My summer job of coaching brand-new Teach For America corps members has me thinking about what’s really important for new teachers to know going into their first year in the classroom. New teachers are under enough stress already, and the rabbit hole of Instagram and Pinterest can sometimes do more harm than good. While these sites can be a wonderful source of ideas and inspiration, they can also put pressure on your wallet and make you think that you MUST rush out to the closest Target(s) within a 30-mile radius and buy the latest letterboard…OR ELSE ALL YOUR KIDS WILL HATE YOU AND FAIL EVERYTHING! But I’m here to tell you to put down the credit card and back away from the online shopping. Take a breath and read on to see 6 items that have absolutely no impact on your effectiveness as a teacher.
**Disclaimer: This post is not meant to knock teachers who have any or all of these items. Even I have bought a few things on this list! If you like something and have the money to buy it, then by all means, knock yourself out. This list is just intended to be a guide for new teachers as they are trying to figure out how to navigate setting up their classroom, learning how to teach, and adjusting to the roller-coaster ride that is working in education.
1. Letter Board/Light Box
Don’t get me wrong: letter boards and light boxes are adorable. They can give your classroom a fun, homey vibe, and you’re probably getting excited thinking about all of the inspirational quotes you can use to inspire your students. But before you drop some cash at Michael’s, hit the pause button. Realistically, how often are you going to change the quote on that board? Honestly, sometimes I still struggle to change the date. If you’re still committed to the idea, I recommend having your students be in charge of changing the quote to make this piece of decor one less thing for you to manage.
2. Coordinated Book Bins
Sometime in the past two years, the Dollar Tree gained a LOT more customers. Teachers across Instagram started going to the discount stores in droves, searching for color-coordinated book bins that would match their classroom theme exactly. While bins aren’t cheap (hello, it’s the Dollar Tree), if you have an extensive classroom library, the cost is going to add up. Instead, save your money and put the books directly on the shelves or use bins your school already has.
3. Teacher Tees
I will be the first to admit that there are some really cute teacher tees out there. It seems like every time I check Instagram, there’s another post with a shirt that I NEED to have proclaiming my love of books, or my love of Target, or my love of Flair pens. If you have the money for these shirts, great! By all means, shop away (and maybe buy me one in the process, okayyyy). But if you don’t, remember that your wardrobe doesn’t dictate how you teach. Most schools have dress codes that limit your t-shirts to Fridays, and your shirts from college will be just as cute.
4. An Erin Condren Planner
As a self-diagnosed planner addict (seriously, I have a problem), I feel like I have the authority to speak about the world of teacher planners. My third year of teaching, I decided to splurge and treat myself to the Holy Grail of teacher planners–an Erin Condren. I had big dreams: I would buy the planner, organize the things, teach the children, and change the world. In reality, I spent $60 on a planner that looked really cute but did not actually fit my needs or help me stay organized. I abandoned writing my plans by hand (because LOL) sometime in the second month of school, and I realized that the only part of the planner I was using consistently was the folder at the back. This year, I’m making the switch to a teacher binder, using a system that works for me and saving money in the process.
5. Themed Classroom Decorations
I will preface this section by saying that if you enjoy redecorating, this tip may not apply to you. If you find genuine joy in coming up with a theme, purchasing/making/finding items to fit said theme, and laminating every summer, then go ahead–have a theme! Go crazy with your bumblebees, or llamas, or cacti, or weird shiplap/Magnolia Market trend that is popular with everyone but me. However, if the thought of redecorating each year makes you break out in hives, I am here to tell you a secret: you don’t have to do it! Classroom themes are completely optional and can be quite expensive to maintain, depending on how often you change your theme. What’s truly important in a classroom space is that it is welcoming, functional, and focused on the students. I always say that my classroom theme is books because I have bookshelves around the room and reading is at the core of my classroom. I even used pages from a damaged Harry Potter book as the background of a bulletin board and as decor in my library! As long as your classroom is organized and kids feel comfortable in it, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every year.
6. A Color Printer
Literally the biggest mystery in my teacher life is how people justify printing things in COLOR INK. Ink is ridiculously expensive, and you’re gonna waste that money printing classroom displays and task cards for your students in color??? Not on my watch. Buy yourself some AstroBrights, find yourself a printer (I always use my school printer when possible), and voila! You can make your room bright and colorful without having to take a second job (or a third job, because #teachersalaries).
In all seriousness, being a first year teacher (or just a teacher in general) is really tough, and you don’t need to make it tougher by buying things you don’t need and putting a financial strain on yourself. Figure out what is important to you as an educator (for me, it’s having a large classroom library) and focus your time, energy, and money (if needed) there. Don’t be swayed by the latest teacher must-have and really evaluate if an item will help your students learn. The answer is usually no, and you can save that money for something else that brings you joy.
Current teachers: Are there any other items that new teachers should skip buying? Drop them in the comments below!