Teacher allocation has diminished around the country, and teachers are spending more than ever on their own classrooms. A survey from the National School Supply and Equipment Association says that in 2009-10 public school teachers spent over $1.33 billion in their classrooms. Remarkably, that figure is less than previous years! I received teacher allocation money this year for the first time in three years, but even that comes with limitations on what vendors I can use and doesn’t arrive until well into the school year. I end up purchasing many items out of my own pocket so that I can get what I want, when I want it. With budgets at school and home pressed to the limit, spending wisely matters more than ever before. I polled my co-workers and we offer this list of the ten best purchases we’ve made for our classrooms.
#10 — Circuit Snap Set From Elenco, Starting Around $50.00
This is a specific product for a specific need, but I absolutely love these snap circuitry sets. My own son received a kit for Christmas after playing with them at a science museum. They are sturdy, come with up to 750 different diagrams for making projects, include a comprehensive teacher’s guide, and are just plain cool! If you don’t teach electricity, don’t worry. Make this idea work for you by purchasing a good-quality product that can teach a skill far better than any textbook ever could. It will be worth every penny you invest and the engagement from your students is priceless.
#9 — VGA Cable for iPad, $49.00 From Apple
Our librarian shared her favorite tech toy, the VGA cable. This simple little adapter projects programs open on the iPad onto the whiteboard so everyone can participate. Most of our classrooms have only one iPad, so “sharability” of the device is limited. While the functionality is still only on the iPad, the VGA cable lets the entire class see what is happening. Try projecting your Storia reading together on the whiteboard so everyone can join in on comprehension lessons, or use those fun little math apps for a whole group review.
#8 — Door Signs, From $3.49
Last spring, our end-of-year celebration involved painting a vibrant door sign with supplies from a local “paint your own” company. Several teachers noted this as the best spent dollar ever! Whether you opt for a handmade canvas or purchase a sign that shows off your personality, a door sign is a happy greeting each morning. It says hello before children or parents enter your room and can put a smile on your face each morning. What could be better than that?
Some days, you just need a diet soda to make it through that stack of papers to grade. Keeping water available keeps you hydrated while you stand and talk throughout the day. Dieting? Having a sugarless drink or healthy snack on hand can keep you out of the snack room. Samantha Laubenthal, a kindergarten teacher, said it best, “I often need a pick-me-up and my fridge is right there to allow me that option. It allows me to sip throughout the day and a cold drink can do wonders!”
#6 — Premade Games, From $4.99
Pinterest might be around just to make us all feel inferior for not having handmade goodness at every turn. Why stress yourself out? Professional centers exist for a reason: to leave you free to manage your classroom in other ways. They are relatively inexpensive, well researched, and ready to go. The kids love them, and they can do double duty as small group activities that support or extend classroom learning. Getting a variety of topics from the same vendor will ensure that you don’t have to reteach the rules with each activity.
#5 — Cute File Folders, From $0.43 Each
Any seasoned teacher has a filing cabinet full of file folders with assessments, standards, parent letters, saved projects, and just good ol' copies. Investing a little bit of extra cash into your folder stash may be worth it. Colored folders are usually around the same price as plain manila, but can help differentiate subjects. Letter jackets are pricier, but they can store little items, like concept board pictures and letters, without their tumbling out of the side. Christy Amick, our math coach, likes to use the funky files when she gives important information to teachers, such as pacing guides, math articles, or testing information, so that they aren’t lost in the fray. I’d have to agree — I know exactly where my red polka dot folder with math information is!
#4 — Storage Baskets, From $1.00 Each
One item mentioned again and again by my co-workers was storage. The type is as varied as the teaching: some prefer cute wicker baskets; others unify the look with identical sturdy plastics. I personally like the budget brand white baskets because I know I can go back and buy them year after year and they will match. Whatever the preference, putting a few dollars into storage that lasts will help organize your room, provide ways to level and display, and add your personal style to your classroom.
Wall space is always at a premium. Students love to see their work displayed, and so often it hangs in the hallway where they can’t enjoy it. Ceiling hooks are a great option. Just $1.49 for a 4-pack at the local hardware store, they clip easily to the drop ceiling beams. An S-hook through the hole makes an easy place to tie work to and there is no fear about work springing loose and falling on a child. Educator stores offer different types, but whatever the design, a ceiling hook opens up a world of anchor-chart, student work, and holiday dÃÂ©cor possibilities.
#2 — Carbon Copy Notes, From $3.89
Carbon copy notes come individually or as a notepad and allow teachers to keep a copy of what they send home. No longer can a child conveniently lose their behavior sheet, because you instantly retain a copy. Some pads give teachers a quick checklist of items, some have parent signature lines, and others leave plenty of space to create your own information. Remember to date each note for documentation, and file them into a permanent file for each student (maybe even a funky-colored letter jacket!).
One item used in every classroom every day is the pencil sharpener. I don’t allow students to have personal sharpeners, and I’m usually the one using ours, so I need something reliable. Who hasn’t had the sharpener that breaks more leads than it sharpens? What about the sharpener that rotates on the same schedule as the Earth? Everyone has had a pencil sharpener befouled by evil colored pencils. I recommend the X-ACTO Magnum Electric Pencil Sharpener. It is simply the finest, most reliable, and fastest sharpener I’ve ever owned.
What are your “can’t live without” items? And where do you shop for steals and deals? Grab your teacher allocation and share your best purchases!