Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Classroom Must-Haves for the First-Year Teacher

I love it when readers' comments inspire a post! Krista left a comment on this post inquiring about my suggestions on what a first-year teacher's classroom needs. Oh, girl, I could talk about this all day! But I won't. Let me narrow it down to my ten must-haves for a high school classroom.

Disclaimer: I'm not being paid to say nice things about any of these products, although that would be pretty cool. :P Actually, I just love them.

Student Supplies Center
You don't want to have to fight your kiddos to get a hold of a stapler or the three-hole punch. Get two sets of these kinds of things and set up a student supplies center. Mine is right in the front of my classroom, along with the absent work binder and the assignments on the board. My student supplies center consists of a couple of pairs of scissors, a tape dispenser (kids always seem to need a piece of tape!), glue sticks, a stapler, a three-hole punch, drawers with loose-leaf paper (both ruled and copy paper), rulers (yes, even in English class), black permanent markers, and red ink pens. I try to get supplies that looks different from my own and from Day 1 I make it very clear that the supplies in front of the room is theirs to use and that they are not allowed to take any supplies from my desk. Also, helpful hint: don't go cheap on your stapler or your three-hole punch. You will save money in the long run if you buy a good product up front. I bought cheap my first two years of teaching but often wound up spending way more when I had to buy a second or third stapler after the first one broke.

I have a stapler very similar to this, but it wasn't this expensive. I think I got it at Staples, actually. :) It's great because it can staple very thick packets, it doesn't require much force, and it takes regular sized staples. The only thing that sucks is that it doesn't open flat, so you can't staple bulletin boards
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Pencils and Pens
I keep my extra pencils and pens separate from my student supplies center for a reason. Something you definitely need to decide before the year begins is how you will deal with the issue of students not bringing their materials. Usually, I really only have a problem with kids showing up without a pencil or pen. So many of them (especially the boys, it seems) keep their pencils in their pockets and they lose them throughout the day. You could just keep your pens and pencils in your student supplies center for easy student access, but be prepared to spend a lot of money on those items. (Side note: some administrators might frown on this if they think you are enabling a bad habit.) You also have the option to basically tell a kid tough cookies on this. There are two possible outcomes to this. 1.) They will hound the other students incessantly every. single. day. to borrow a pencil. It's annoying, disruptive, and builds bad blood. 2.) They will shrug their shoulders and all of a sudden you've got a bigger problem - a kid that is choosing to sit and do nothing. That doesn't fly either. I do a collateral system in my class. I'm happy to loan a kid a pencil or a pen, but I want their blue book (something they are required to carry with them in school), their cell phone, or something else that they hold dear (no stanky shoes for this teacher!). This is a quick guarantee you will get your supplies back. Some people argue this system too... dealing with student property and whatnot. I say, you do whatever floats your boat. Either way, you definitely want to have some pencils and pens on standby. On this, it's totally okay to go cheap.

Might I suggest #2 pencils for those pesky standardized tests and Scantrons? Also, I find kiddos are less likely to accidentally keep your supplies if it's a lame old #2.
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A Calendar for Student Reference
I like to keep a monthly calendar in my classroom that I keep updated with school events, classroom events, etc. I even put our units of study on there, due dates, test dates, those kinds of things. It's just helpful, to me and to them. Actually, I have three calendars in my classroom. I have one on my desk that I use to mark personal information, I have my Sanity Saver calendar strictly for class planning purposes, and then this calendar for everyone.

I noticed last year that my calendar was actually a popular spot, but it was too small. I'm seriously thinking of maybe making a bulletin board calendar, inspired by this one.
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Trashcans... Not One... Not Two... THREE.
I have three trashcans/recycling boxes in my classroom and I'm so glad I do. Students have three different places to dispose of their trash and they are to go to the nearest one. No reason to make a big trip across the classroom to throw away their chewing gum and stop at three friends' desks along the way.

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SORTKWIK Fingertip Moistener
Teachers handle a lot of papers, and oftentimes those are papers that kids handled first. How often do you find that your fingertips are dry and you can't get a grip on paper? For me, that was all the time. Then I noticed just how often I was casually licking my fingertips before distributing or flipping through papers. YUCK! I picked up a SORTKWIK last year and it is a must-have!

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A Sanity Saver! Or Something Like It Anyway
Make sure you have a paper grade book and attendance record that fits your needs. There were many times last year that there was a dispute about student attendance and I was happy to have two records of it - the digital record that gets sent to the office daily, and my personal paper record. Honestly, it worries me how reliant we are on our digital records, but I digress. Seriously, don't just settle for a record book that doesn't fit your needs. Find one that does, or make your own. You are more likely to use it if it doesn't frustrate you!



A Homework Landing Point
Figure out your homework collection system and keep it. I'm a big fan of those little plastic trays, but everyone has their own style. One time I tried having a folder for each class period, and that worked out pretty well too. You do not want that gut-wrenching ohcrapIjustlostthatkidshomeworkassignmentandofcourseitsthatkid feeling. Make your homework system as flawless as you can, but keep it simple and realistic. Personally, I don't like to collect student work because it could get lost from Point A to Point B. Instead, just have the kids turn in their homework at Point B because then the responsibility is all on them. (Side note: I don't recommend taking homework home for grading... actually I try really hard to keep all student work within the classroom. Again, traveling student work tends to get lost.)



An Information Center
Post your classroom rules, procedures, consequences, fire drill maps, dress code rules, and everything in between all in one place. I have a bulletin board dedicated to this. This is a school mandate, but I actually like having all of this information together in one spot, and the kids do too.

My ugly information center from 2012-2013. It's getting a MAJOR makeover this year!


An Absent Work Something
I love my Absent Binder so, so much. I think it is the simplest, easiest, most effective absent work system that I personally have ever used. Whatever you decide to use, though, this Absent Work Something should be a classroom staple. Every student should know where to find their absent work, missed assignments, etc. I keep mine with my student supplies center, but make sure it is somewhere that you and your students will see it every day.



A Variety of Storage Solutions
It's amazing how much stuff you will accumulate in your classroom. It can start looking really crazy really fast in there if you don't have storage. I use little plastic drawers for my copies and extra paper, baskets for scissors and glue, small buckets for pencils, pens, and highlighters, trays for homework, art boxes for colored pencils and markers, coat hangers with clips on them for poster board... have a storage solution for everything. I even have little plastic tubs that fit in my desk drawers to keep my extra supplies tidy.




And a couple of extras that aren't totally necessary but I love.

Wet Erase Markers
Great when you need to put information on the board that isn't permanent, but you want it to stick around a while. I like using these to draw graphic organizers on the board and then I use dry erase to fill them in. Run an eraser over it to get rid of the info but leave the organizer for the next class period! I suggest getting them in a variety of sizes; I'm surprised how often I use the fine tip markers.

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Highlighters
My students are actually required to have at least one highlighter for class, but it's really handy to keep a whole bunch of them in class. I use the collateral rule on borrowing these bad boys. I keep the prettiest ones of the package for myself. ;)

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Colored Printer Paper
Sometimes all it takes to keep a kid from losing a piece of paper is to make it really colorful. I like to print really important items that I want students to keep (class syllabus, for example) on bright, colorful paper. Absolutely not a required spending, and your school may provide colored paper for you, but it's a fun splurge and I find many uses for my colored printer paper.

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A Landing Station for YOU
I keep a student desk in the front of my classroom, from which I often teach. Whenever we're doing notes or class discussions, though, I have my teacher chair. It's a tall chair that conveniently folds and can be tucked away beside my book case. Teachers, you spend a lot of time on your feet. In my opinion, it's okay for you to have a chair in the front of the classroom, as long as you don't take root in it. Find one that works for your style of teaching.

Mine looks quite similar to this, except that it folds and it has a cushioned seat. It also has a big old ugly scratch in it where I dropped it. My bad.
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A Deck of Cards
"She jests!" you exclaim as you make your Office Depot shopping list. She doesn't jest. Do you know how damn useful a deck of cards can be? Let me give you some examples of how I've used a deck of cards in my classroom.

  • Sorting students into random groups based off of the cards they draw. (Group by suites, color, evens, odds, etc.)
  • Determining which team goes first in a game (Flipping for Jacks, for example)
  • Need a random number for something? Draw a card! (Number of minutes using notes, number of nouns to list in a given time, number of questions to answer on an assignment...)
  • Card games (Because there will be those weird, random days in your classroom where you'll need to fill some time... no I am not advocating playing cards instead of teaching children... you know what I mean)
  • One of my favorite short story writing prompts! Each student draws a card from the deck and:
    • Number determines the protagonist (a pirate, a werewolf, a princess, a politician...)
    • Suite determines conflict (finds a dead body, falls in love, plots revenge...)
    • Evens/odds/faces determines mood of the story (spooky, gloomy, etc.)
  • If you're feeling really crazy, you could type up some writings prompts and glue them to the cards so students just draw a card to get a prompt.
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That's all I've got for now. What about you guys? What is your classroom must-have? What do all first-year teachers need in their rooms?




36 comments:

  1. Love it all! I would also add post-it notes! I use them constantly and love using them, especially cute colors. They add a little flair to whatever we are doing (annotation, peer review notes, behavior reminders, etc.).

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    1. Ahhh! Of course! How in the world did I forget those?? I use them every single day!

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    2. Love this list! I, too, hated to deal with students not having pencils. So I bought 10 pretty pink fake roses and 10 mechanical pencils. I removed the erasers and cut the roses off the stem, leaving just enough to fit in the former eraser hole. I hot glued the roses into the pencils and keep them in a green flower pot on my desk. If the pencil runs out of lead, I feed it in through the bottom of the pencil. I haven't lost a pencil in TWO years. Plus, it looks so pretty on my desk. For erasers, I keep several with my name on them and give them out only when they ask, which isn't that often.

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  2. Great list! Golf pencils are handy to have for those students who forgot to bring a pen or pencil. My cousin gives her students huge pencils--two feet long--and they never walk out of the classroom with those. I will have to ask her where she buys them! Any office supply store will have a box of golf pencils.

    Deb

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    1. Golf pencils... that is an excellent idea! I think I'll have to look into that!

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  3. The deck of cards is GENIUS. I will definitely try that out this year.

    Sometimes I will give out crayons to kids without pencils. They hate writing with them and often "magically" find a pencil.

    I also keep a ball in my desk. I use it to call on kids. I also let the kids toss it to one another when we are reading out loud or having discussions. The rule is that you can't talk unless you have the ball, which is really handy with my classes where they try to talk over each other.

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    1. One year I had a plush Pac-Man that we would toss around. He got stolen. :( I really liked using him though, so I might have to try out that system again.

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    2. I love the ball idea. I used a bean bag with my third graders. Same concept and it worked wonders!

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  4. Thank you so much, Stephanie!! This helps a lot! Thank you to the rest of the commenters as well! I feel a little more secure in what I need to have in my classroom without having to break the bank. YAY!

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    1. I loved this topic and I like the discussions it is generating. I hope we can keep the momentum going on this one because I really like hearing everyone's suggestions.

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  5. I've been thinking about this question for awhile, and here is one of the things that always really helps me out throughout the year: a giant, flat, desk calendar. On it, I write everything from school days off to meetings to student birthdays. It really does a great job of reminding me what's coming for the days and weeks ahead!

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  6. I love this list. This year will be my second but I am getting a room this year. I floated last year. I didn't even know where to start and your blog has been awesome for providing direction.

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  8. Fantastic ideas! I can't wait to try them. Thank you for taking the time to share.

    I have a suggestion for the missing pen problem:

    My first year teaching I went through a zillion pens as a result of loaning them out--also mostly to boys. So last year I stole a page out of our front office's book and attached big silk flowers to my loaner pens. (It cost about $3 and 15 minutes of my time to make ten pens; thank you Dollar Tree). I used school colors and put the pens in their own holder, which made the cheesiest bouquet ever, but the kids loved it.

    I ended last year with EVERY SINGLE PEN. Not to mention the amusement I got all year long watching six-foot-tall, seventeen-year-old boys taking notes with a bright blue carnation three inches from their faces!

    Now can boast of at least one brilliant idea in my first two years of teaching. :-)

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    1. I love the big silly flower idea! I did little duct tape flags this year (found that one on Pinterest) on my pencils. If that doesn't work, I'm totally going for the flowers!

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  9. I keep a handy supply of fly swatters for those lessons where students move around the room to 'hit' key words or correct answers that have been dotted around the room. I keep them in a range of colours, then get the students in teams -- they then use the swatter as a relay baton, ensuring that everybody has a go.

    By the way - I love this blog. You've inspired me to start my own "real teacher" blog and, as I still have four weeks of summer holidays left, I have plenty of time to get ready for the next school year. Thank you.

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    1. What a fun idea! I like lessons that get them up and moving a bit.

      Yay for another convert to the teacher blog world! Once you've got it up and off the ground, drop me a link! I'd love to see it. :)

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    2. I have seen fly swatters with a cut out rectangle to use for read the room for those of that can do without the actual swatting, :)

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  10. I teach sign language at high school and several years ago I bought a couple decks of Strawberry Shortcake cards and often use those to "assign" groups or partners for conversation activities. HS students find them pretty cheesy but it works great! Loving your blog - I SO need help with organization and have found so many helpful ideas here!

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  12. New teacher, experienced teacher, doesn't matter. This was a great list of ideas!!!

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  13. This was great. I'm a college student finishing up my Bachelors and getting ready to start my Masters in Ed. That first year is a little daunting so thongs like this make it seem less scary.

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  14. The golf pencil idea is amazing. I was driven crazy this last year by always getting my pencils stolen. I'm definitely handing out golf pencils to the students who don't bring supplies.

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  15. Just an FYI on the golf pencils from someone who's tried them, my kids treated them as disposable and actually threw them away after use! I ended up running through my box of golf pencils in no time. I couldn't believe this at first, but that's what they did!

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  16. Every Pampered Teacher Box includes needed classroom supplies as well as fashion accessories for teachers. It makes a great end of year gift from a class! http://pamperedteacher.com

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  17. Hi! I am a fellow blogger and am going to include a link to this in a post that I will be sharing this evening - I hope that's ok with you! I really loved your idea about having more than one trash can - it's so simple but makes so much sense! I went out and bought another one straight away so that now I will have two in my classroom. Thanks for the great ideas :)

    Claire

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  18. Love these ideas!!! Thanks Stephanie. Thanks posters!

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  19. Love these ideas!!! Thanks Stephanie. Thanks posters!

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  20. I use large fuzzy dice (string cut off) for games using dice, kiddos love to roll or toss these for games. Also, instead of a stuffed or rubber ball, I use a koosh ball for "popcorn reading." I toss to the first reader, they toss to the next and so on. Everyone wants the koosh ball! :) Next year I'll probably do a "lucky bear" blog where the students take home the bear for a week (upper level grades), then enter in the blog what happened and add pictures. Share the blog with the class, and then pass the bear to the next person. This is loads of fun, and teaches first person writing, and blog writing.

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  23. Fantastic blog Stephanie. I would add baby wipes to the list. Have a sweaty student or one whose hands are covered in Cheeto dust? Baby wipe. They also work great for a quick desk wipe down or a freshen up before 5th period. My kids ask for them all the time

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