of the telly (lager, crisps and a bad film are optional).

Finally, think about reward systems. The school may have its own, but if not, think of one yourself that goes with the "theme" of your half-term or term. For example, if you are doing Earth and space, use stars; if you are doing minibeasts, have busy bees - whatever. I once had an "achievement vine" with a Year 6 class that was studying the rainforest. A few felt flowers, coiled green crepe paper for vines and green pipe cleaners for tendrils - the classroom was a rich and verdant place by half-term. I provided blank green paper "leaves" for myself, or the children, to write positive comments about each other on. (I was even awarded a few leaves.) Once again, the rewards system made visible at the start of the year sets the scene for the rest of it: I had high expectations and knew the children in my care would be able to live up to them. A few hours spent cutting and pasting in August will reap benefits for the rest of the academic year. And as you'll never forget your first year in teaching, make sure it's a good one.

Lynn Huggins-Cooper is a PGCE lecturer at Newcastle University

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