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The Rookie Survival Kit: What to Buy for Your First Classroom

The Rookie Survival Kit: What to Buy for Your First Classroom

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Rookie Survival Kit

Preparing for your first year teaching can be daunting. You’ve been prepping all summer, meticulously working on lesson plans and excitedly decorating your classroom in anticipation of the first day of school. But despite how prepared you may be, the first few weeks as a new teacher are bound to be filled with surprises.

I recently stumbled upon a Reddit thread ( where a new teacher asked the veterans: what is the one thing I should buy for my classroom?

I’ve compiled a list, a “rookie survival kit” for new-teacher classroom essentials based on the responses. Please continue to add to this list with your own helpful suggestions!


1. A reliable three hole punch & electric pencil sharpener
These will be used A LOT throughout the year, so make sure you’ve got durable ones.

2. Absent work folders
Having an organized system for absent work can save you time and limit classroom interruption. Here’s one idea: number hanging file folders 1-31 (one for each day of the month). Add work in each day, so when a student is absent, he/she can find the work missed from the previous day easily and conveniently.

3. Band-aids
Because you never know when disaster might strike.

4. Hand Sanitizer
You can never have too much...Seriously, never. Invest in a giant bottle from somewhere like Costco and it should last you the whole year.

5. Comfortable shoes
You will be on your feet constantly. Invest in some comfortable shoes, even if you don’t have any preexisting feet/knee/back problems. Said one Redditer “do yourself a favor and be kind to your feet from the start.” Commenters recommend brands like Clarks, Merrell, Danskos, or Teva, just to name a few. 

6. A timer
Having a timer in the classroom can be useful for a variety of different tasks, from timing quizzes to keeping students on task. A classic egg timer will work, otherwise you can use one online or from your mobile device.

7. Extra pencils
Inevitably your students will forget a writing utensil. In order to ensure that all your pens/pencils don’t mysteriously disappear, one teacher recommended taping fake flowers or leaves to the them and storing in a nice vase on your desk. When class is over, students are less likely to stick a flowery pencil in their backpack mistaking it for their own.

8. One or two generic sub plans
In a perfect world you’ll have ample time to prepare detailed instructions for a substitute when you plan to be out, but it’s best to prepare a few generic sub plans just in case of emergency.

9. Aspirin (for you!)
Always good to keep on hand in for when a midday headaches strikes.

10. SLEEP! 
This one may seem obvious, but the first few weeks can be highly stressful and tiresome. Taking care of yourself and getting enough rest is essential for gaining the patience and calmness you need to effectively manage your class, especially in the first few weeks when everyone is still getting settled.

Reccomended Books:

Bergman, Kelly: “Quick Tips: Making the First Six Weeks a Success!” (Scholastic)

Wong, Harry: “The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher”

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (9) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Alex Shevrin's picture
Alex Shevrin
Teacher/leader & techie at independent, alternative, therapeutic high school

Ooh - I'd also add snacks for yourself - nothing worse than low blood sugar in the middle of a long day - and a sturdy water bottle and coffee mug. Stay hydrated (and caffeinated if that's your thing).

Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Educational Consultant. Author. Speaker. Blogger.

Some good thoughts here...I just prefer a "Thriving" kit. I want all new teachers to go waaaaayyyy beyond surviving. :)
I have a ton of suggestions, but for now, I'd have to add get a Journal or planner, or Evernote, for keeping ideas, notes and resources organized in one place.
Decide on a calendar to use as well, paper or digital. Best to use one calendar, only, to avoid missing dates for important meetings with staff, principal, parents etc.
I also recommend selecting a good lesson planning tool--for example, will you use a traditional paper planner, or will you be creating all lessons via a Google Doc? Good idea to decide now how you plan to handle this important part of your teaching life. It will make designing your lesson plans easier in the long run.
Look forward to seeing more insights!

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Can I add three?
1. A good water bottle. Hydration is your friend (but time it carefully since, you know, limited bathroom breaks)
2. Zycam (to help head off all those colds you're going to pick up)
3. "The First Six Weeks of School" by Paula Denton.

Oh- and don't forget your sense of humor. That first year is comedy gold, if you can maintain some perspective.

Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY

One of the most important things to have is not a physical object to buy but it is essential for survival -- it is a system for the nuts and bolts of a classroom. What is your bathroom procedure? How do you handle distributing work to students that were absent? Do students know where the supplies go at the end of a period/day?

I neglected having a comprehensive system my first month and I saw quickly that students work best with order and clear expectations.

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word. ready at any moment to change the rules, procedures, and routines to make sure they fit your classroom makeup. Remember, you have humans in your room that have individual needs.

Here's a good one: I always give me students an extra folder. It's called "The Unfinished Folder." It's self-explanatory.

Lina Raffaelli's picture
Lina Raffaelli
Former Community Engagement Intern at Edutopia

Thanks for all these great additions. Alex, snacks are a must! Laura, water and Zycam are great suggestions as well. I think these can be tied into the "sleep" section- just generally taking care of your body is necessary for feeling good. There's nothing worse then trying to do your job when you're feeling sluggish or under the weather!

Gaetan, I think you make an excellent point about being ready to adapt. Hopefully others will find these suggestions helpful :)

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

We asked our community on Facebook what they would add to this list and received over 200 responses! Check them out at:

Some of the favorites include:

Jeri L: A 10 minutes walk outside at lunchtime to clear you head.

Jason S: Get in good with the secretaries and the custodian ASAP! I can't stress this enough.

Judy C: A wrist band with room key attached or lanyard. I locked myself out of the room several times talking to kids privately in the hall my first year. A code word with a fellow teacher in your hall that means you need help from the office pronto. And make friends with the custodian and the office secretary right away.

Becky H: Chewing gum makes kids happy and focused during testing--researched based. I carefully collect in trash before recess. (

Janice M: A sense of humor is essential. Learn to laugh at yourself and your mistakes. Enjoy the students -- they can add so much to your life.

Linda E: A great mentor teacher - she saved my sanity that first year. All new teachers should have a mentor assigned to them for the year.

Laura K: A good massage therapist too.

Margie M: Post the bell schedule where you can see it quickly all day--especially the first week. I hang one above my desk at the back of the room, one on the bulletin board up front, and I tape one to the student desk closest to where I address the students the first day.

Teacher Dan Deslaurier's picture
Teacher Dan Deslaurier
Lower School Art Teacher (PK-4)

I have a couple of suggestions for the Rookie Survival Kit.

One of them is for your classroom. One is for your practice.

The item for your classroom isn't something you have to buy, you can make it yourself; you're a teacher, so you are resourceful! This item is found in the category of "classroom management," a challenge many of my student teachers question me about, looking for strategies. Here's one that has consistently worked for me.

I have a sign in my room, over my whiteboard, where my students gather on a rug at the beginning of our weekly art class. During lesson introductions or discussions, you will inevitably have a student(s) call out with silly answers/comments that can be disruptive to your lesson. When that occurs, I take a moment to reference this sign by pointing to it, and asking the student if what they said is any of those things in the sign. It reads "Before you speak, THINK! Each letter in the word THINK! is color-coded to a question below the word (I can forward a picture to those interested.) T=Is it True? H is it Helpful? I is it Inspiring? N is it Necessary? K is it Kind? Then it's OK to share!" Actually, I've found that I seldom have to reference it, it is a "passive" teaching tool that students read on their own. A bonus: When a disruption does occur, it's often the rest of the class, annoyed at the disruption, that points the sign out to the disruptor. Not much left for me to do but continue with my presentation!

The item for your practice is an investment mostly in time, though it can include a small outlay. If the rookie teacher isn't already assigned a mentor, seek out an experienced teacher(s) in your school, one whose practice you especially admire, and connect for some weekly after-school coffee/tea/discussion. This can provide a supportive, informal setting for both socializing and discussing your practice/questions/concerns about particular students, etc. I found this to be an especially helpful way to renew myself throughout my teaching career, and now most helpful for the young student teachers I mentor!

Corah's picture

I second the book "the first six weeks of school", I reread it every year. Implementing and practicing routines with your students is also huge.

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