Each year in May I start seeing the same basic post appearing in every teacher group I’m part of on Facebook. A newly-graduated, soon-to-be first-year teacher wants to know what he/she should be doing to prepare for the coming school year, specifically what he/she should be buying an how he/she should be decorating and setting up his/her classroom.
For a long time I scrolled by these posts thinking, “Wow! That’s great! I bet that person will make a good teacher, he/she seems really excited. I don’t really have an answer to his/her question though.” The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was wrong. I do have an answer to this question, several in fact, and I wish someone had shared this information with me when I was first starting out. So, today I’d like to share with you an open letter to all first-year/novice teachers regarding purchasing materials for and setting up your classroom.
Dear New Teacher Colleague,
Congratulations on your new job! I know you’re anxious to start buying things and planning your classroom, and I have no doubt you’ll do a great job, but could I give you some advice I wish someone had given me 20+ years ago when I first started? You see, when I see your questions about “must-haves” and “amazing” things for the classroom, I am not really sure what to say. I am not you, I don’t know your teaching style, situation, or any of the important details that go into answering that question. What I can tell you though is that I spent a lot of time and money on things that I thought were necessary and amazing, many of them recommended to me by other teachers, and much of it ended up being wasted. So, while I can’t give you a list of items to add to your wish list (though I’ll try), I would like to share with you three principles that, had I known and followed them when I first started, would have saved me a lot of time and money.
1. When decorating and setting up your classroom everything should serve one of two purposes: to further your students’ learning, to make your job as an educator easier. If it doesn’t accomplish at least one of those two things, it either doesn’t belong in your classroom or is in the wrong location. Cute, Pinterest-perfect classrooms are great, but functional classrooms where students learn and teachers teach are better. Perfectly color-coordinated themed décor makes for great photos, but it doesn’t necessarily result in student learning. Focus on enhancing student learning and making your job easier (because we all know everyone else is going to make it harder!). More on decorating with a purpose in next week’s post (including links to some free and low-cost items that have graced my classroom walls for years).
2. If you must buy things (either because you just can’t help yourself or you happen to get one of the 10 positions available with a classroom budget), stick to the storable, consumable basics. You don’t know what the school will supply, parents will supply, previous teachers will leave in the room, retiring teachers will give you, or the PTA will donate. So purchase things that won’t go bad and if they are supplied/donated you can save yours for later. Some things that would fall into this category (and the category of you-can-never-have-enough) would be: pencils, erasers, colored pencils, markers, copy paper, lined paper, dry erase markers, glue sticks, and construction paper. Look for the sales, buy as much as they’ll allow (many stores allow teachers double or triple the limit), and store it–especially pencils and erasers, the kids must eat them, it’s the only explanation for how they can go through so many… I’ll say it again, having a Pinterest-perfect classroom makes for great photos, but your perfectly themed and color-coordinated decoration won’t help much when the students have nothing to write with or on. Oh, and one last thing: as tempting as it is, don’t cheap out on the off-brands and dollar store versions. It may seem like a good deal, but the lower performance, lower quality, and lack of durability will end up costing you far more in the long run. Buy the Crayola pencils and markers, buy the Elmer’s glue sticks, the Expo markers… your sanity is worth it.
3. Take time to get to know yourself as a teacher before investing a lot of money in durable classroom supplies/decorations. I wish I’d done this, it would have saved me a lot of money! Will you have everything you want? No, but just as a young adult you don’t have a home with everything your parents have, you are a young teacher and can’t expect to have everything your veteran colleagues have. It takes time to get to know your style and needs/wants. It takes time to gather all of those supplies, games, books, etc. Stick with the basics for now: a good electric pencil sharpener, a long-arm stapler, a laminator (I recommend a cold laminator as you can cut through it without worrying about it peeling, it doesn’t require warm up time, and is very portable), a couple pairs of nice scissors, and maybe a paper cutter (guillotine). All of these things will also help you as you create and purchase task cards, games, and other manipulatives for your students. Invest the time to print, laminate, and cut them on cardstock the first time around, it’ll save you a lot of time and energy (and money) later. Other teachers in your building will be happy to loan you more durable manipulatives, games, etc. Borrow their manipulatives and games, try them out, take note of what you like and what you don’t. Then you’ll be able to make better, wiser purchases that will work for you and your students.
The fact that you’re already thinking about and planning for your classroom tells me you’re going to be great. I am truly excited to have you as a new colleague. I hope you have a wonderful and successful first year!
Happy teaching, everyone!