I’m not sure where you’re at in your summer break (if you are reading this during the summer), but for me, at the time of this posting, there is exactly one month left of summer break. Time flies. Maybe you’ve already started thinking about it, or planning for the new year. Maybe you’re like "shhhhh don’t say anything, I can’t hear you!" I’m not ready to start thinking about it in earnest either, and I’m not too jazzed by the Target and Walmart displays of school supplies already up either.
I know a lot of people focus on what you need to start the school year and there are a lot of things, too many to put in one podcast. So what I’m going to focus on are the things you DON’T need for back to school as you begin setting up your classroom for back to school.
Want to listen to this message instead of read? You can hear the audio version in my podcast or click the Mp3 below.
Now I need to clarify some things. This is coming from the perspective of someone who has taught upper elementary for going on 21 years. Wow, this year I’m starting what could be my final decade in the classroom. I feel like the giant eyed emoji saying that. So this is directed to my elementary, upper elementary readers. It’s also more for you who, perhaps are a newly hired teacher, and while you feel excited, perhaps you’re getting a little overwhelmed at all there is to do and acquire before the start of the year. Or, maybe you’re heading back into the classroom after being on an extended break in your career. Or…maybe you haven’t recuperated from last year yet and you’re feeling a little or a lot burnt out still from that. OR…perhaps you know going into this school year that it’s going to be a little more difficult due to circumstances out fo your control, not necessarily classroom related, but things going on in your personal life.
I have been in all of those situations at the start of the year at some point, and it’s not a great feeling. I felt inadequate and dismayed that there was an ever growing list of things to do or get just to keep my head above water, not to mention try to keep up with everyone else.
Before I begin my list of things you don’t need for back to school, I’ll tell you what matters most: that you teach the kids and help them realize their purpose in this world. Being a good teacher has nothing to do with all the hooey you’ve seen on Tik Tok and Instagram reels this summer while your mindlessly scrolling through your phone.
(and…if that is a habit you need to break, check out episode 3 on Social Media and Teachers to see if what you are consuming online is making you WELL or SICK). Your students need you and what you have to share with them from your mind and your heart, not what caught your eye at the Target Dollar Spot.
Also, being a teacher is an expense in itself. There are ultimately going to be things you’ll be purchasing for your classroom either what I call passion purchases or things out need - so not going for broke - literally - at the beginning of the year to set up your room is important in the long run.
...And one more thing - if any of the things I’m about to tell you is something that you love, something gets your serotonin going and pumps you up to go back to school, by all means, carry on. Get it girl (or boy). That’s great. This is for the people that feel they must fill their shopping cart with all the things because that one account you follow on social media told you to.
So let’s go unshopping, or deinfluencing I like that word even better. What do you NOT need to set up your classroom to start the school year?
#1: Teachers don’t need matchy-matchy color coordinated supplies or even a theme when setting up their classroom for back to school.
I said what I said. Yes it’s very pretty. It’s even prettier with an Instagram filter. But you can have a functional, pleasing to the eye classroom without having shiplap bulletin board paper, or mint green everything, or all the groovy 70s goodness (these kids don’t even know what the 70s were, its you that thinks the peace signs and VW buses are cute). Theme and colors won’t matter two weeks into the school year when you need to reteach how to line up and have a strategy for how you’re going to pre assess all your students for their literacy inventory. I think the first thing practically that you can cross off your mental load is coming up with a theme or color scheme for the year. If you love that and have the time for it, carry on. But if it stresses you out and doesn’t light your fire, move on.
#2 - Teachers don’t need to do the large calendars that have to be changed out and renumbered throughout the year in their classrooms.
This kind of goes back to why you don’t need a theme. But let me explain further. I’m talking about those big, color coordinated calendars that have the months and the days you change out. They look nice. The idea of them is nice. You know what’s not nice? When you have to change them out. Every month. And then, come October, when disillusionment hits (see episode 4), that calendar is going to stay parked at September. For months. And then one day in the middle of January you’re going to look up during a math lesson at that giant albatross of a calendar you gave up on that’s still at September and feel like a failure.
Why do we put a calendar up anyway? So you know the date. You know what is easier to maintain and takes up less space? Write the date on the board. Use a regular size, flip through calendar and hang it on the board or somewhere your students frequent like above the pencil sharpener or by the door so they can see important dates. Or…if you have access to technology, they very well may have a calendar already on their device. Or you can airdrop it to them. But torturing yourself with the giant, calendar baby that need changing- no don’t do it to yourself. You don’t need it and neither do your kids.
That also goes for any large display in your classroom that will need changed over time. Keep those at a minimum because you will have more than enough to occupy your time when the school year gets going. Set it to forget it.
#3: Teachers don’t need classroom jobs to start the school year.
Let’s get away from the physical things you don’t need although this does touch on classroom displays. And someone is not going to agree with me, but that’s good. We need different view points. But you’re listening to me and you’re about to hear mine. Yes, classroom jobs are a great way to have your students take responsibility and ownership over the classroom. They need to be accountable for cleaning up their space and using materials correctly.
And…you can establish that and expect that from them without classroom jobs. That comes from you - the expectation, and the modeling of how they are all responsible and need to learn how to be mindful of their space and yours.
You don’t need classroom jobs that have to be changed out or remembered on a daily basis. You don’t. If you have established a system for doing this in your room and you’ve got it on lock, that’s great. If you are feeling overwhelmed and like you’ve got to get classroom jobs set up while you’re putting together how you’re going to teach spelling each week - choose spelling! It’s one of the things you can eliminate.
Now an alternate is to have a helper of the week. Keep it simple. You pick one or two students and a back up/substitute, and those kids help you - errands to the office, passing out materials, sweeping at the end of the day - that’s it. No jobs to change out, no display to change up each week, and nobody argues over who did what job last because you don’t need that in your life.
#4: Teachers don’t need to buy the giant student desk name tags for back to school.
Let me explain so you have a visual. There are these desk helper name tags if you will, that have everything but the kitchen sink on them.They’ve got the alphabet, number lines, fractions, be kind reminders…oh they are very pretty. And it sounds like a great idea - give your students this lovely desk helper -name tag to start off the year.
Real talk time. First, I’ve seen things on these super name tags that I’d rather my kids not have access to in the event of a quiz or test. Not that it would matter, because, what goes on the desk? Books. iPad. Worksheets. They aren’t going to see the fancy pants name tag once you start teaching because… you will be teaching and you will be giving them things that have the resources on them anyway.
Also more real talk. You can glue it, you can tape it, you can contact paper that name tag to the top of that desk. You can even get those fancy plastic sleeves you put the name tags in and stick them on there. And it will not matter…because that name tag WILL end up peeling off the desk at some point. Oh go ahead. Make some incentive and consequence if the kid peels it off. Either on purpose or just from wear and tear, that name tag is going to have seen better days by March (if not before).
So what do you do so you can learn their names and the kids can find out where they sit? Go to the Dollar Tree and get a couple packs of simple name tags - probably for a fraction of the cost of the name tag-zillas. I liked to put their name tags on the front, not the top of the desk, so I could see and learn their names quickly (and so the kids couldn’t peel them off). You could also put their names on the sides if you start them out in groups, I wanted a few days to put them in groups but that’s for our classroom management episode. If they sit at tables and not desks, you can do name tents instead of sticking them on the desks, some of the ones I’ve seen at dollar tree have that option anyway. You can also just write their name on the desk or table with a Sharpie or Dry Erase marker. It will some off with hand sanitizer or a wiper over time so you’re not damaging anything.
I know, clutch the pearls. Oh wait, we're teachers, we don't have pearls. Clutch the lanyards then. But you don’t need to invest the time and energy that is so very limited at the start of the school year into name tags. End rant.
#5: You don’t need to get pillows and rugs and fancy squishy chairs for your classroom for back to school.
Yes. I said what I said. And Instagram told you differently. Instagram told you that those things make a classroom environment more inviting, friendly, calming. Instagram didn’t tell you how dirty those things are going to get - fast. It won’t take long, especially rugs. For time and sanitary purposes, you need to have things in your room that you can wipe down and disinfect quickly. You can’t do that with fabric surfaces. If someone throws up or has an itchy head…you know what I mean…that rug and those pillows are going to lose their appeal fast.
I understand the need to make your space inviting and fun, but my workspace at home looks a lot different than my living room. Do I work in my living room sometimes - yes. But…I’m at home. Off duty. This is not going to be everyone’s popular opinion, but there is a difference between a classroom and a bedroom or other living space. There are ways to make your classroom space inviting without going all HGTV on it.
Yeah, I’m afraid to say theme or coordinating colors, because I told you already you don’t need that for back to school, but the best way to have your classroom be inviting is have your students create it. Put their work and creations up. Have out books that may interest them or bring in pictures that are important to you or were important to you at their age. That builds connection and community more than the see through blow up chairs from five below that are going to get punctured by a speeding pencil point.
So to review, 5 things you don’t need for back to school this year - especially if your body, soul, and wallet are operating on a shoestring budget:
All of that to say the most important thing that’s ready to go on the first day of school is you. Not your stuff. Having a plan for how you will teach behaviors and content will always supersede the little things that seen to take up a lot of space before the kids show up on the first day.
You know what you DO need for back to school? A fast and effective way to create resources, meet your student needs, and get some assistance planning out your year. Give ChatGPT a try with this FREE Guide and sample prompts to get you started - you might even find yourself referring. to it all year long! Grab it below!