Recently I received an email from a teacher JUST about to enter the classroom.  She was asking for tips and ideas and what she should purchase.  I felt bad because I emailed her back that I didn't feel I would have a lot to offer with this category, but I would try.  Then I started writing and writing and writing.  I realized I had a whole lot more to say than I originally thought, or maybe I was just long winded! Either is likely! 

Please let me know if you would like to share some tips for new teachers as well!  I think the Stuff They Didn't Teach You In College section will be the most helpful, but I need some ideas!  I am drawing a blank!

What Should I Do First?

What Am I Supposed to Buy?  I Am Poor and Right Out of College!

Important Random Things You Might Need In the Classroom

I Spent Four Years Learning How To Teach...So Now How Do I Do It?

Stuff They Didn't Teach You In College

Questions to Ask Your Mentor

Links for New Teachers

What Should I Do First?

     Congratulations!  Your first year is SO exciting!  I was so antsy wanting to get it and set up my room (even thought it was over Christmas break because I started mid year). 

1.  I am going to say something that most people will probably not like, but here it goes.  You were not hired to decorate a room, you were hired to to teach.  That being said, FIRST learn the curriculum and THEN think about the room.  Most districts have some kind of website with all the objectives you are required to teach or sometimes school will have these printed out in a booklet.  Make sure that this book covers all the objectives you need to teach.  Where I teach we have objectives and indicators (I don't know how common this is). The indicators basically are what students must know in order to master the standard, almost an objective (or several) inside a standard.  Also, see if your district has a Scope and Sequence for you to look at so you will know WHAT and WHEN the district thinks you should be teaching something!  Know ahead of time, you may not be able to follow it, but it will give you an idea.

2.  Learn your textbooks.  I remember walking out of college and thinking that textbooks were "bad" and that I should not use them. I am not sure where I got that idea; it was just absorbed through college.  I use textbooks now more than I ever did my first year.  Textbooks aren't bad.  They are just vehicles to help teach the curriculum; they AREN'T the curriculum. See, this is why you need to check out the standards first.  Now you will be informed about what you need to teach.  Just because Math Chapter 12: Geometry covers slides, turns and angles does not mean you have to teach slides, turns and angles.  First, you will need to check our list of objectives and standards and THEN see if you need to teach it.

3.  See if you can contact someone on your grade level or perhaps your mentor (I really hope you have a mentor.  If you don't you are being jipped.  Everyone needs a support team and one at school helps).  Many times grade levels already have mapped out a subject for the year so your work may be partially done.  Also, they may have created grading guidelines and rubrics that may affect how you teach a subject.  For example, my grade level has a rubric for teaching reading.  Everyone gives each area the same percentage (comprehension, fluency, reading level and skills).

4.   Yay!  Now it is time to go work in your room!!!  Measure it, move around your furniture, figure out where the important areas of your room will be.  This is the fun part.  Two tips:

First- don't put up anything on the walls until you know the furniture is going to stay put and you will not rearrange (again!). It is a waste of your time to keep re-hanging posters.

Second- Don't worry about door decorations and bulletin boards. Yes, they are the fun part, but they are not the most important things you need to be worrying about.  If you NEED something on your bulletin boards, hang up fabric or paper and some border.  Decorate the rest when you really have time.

5.  So, now you know your curriculum, have an adorable room.  What are you going to do with the kids?  Take a serious look at your procedures and beginning of the year lesson plans.  You should have a procedure for EVERYTHING.  You lesson plans should be so full of "stuff" you will never manage to actually get through the first week.  I say this for two reasons:

One: You will never have the deer- in the headlights look because you have ran out of things to do with your 25 new angels.


Two: You will already have a jumpstart on the NEXT week of planning!


For ideas about procedures and lesson plans, check out my Back to School page.  I have included my on procedures and lessons, as well as links to some other amazing sites.

What Am I Supposed to Buy?  I Am Poor and Right Out of College!

WAIT!!!  Before you go crazy in the teacher store, you need to find a few things out!

VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION: Do you get supply money?

My school PTA gives me $75 per year for supplies. Check to see if your school does this.  Also IF the school does, make sure to buy CONSUMABLES with this money, NOT books or resources because when you leave the school everything bought with that money STAYS with the school.

VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION NUMBER TWO: Does your school give or supply "free" things? Check out what  your school offers. Some have a supply closet for all the markers and paperclips ands stuff like this (mine doesn't, we order this with the $75 dollars).

My school has free laminating.  We are only supposed to use a certain amount, but it saves money at the teacher store.

Check for a die cut machine.  Instead of buying those cute note pads from Carson Dellosa for your wish list or as a door decoration, cut out a cute shape and write all the kids name on it.  Tape them to your door and you have an instant welcome back to school door decoration.

Check for bulletin board paper to cover bulletin boards or doors for that back to school decoration (If you have time to make a door decoration. This is so far down my to do list, I usually don't even do one!).

Check for a transparency maker.  We have one of these nifty things at our school.  The school provides the transparencies and you run the sheet and a copy of what you want to be on the overhead.  While ours doesn't make the best copies, it would help stretch a budget out.  Transparencies for copiers cost about $22.00 for a box.

Does your school providing a binding machine?  You use these to bind any class made books, notepads or anything you really want to be spiral bound.  Who provides the spirals (combs)?  You or the school?

I will be honest.  When it comes to buying things I am pretty picky.  Here are the things I have bought and actually use:

What I Do Buy

Childrenís books- I buy these at garage sales, Goodwill, Scholastic orders and I'm about to go to the Scholastic Warehouse Sale (1/2 off the cover!).  Check out my Library Organization page to see other places I cut corners and save money on books.

Containers: I have TONS of storage containers.  I only buy these at the Dollar Store.  Best prices, they even beat Wal-Mart.

School Supplies: I buy these at Wal-Mart when they have their great back to school sales (folders for less than 10 cents, Crayola markers for 88 cents a pack, Crayola Crayons for 20 cents a pack).  I like to have a class set of these.  I keep them in buckets on their tables.  HOWEVER, your school may give you MONEY for these things. 

What I DON'T Buy:

Decorations- Almost everything in my room is created with the students, all my posters with reading strategies and everything else.  I do buy fabric for my bulletin boards (measure carefully the size of you board because fabric is expensive) and a FEW simple boarders I can leave up year round.  You won't have time to change your bulletin board unless your principal makes you.  Mine (thank heavens), does not.  Also, your school may offer FREE bulletin board paper so check this out as well.

Resource books: Well, I don't buy many.  Unfortunately I am a book addict and my version of "not buying" may not match yours!    My school has a professional library full of these resources books at school.  See if you can go in over the summer and check some out if your school has this library.  Also some public libraries have teacher resource books.  Mine doesn't but I have heard of other library systems that do.  Finally there is so much FREE stuff on the internet and with teaching chat boards like  and you might want to hold out on resources.

One thing I WOULD suggest is to go ahead and sign up for Highlights free offer.  This is a program that Highlights magazine does.  You sign up over the internet and Highlights sends you a kit.  As a teacher you send home one form per child (from the kit) asking if the parents want to subscribe to Highlights magazine and return the responses.  No matter the response (yes or no), as long as there is a signature, teachers earn points toward free stuff. Some if the stuff is pretty neat. I have gotten a ton of pencils and some foam dominoes. 

Important Random Things You Might Need In the Classroom

   When I finished student teaching, I opened up my mentor teacherís storage cabinet and began making a list of all the STUFF she had in there.  Much of this STUFF should be bought with your supply money (and not out of your own pocket).  Things like construction paper, card stock, glue, tissue paper and so on.   Here is some of the random stuff that I keep on hand.  You may not need or want all of it, but it may give you some ideas.

  • white drawing paper (large 11 X 18)

  • manila drawing paper  (large 11 X 18)

  • construction paper of various colors (large 11 X 18)- Remember you can cut it down to 9 x 12 if you want

  • hot glue gun and sticks (great for hanging thinks up on the walls)

  • Yarn

  • Nail Polish remover or hairspray (to get permanent marker stains of about anything)

  • Dry Beans (counters in math or BINGO markers)

  • Typical office supplies: highlighters, pens, staples, tape, masking tape, post its, etc

  • File folders

  • Hanging file folders- (It helps to keep your files cabinets organized if both of these are readily available)

  • clasp envelopes

  • Business  white envelopes

  • white glue

  • rubber cement

  • water colors and paint brushes

  • oil pastels

  • stickers

  • tissue paper

  • Q-tips and Vaseline ( great for chapped lips in the winter.  These kids get the WORST chapped lips I have ever seen!)

  • Small tool kit (check to make sure you won't get in trouble for having these things- it could get you in BIG trouble)

  • Baggies of all sizes

  • Microwave popcorn (for celebrations or for an after school snack!)

  • band aids

  • Cleaner- (Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is ROCK AWESOME)

I Spent Four Years Learning How To Teach...So Now How Do I Do It?

It is funny.  We spend four years in school LEARNING how to be teachers. We have experiences in other classrooms.  We observe, take notes and watch.  We practice our craft, trying new methods under a watchful and supportive eye. We begin to make decisions and judgments on what we believe to be pedagogically correct.

And then you get your own room.

And it all goes out the window.

Having your own classroom and being completely responsible for routines, procedures, discipline, paper work AND lesson plans??  It can be very overwhelming.  My BIGGEST pieces of advice :



Kids are flexible.  As long as you clearly state you expectations AND model them (several times) they can work within your changes. If you know your routines and procedures, this will cut down on a lot of behavioral issues, which is less paper work and disruption in teaching time. A win-win situation.

When I first started teaching I wanted every subject, every lesson to be perfect.   I wanted all the hands on math manipulatives, guided reading and lit circles, writers workshop, science experiments and social studies interactive experiences.

It was just too much.  I took my mother's advice.  Choose ONE subject area and perfect it.  Know it inside and out.  Research effective methods, observe other teachers, read, read read.  Become an expert.  I was just talking to a second year teacher.  He is excellent and highly respected. Some how our conversation turned in this direction.  I had to laugh because he said he did this exact thing.  His first year, he learned all about reading and his second all about math.  He made a comment that he felt like he had a good hold of the basics.  And after working with him, I couldn't agree more.

Generally for elementary teachers I would suggest choosing reading one year and math another. Writing is equally pretty important depending on the grade level. 

Stuff They Didn't Teach You In College

How to hang bulletin board paper-  First, this is not a job to do alone.  Find a friend.  Bulletin board paper tends to get very wrinkled and hard to manage. If it gets really wrinkled, then it may not fall out when hung.  Generally, the bulletin board paper I have worked with needs two strips to cover the width of the bulletin board.  I generally cover the bottom half of the bulletin board first and then trim up.  I have a friend hold, while I staple the paper up.  Then the upper layer gets hung on top of the bottom layer.  Open up the scissors and cut off ragged edge with the scissor blades like a  knife.  If this seems like too much work, use fabric : ).

How to keep a grade book- Believe it or not, but I have never kept a paper- pencil grade book and wouldn't even know where to START keeping one.  I have always used a computerized grading program like EasyGradePro or IGPro.  I really like the computerized system since it averages the grades for me, but it also has several great features.  I can send out printable copies of grades, missing tasks or class lists with a single touch of a button.

How do you know what to grade

What do all of the educational acronyms stand for?

How long it takes to set up your classroom/ How to set up your classroom

How to set up your classroom library


How or what to present at parent/teacher conferences

This has been said, but DOCUMENT EVERYTHING- I keep a spiral notebook for each year and list anything and everything that I may need later in that notebook. I also keep all parent notes (good, bad, and ugly) for future reference.  I  have a hanging file cart  that I use for pretty much all of my documentation.  Each child has a folder. Any time I write a note to a parent, I put a copy of the note in this file.  Any email correspondence: I pint and put both the parent email and my responses in the folder.  I also put work samples, notes from the office regarding the child, and absent notes, doctor notes, anything about the child goes in this file.  It is not the most organized file, but I can find pretty much anything I need about a child quickly with this method. At the end of the year I pull out all the papers in each folder and throw them in a box just in case I may need them for some odd reason next year.  I slide the box under my desk and store them for one year. The next year I shred all the papers and then throw in all my new papers from their folders.


How to keep your idea bank organized (like filing all those great ideas from


Questions to Ask Your Mentor

This year (2008-2009) I moved to a new school in a new district.  Over the summer all new teachers, brand new and new to the county, were asked to attend a week long class to get acclimated to the county. It was wonderful.  It gave all teachers an opportunity to make a list of all the questions that needed to be asked.  I saved my list so I could post it here. Once I got started writing questions- I got on a roll!

  • What behavior management system cam I use?  Is my current token system o.k.?

  • Do kids need to be in a specific order for lunch?

  • What assessments are used for grades?

  • How and are grades weighted?

  • What is the school improvement plan (academic areas of concentration- usually reading or math)

  • DO I need to sign in and out in the morning?

  • What pieces are required to be in my lesson plans?

  • Do I need to turn in  my lesson plans?

  • What writing program, math program, reading program is used at the school?

  • Do administrators do walk throughs? How often?  What should I expect ?

  • How many observations (announced and unannounced) should I expect in a year?

  • What are my contract hours?

  • Do the students have portfolios?  If so, what needs to be in them?

  • What is the grading scale?

  • How are Scholastic Book Orders handled?

  • How often are progress reports sent home to students?

  • How are parents formally notified if their child is struggling or failing (academic alert, academic contract, etc)?  When do these need to be sent home?

  • When is my recess/ lunch time?  Does the school schedule my recess time or can I choose the time that fits my schedule?

  • What are the school colors?


This is by NO means a complete list. Hopefully, it will give you an idea of things that you need to ask!

Links for New Teachers

Here is a great article of tips for new teachers from

SO much here you could be lost for days

Lots of good center ideas

Links to several sites for New Teachers

Lots of practical ideas from a primary grades teacher (cool site in general)





All graphics are from