What should I buy for my classroom?
Skip to the end for a money-saving tip for classroom libraries!
There was a time that I spent over $1500 every summer getting my classroom "ready" for students. I justified my spending by telling myself that my classroom was my home away from home, and if I wanted to drop $250 at Target getting cute stuff--so be it. I also subscribed to the method I saw my mentors use for elementary, which is every student getting their own pencil box pre-filled with supplies (paid for by the teacher!)
Then at the end of one school year I was cleaning up my classroom to close it down for summer, and I realized I had filled up so many bags of trash of broken crayons, dried up markers, used glue sticks, and folders students forgot to take with them. It saddened me, seeing so much waste.
I made an informal inventory of my supplies, and asked myself what was the bare minimum I needed to get by in a school year. Then I took that list and marked next to each item what I thought our administrative assistant could conceivably order for me, or what parents might bring me.
What was left was a surprisingly short list. Then, I went through all my organizers, knick knacks, holiday stuff; things I hadn't touched or used since I bought it (more waste) and gave it all away. What I was left with was a pared down, strictly functional classroom. I even decided to stop doing student pencil boxes, because I realized students cannot be responsible for their supplies in a way that make them last. I invested in Sterilite bins to house categories of supplies, and those bins would only come out when we needed them, and right back into the cabinet when we didn't. Switching to this method saved me hundreds of dollars!
Now, you may be thinking that's all well and good, but you want your room to look cute! Well, my room was cute, but I also didn't change my colors every year, I carefully reused all my border every year, and I invested in fabric for my bulletin boards. You may be thinking--I like the pencil boxes! Yet, every year during the first week the floor is littered with 'lost' supplies.
So, to the original question: What should YOU buy for your classroom?
It's definitely tempting when Back to School sales come around at nearly every store. Resist the urge to spend money right away!
1. Make changes to your systems.
Think about your systems, and where can you make changes to make supplies last? As a mentioned above, once I switched to community supplies that stayed locked away when not being used, I was able to go three years in a row without needing to buy crayons, markers, glue, or scissors. And this is with grades 2 through 5! I was no longer throwing supplies out left and right! Students stopped hoarding supplies, breaking supplies, or losing supplies! Another thing I did was switch to ball point pens (yes, with second graders!) and saved so much on not having to buy pencils, erasers, or mini sharpeners. Pens lasted infinitely longer, and needed nothing else for them to function properly.
Decor: Find some colors you love and stick to it. I know themes are all the rage for some, but it adds up. I've been reusing the same stuff over and over for five years, and it's all in excellent shape. I don't anticipate needing to buy more decor soon, and when I do it will be to only replace what has worn out. If you're new and have nothing then I recommend sticking with black as a base (almost every school has black butcher paper, even if it's not fadeless, or you can invest now in black fabric), then choose a main color and an accent color.
2. Make a list of strictly necessary supplies.
This will be hard, because to a teacher everything seems necessary. Once I realized I didn't need regular supplies, as I still had a TON leftover, I thought to myself, what do I really need that I know parents won't be able to get me a consistent class set of? For me that was three prong folders and spiral notebooks. That was IT. I literally spent less than $40. There were some odds and ends I needed; 3M wall tape, pocket laminate, Mr. Sketch (of course!), but really, it wasn't student stuff as it was teacher stuff.
If you're new it's time to ask your admin assistant AND a veteran on campus what you can realistically expect for supplies. When will they arrive? Will they be class sets or samples? Is there a teacher closet of supplies you can use throughout the year? What's the procedure for that? What about copy paper? Is there a limit, do you need to buy your own, or are there unwritten rules concerning it? What grades are parents most generous? Is it okay to use Donors Choose? (some districts are banning it) Make sure you see your room before you go shopping, as whoever vacated it might have left stuff behind. Check into getting a Yoobi box. See if there are local businesses donating supplies to teachers. I honestly would wait to buy anything until after the first week of school. By then you will have donations from parents, hopefully something from your school, and a better idea of what you need. You will also have hopefully met the teachers on your campus and can ask if they have anything they are willing to donate. I remember my teammates' first year, and she was about to go buy teal border. I told her to NOT buy teal border because I had a ton that I bought my first year and never used!
3. Try before you buy!
One year I got it into my head that I needed Post-Its. Lots of them! I was going to use Post-Its for everything! It was going to be fantastic! Well, I'm sure you see where this is going. We used them for two, maybe three assignments tops, and I realized that Post-Its are a gigantic pain in the rear. They don't stick, because kiddos love to feel the sticky stuff, so that loses its power quickly. It's insane to pass them out, especially if you want to color code. I basically wasted my money and parent money (I had put them on my wish list) on something that if I had tried it with one Post-It pad I would have quickly deleted off my wish list! Moral of the story, before you start any new project, procedure, or strategy that requires supplies; try it out first with a sample. Ask a veteran teacher if they have just a few pieces to spare so you can try it before you invest hundreds. (I ended up switching to index cards, which was much better!)
4. Be willing to not be fancy (I know, I know) *Mostly for New Teachers*
I love a colored coded worksheet as much as the next person, I really do. I honestly feel like 80% of the stuff I bought on TPT my first year was because the pictures of their materials were all on Astrobrights, and come on! How can you not imagine glorious Astrobrights in your room? My fourth money saving tip is the saddest, because sometimes you need to let go of the fancy to save time AND money. This tip is for my new teachers, because I know how tempting Pinterest, Instagram, and TPT can be. No, we don't need to make our worksheets fancy with border and cute cartoon children. No, I don't need to print these books in color and waste all my color ink. No, Target, I don't really need rose gold binder clips and the matching tape dispenser and stapler to go with (seriously was so hard to not buy that set!). *If you're a frugal Veteran teacher with oodles of supplies who spends next to nothing, then by all means treat yo self!*
5. Digital adds up.
Oh TPT. There are some truly amazing, totally worth the cost products on TPT. Unfortunately, when you're new you don't know what is worth it. Everything looks promising! I remember doing my taxes with my husband after my first year and pulling the receipts from TPT and completely breaking down crying with all the money I wasted. I spent so much buying things and I used maybe three or four things.
Be careful what you buy on TPT. Really ask around in your grade level about what is used that was purchased from TPT and decide if its right for YOU. If you buy something, be sure to try it right away, because TPT will give you a refund if its a short amount of time after purchasing if you're not happy or if you feel the product was misrepresented (happens a lot.)
6. What's worth it? And other advice...
Things that are worth my money are items that make my life easier. I was willing to spend a chunk of change on metal magazine holders from IKEA because I knew they would never break down like the paper ones, and would last forever. I was willing to buy Sterilite tubs because they are amazing for organization, and again, last forever. It depends on what you need and what will save your sanity.
So many times I see teachers doing things because 'it's what we do' or because 'I see other teachers doing it.' The question should be does it work for YOU and make sense to YOU? If it doesn't, do not be afraid it change it! I do not want anyone to feel attacked because they use pencil boxes, if it works for you and you created a system, that's awesome! If you love to change your theme every year, you do you!
The point of my advice is to really analyze the things teachers do in the classroom every year in order to decide if it's really worth the time, money, and effort. To be okay to go against the grain and do something else. That's the beauty of being a teacher, we can change as much or as little as we want from year to year and try new things, and keep trying.
My final piece of advice, if you're new, is to reach out to friends and family and have them throw you a new teacher shower. My parents and friends were so exceptionally amazing when I became a teacher. They stepped up and purchased things I desperately needed. I felt too shy to ask at first, because it felt like begging, but they sincerely wanted to help out. Many of them requested that I let them know immediately if I needed anything else, and they would get it for me. Also, you can get some cheap, bomb books at Goodwill if you go on their 50% off Saturdays, and you can check what days those are on their website. You're welcome :-)
Happy Shopping and Back to School!
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I'm Mae and I am an Educational Technology Coach who supports Kinder through 8th grade teachers; I am Thinking Maps trained, with a Master's Degree in Elementary Education!