What to Buy for a New Teacher

It’s almost graduation season! I’d like to congratulate all of the soon-to-be graduates, especially the education majors! It will be wonderful to have you join our ranks full-time this fall. Previously, I’ve written posts to answer a couple FAQ’s from new graduates, such as:

But today, I’d like to answer another FAQ. This is generally posted by the parents and grandparents of soon-to-be education graduates:

My son/daughter is graduating with his/her degree in elementary/secondary education this May. I’d like to buy him/her something to help get him/her started in his/her new career. What is the best thing to buy a new teacher?

My Advice

First, let me say congrats to you as well. It’s no small feat to raise a child and support him/her through his/her educational journey. You are obviously very proud and I’m happy for you. Second, thank you for taking the time to seek advice as to what might be most helpful for your graduate in the coming months. While it is tempting to go straight for the fun games, colorful books, and cute decorations you’ll see advertised and added to wish lists, I’m going to encourage you to do something different. There is nothing wrong with those gifts, but there are three things I think will be even more practical and useful for your new graduate in the coming months.


As I describe in my Advice for Future Educators post, the wardrobe requirements for a college student and a teacher are very different. Even if your graduate ends up teaching in a more relaxed environment, he/she will still need to look professional. Hopefully, he/she was able to get at least a few “teacher outfits” for student teaching, but it’s always good to have more. It’s unbelievable how quickly clothes get dirty in a school environment, and it’s nice to not have to do laundry all the time. Having 7-10 good regular teaching outfits, as well as 2-3 nicer outfits (for parent-teacher conferences, special school events, etc.), is helpful.

Since it is very possible your graduate does not yet know what the dress code of his/her school will be, and it is not unusual for teachers to change schools/districts a few times early in their career, I would encourage you to purchase business casual clothing. I’ve never been in a school that required more than this level of formality for teacher dress, and schools with a less formal requirement never had a problem with teachers who wore business casual. The clothing does not need to be expensive, but it is best to buy quality. I’d also advise you to look for clothes in classic or traditional styles and with colors/patterns that can be mixed and matched to create different looks. Finally, layers are your friend. You never know what the classroom temperature will be like, and it sometimes changes depending on the time of day. It’s nice to be able to add or remove layers as needed.


Clothes can be expensive, but it’s the cost of shoes that gets me. Teachers are on their feet all day long and quality shoes are a must. Just as I recommend business casual clothes, I recommend you go conservative with shoes as well. Find shoes that are comfortable but not made for playing sports (unless your graduate is going to be teaching gym). I would also try to get shoes that are close-toed and close-heeled. Not every school requires this, but some do, and it’s better safe than sorry. Side note specifically for women: flats are your friend. I love a good pair of heels as much as the next person, but I rarely wear them to teach. The exception being a pair of very low (an inch or less) chunky heels that have a lot of padding.

One last thing to think about with shoes, especially for elementary teachers, is whether or not he/she will have recess duty. This varies from school to school, and it’s often unknown until the interview or even after hiring. While it is possible to take multiple pairs of shoes to school and change, it’s not always practical. At the very least, your graduate will want shoes that slip on and off quickly and easily to make the transition between classroom and playground easier.


The last thing I’d suggest investing in is a quality backpack. I’ve used all different types of bags over the decades: shoulder bags, cloth grocery bags, briefcases, totes…but I keep coming back to the standard backpack as my teacher bag of choice. When you think about it, it makes sense. Backpacks were designed to carry books, papers, pencils, pens, etc. What do teachers carry? Books, papers, pencils, pens, etc. A few things I look for in a teacher backpack: padded shoulder straps, multiple pockets, side pockets for a water bottle, and good padding on the back. A high-quality backpack will cost $50 and up, but it is worth it. I’ve bought cheaper bags in the past and always regretted it when they fell apart or hurt my back and shoulders when carrying them. Conversely, when I have purchased higher quality bags, they usually last me two or three years before needing to be replaced.


I know these types of gifts aren’t as fun to buy and receive as others, but they are practical. I can also guarantee that while your graduate may not overflow with excitement when opening these types of gifts, he/she will appreciate them later. Having personally asked for, received, and purchased the “fun” items, I can tell you they aren’t absolutely necessary to be a teacher. I can also tell you from personal experience that these “boring” items are necessary and I wish I’d had the foresight to request them myself. Happy teaching, everyone!