Let’s face it, kids are not naturally tidy people. So how do you solve the problem of keeping mess to a minimum when you have 20 or so of them together for long periods of time in a single room? When I was at Primary School this problem was solved by giving each child was issued their own “tidy tray”, as the teachers referred to them.
At my school the tidy tray was a sturdy plastic tray large enough to comfortably hold a couple of magazines placed side by side. It was about 10 centimetres or so deep, so you could put a fair amount of stuff in there, and that’s exactly what you did. The purpose of the tray was to store all your exercise books, pens, pencils and other stationary items, reading books, artwork and basically anything else that you might possibly need during an average day at school. The trays were all stored in a big cabinet with slots, and a sticker was put on the front with your name on it, written in thick black marker pen in that large loopy handwriting that only teachers seem to be able to write in.
Of course, calling them tidy trays always ended up being a bit of a misnomer. At the start of a new term it would be tidy, with your books and pens all neatly arranged inside. As time went on, you would start to accumulate more and more junk, which would be stuffed in your tray until it became so heavy that you could hardly slide it out of the cabinet any more. Bits of paper would be overflowing and often fell out of the back into some other kids tray or down the back of the cabinet. The sides of most of the trays would also have become covered in one of your “swapsies” stickers from whatever Panini Sticker Album you were collecting at the time.
All this mess meant that at some point the teacher would order everybody to tidy their tidy tray, and a big black bin bag would be produced for you to throw all your rubbish into. The teacher always hoped that this task could be left until the last day of term, but more often than not a mid-term cleanout was required by most kids. Once everyone had done their tidying the teacher would come round like some kind of drill sergeant to inspect everyones trays.
It was important to make sure you had done a good job because you weren’t really supposed to decorate your tray with stickers, so if the teacher spent too long looking at your tray they might notice one of your stickers and tell you to rip them off. Of course, this was a stupid idea as it both upset the child involved, and ended up making the tray look worse as it was then covered with bits of white sticker backing, as the stickers would never come off cleanly.