Your First Classroom: What to Buy (& What Not To)
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Before we dive in to today's show, I want to take a moment to invite you into my sparkling, brand new, 7-Day Challenge!
This is going to be SUCH a great challenge because I’ll walk you through the first 7 things you need do to ensure you’re on the right track as you think through how to set up your first classroom in a clear and thoughtful way.
Believe me, I’ve been where you are, and I’ve made all the mistakes so you don’t have to repeat them. I’ve helped thousands of new teachers to set up their first classrooms, so you really don’t want to miss this. I hope you’ll join me!
All right, let’s dive in to today’s show and talk about what to buy (and What Not to) to set up your first classroom.
Let's Talk about Your Classroom Library
The first thing I would recommend you start thinking about is how to gather books for your classroom library. Now, note that I didn’t say start BUYING books for your library. Instead, I recommend that you get scrappy about finding creative ways to gather books for your new classroom library.
Even if you don’t know what grade you’ll be teaching yet, you will have young readers at a whole range of levels and abilities in your classroom, so I would recommend that when you first start out, take every book you can get your hands on.
You can always refine your library and weed out books that you find aren’t popular or appropriate for your grade level later, but in the beginning, gather as many books as you can. For loads of ideas on how you can start gathering books for your classroom library for free or inexpensively, be sure to join my 7-Day Challenge, because we talk all about how to do this in detail!
Classroom Library Organization
Secondly, I would start thinking about how you will house all of the books you gather for your classroom library.
Look for great sales on book bins that you can purchase in bulk because you’re going to need at least 20 bins to sort and organize all of the books you collect. Also, look for ideas regarding how you should organize your classroom books, and be sure to reach out to your grade level team once you know what grade you’ll be teaching because your school or grade level may have a specific way of doing this.
For example, if your school does Guided Reading and organizes instruction in this way, you will likely want to organize your classroom library to reflect the same levels that your grade level will be using for guided reading instruction.
So, go online and find the best deals for book bins to house your classroom library books, and then reach out to your grade level team once you know where you’ll be teaching to ask for how to best organize and sort your books.
And, if you become a R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy Member, I give you several different ways to organize your classroom books as well as labels to help you get it all organized!
Get Creative about Flexible Seating
Third, I recommend that you get scrappy about flexible seating options. I wouldn’t invest in flexible seating options right now, especially if you haven’t seen your classroom yet or know what your school provides in terms of flexible seating, but what I WOULD recommend you do is visit carpet stores and garage sales and again - get scrappy!
One summer, I made it my mission to get an entire class set of square carpet samples for my students so I could keep them stacked in the corner of my classroom. Then, kids could just take one and work anywhere they wanted to in the room. The awesome thing about these carpet samples is that they’re usually about a square foot, which is the perfect size for students to sit on.
So, I went to about a half-dozen carpet stores to ask if any of them had any extras that they could donate to my classroom, and one store actually had an entire set that they weren’t using, so I scored an entire class set of gorgeous, plush carpet samples to use as flexible seating in my classroom. So, this is definitely something I would consider doing the summer, just in case you don’t have a lot of flexible seating options in your classroom.
Class Set of Whiteboard/Clipboards
Related to this, I recommend that you invest in a class set of whiteboards that also serve as clipboards.
You can usually get a class set of these at Walmart for under $30, and they are going to be a life-saver for you because kids can sit on the floor in groups using the clipboards if they need to work on paper.
Or, you can have them use the whiteboards because these are essentially a two-sided whiteboard with a clipboard attached, so you get double the bang for your buck with these, and I love them because you can use them in so many different ways.
I also loved having a class set of clipboards for anytime I wanted to take my students out of the classroom, especially in the early fall or in spring when the weather warms, so we could work outdoors sometimes. At my school that I taught in in Canada, we had a huge, old tree in our playground that I just loved to take my students out to sometimes so we could work under that gorgeous, old tree. They absolutely loved working for this special reward, and the clipboards made it possible. They’re also great to bring on field trips if you want your students to do some writing while they’re on a field trip as well.
Build Up your Treasure Chest
Next, this is a really fun one – if you are planning on using Special Person Awards in your classroom (I did a FB live about why Special Person Awards are so awesome in your classroom that you can watch by clicking here). If you’re planning to use Special Person Awards or rewards of any kind in your classroom, I would recommend that you start building up a little stash of goodies for your treasure chest or whatever you’re going to use to keep your rewards in.
In my classroom, when my students earned a Special Person Award for following our class rules or for doing outstanding work, they would get to exchange that reward for a goodie inside my treasure chest.
However, before you do this, be sure to find out if your school has any regulations regarding what kinds of rewards you can give to students. With the current emphasis on healthy eating in so many places now, teachers in CA, for example, are not allowed to use candy or any kind of food as a reward for students. So, be sure to find that out first, and once you know what grade you’ll be teaching, you can start gathering goodies on your next trip to the Dollar Store.
Also, start loading up on stamps & sparkly or rainbow stamp pads. My kids LOVED getting stamps in gold on their hand to watch sparkle in the sunlight by the classroom window... Also, you can never have too many scratch & sniff stickers!
A Great Teacher Planner
Next, it’s definitely an important investment to start thinking about which teacher planner you want to use throughout the year. If you become a R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy member, I give you a planner that you can customize and use for your planning, but definitely start thinking about how you will want to set up your teacher planning binder.
Start Thinking Through Student Data Organization
Also, related to this, start thinking through a system for how you will want to organize student data. Some teachers and schools are recording all grades online these days, while others are still using paper to record and track student data – so be sure to find out how this will work at your new school and start thinking through how you will organize student data for your students.
Classroom Daily Schedule, Classroom Calendar, & Class Jobs Organizer
I know that one of the things you are likely the most excited about is planning a super cute space for your students. However, as you think about this, I would definitely recommend that you start thinking in terms of “functional cuteness.”
So for example, you will want to invest in or create some kind of daily schedule that you can display at the front of your classroom so your students know what is going to be happening that day.
You will also need to get a classroom calendar so you can chart upcoming special events and birthdays with your students, and in the lower grades, teach things like days of the week and keep track of how many days of school you’ve had and all of those fun things.
Finally, you’ll want a Happy Birthday display of some kind so you can easily see, at a glance, which birthdays are coming up, and finally, you will want a way to organize and put on display the class jobs that you will want your students to do inside your classroom.
If you decide to become a R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy member, I give you super cute designs for all of these staples and what I like to call interactive and functional wall spaces, but these are all things you will want to invest in now so that you can create a clear and organized space for your students.
First Week of School Activities
Also, I would recommend that you invest in some great getting-to-know-you
activities for the first week of school and in some Meet the Teacher Night resources that will help you to have a smooth start to your school year.
I really hate to sound like a broken record here, but you should probably know that you will also get all of this inside my R.E.A.D.Y for School Academy! 😊
I also recommend, once you know what grade level you’ll be teaching, that you invest in some sub plans for your grade level that you can keep on hand and customize in advance for when you’re sick during the year.
It might sound strange that I’m recommending you do this now, but it is such a great investment so you aren’t scrambling throughout the year. There are a lot of great options for you on Teachers Pay Teachers that you can purchase pretty inexpensively. Just type in “Sub plans for 3rd grade” or whatever grade level you’re teaching, and you’ll see a whole lot of options come up for you!
Laminator & Pouches
One of the last two larger investments I recommend that you consider making if you have the resources are a laminator and laminator pouches to keep in your classroom for emergencies.
Your school will likely have a great laminator for you to use, but every now and then you’ll want to laminate something at the last minute or at home, so it’s just really handy to have one on hand. Personally, I taught for 10 years without having my own laminator, but many teachers I know had one and loved it.
Electric Pencil Sharpener
Finally, you will be SO grateful that you invested in an electric pencil sharpener for your classroom. I think that these should come standard in every classroom and think it’s crazy that they aren’t provided for us, but if your school won’t purchase one for you, I would recommend that you get one! It will save your life this year.
All right, before I let you go, just a note about a few things I would recommend that you NOT buy before your first year of teaching:
What NOT to spend your money on:
- Furniture: Wait until you see your classroom to make any furniture or storage purchases. Schools often have extra furniture or storage options in the basement or other places that you might be able to get if you ask.
- 101 Cute Office Supplies in Aquamarine Blue: (or whatever color you love!) Your school will likely provide most of what you’ll need to get started, so you might want to save your money until you know what's provided.
- Unit plans. Until you meet your students, do not buy a lot of curriculum. Find out what your school provides and talk to your grade level team about what they use.
Finally, you don’t realize right now how much you’ll want to buy and how many things you’ll want to invest in until several weeks into the school year and you actually get into the rhythm of teaching.
Once you know your students, really know what your school and district provides, and once you’re making some money, you can make much more strategic and informed decisions about what you need.
So there you have it! I hope that was helpful, and remember to go ahead and join the FREE 7-Day Challenge, Your Most Essential 7 Steps BEFORE Setting Up Your First Classroom so you can Avoid the Mistakes that New Teachers Make…. without even realizing it.
I hope to see you inside the challenge, I hope you have a wonderful week, and remember: just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there's no need for you to struggle like one!
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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