A few years ago, I was moving to head up Year 5, after years of teaching in key stage 3. I have to confess, I was somewhat nervous: it’s hard enough reminding yourself each September how much your new cohort won’t know compared with the last. Moving down two year groups is always a bit of a shock to the system.
I wanted to do whatever I could to prepare myself for a good start, as teachers always do. In an ideal world, I’d have got my classroom set up, organised the first few weeks of planning, and been ready for a smooth start to the year.
In reality, our school was coming to the end of a significant building project, and we ended up holding our first Inset day of the year in the local church hall. Far from being ready to hit the ground running, we had just a few hours to get the classroom prepared before the pupils arrived.
I wasn’t too fazed. Over the years I’d been teaching by then, there had been plenty of reasons why I’d not been able to get into my classroom much over the summer. Either the corridors were being painted, or the fire doors were being replaced. One year it was just a matter of timing: I happened to be away at the only time the premises officer was able to open the building. But, every year, things still got done.
On reflection, I’m now quite glad about all those opportunities I didn’t have to spend time in school over each summer holiday. Because it was enforced absence, I never had to feel guilty, I never had to apologise and I never had to make the decision about whether to spend just another few hours stapling and sticking.
That’s not to say I did nothing to prepare: find me a primary teacher who hasn’t at some point contemplated buying a paper trimmer or a laminator for home. But I did learn that you can start September without spending hours – or even days – getting your classroom just so.
The excitement of a new classroom
As advice to newer teachers, I know it falls almost completely on deaf ears. The point of all those hours of preparation, particularly in those early years, is not to avoid feeling unprepared – although that surely helps – but to revel in the excitement of a new classroom: all the hours of work you put into your training finally coming to fruition.
And goodness only knows that the classroom – without children – is just about the only thing you can have complete control over. Once the children arrive, the best-laid plans of any teacher go out the window and reality sets in.
For some new teachers this year, though, the opportunities won’t be there to get into school as much as they might like. Perhaps building works prevent much access as more and more schools expand to meet demand. Perhaps it’s the long delay while somebody else moves out of the classroom that will eventually become your own. Perhaps it’s just that you’ve planned an exciting final summer of activities and adventure before setting out on your career.
Rest assured that, whatever happens, come September it’ll all come together. Whether you’ve spent weeks putting up the perfect displays and rearranging tables for the 50th time or if you only get in the day before term starts to check you’ve got enough chairs and pens to get through the first few lessons, it won’t matter a jot by the second week of term. By then, your classroom will be whatever you and the children make of it.
Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets as @MichaelT1979