What Do First Year Teachers Need to be Successful?

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At the beginning of every school year, there are brand new teachers all over the world filled with the exhilarating mix of excitement, nerves, and determination. Yet there is an overwhelming fear of being unprepared for the task at hand. And that begs the question…What do first year teachers need?

Well, I’m so glad you asked because that is EXACTLY what I want to share with you. And don’t worry, I’m not here to try to convince you to buy a bunch of unnecessary stuff. I am actually here to tell you what you do and do NOT need so that you can start the year off right!

Essential First Year Teacher Classroom Supplies for Any Grade

When I first started teaching, Pinterest wasn’t a thing. Yes, I know I’m REALLY dating myself, but seriously, it was equal parts amazing and awful.

I was asking myself the same question first-year teachers worldwide ask What do first year teachers need?  The downside was that I didn’t have anywhere to go to find the answer online, so I had to go to my principal and other classroom teachers to find the answer.

On the positive side, I wasn’t comparing myself to everyone on the Internet, and that was true freedom. 

And even though I had all of the required education under my belt and was thrilled about my teaching career and my first classroom, I was overwhelmed about what I truly needed on the first day of school as a beginning teacher. 

Remember, as tempting as it is to buy all of the cute supplies and classroom decor, you need to invest in those items that will actually serve you and your students. So what do you ABSOLUTELY need, and what can you skip?

Pencil Sharpener

Go ahead and splurge on a decent sharpener. These are invaluable. If your students are anything like mine always have been, they will have cute little mini sharpeners in their pencil pouches or backpacks that are totally useless.

Quite frankly, these create a distraction for your students (because they will want to use them ALL the time) and they also provide an endless supply of pencil shavings that make a mess on the floor.

The Best Pencil Sharpeners

So the best way to handle this is by creating a rule in your classroom for the pencil sharpener that explains who can use it, when it can be used, and the proper care and use of the pencil sharpener.

You might also want to mention your position on the little sharpeners. Having specific expectations and conversations about all of these things will make a huge difference in your classroom management and will save you so much time and energy later!

So skip the electric pencil sharpener and get a manual sharpener instead.

Ticonderoga Pencils

While I mentioned earlier don’t go broke spending money on unnecessary supplies, investing in GOOD pencils is a game changer. And to answer the question I know you are asking, No…not all pencils are created equal.

Only purchase Ticonderoga pencils because they are the best and they last the longest.

The Best Pencils

If you create a kids’ supply list for your grade level, you need to specify this brand of pencil and then explain to parents/guardians why these pencils cost more.

The truth is, most parents don’t know the difference in the pencils, so you need to explain to them that although these cost more initially, there will be MINIMAL replacements needed.

Keep them in your desk drawer (or another undisclosed location) and then hand them out as needed. 

Reduced Effort Stapler

While you may be walking into a classroom that provides you with a few of these supplies, chances are you will discover that there are variations of these supplies that are better than others.

A reduced effort stapler is one of those things. The first time you use one, you will fall in love.

So let me explain why a reduced effort stapler is better than a traditional stapler.

When you are trying to staple 30 classroom booklets with multiple pages, you know how tiring it can get with a traditional stapler. The truth is, you often have to slam it down just to get the staple through all of those pages.

With a reduced effort stapler, you don’t have to exert the additional energy whether you have 2 sheets or 25 sheets because it is designed to do the work for you.

The Best Reduced Effort Staplers

You will find yourself working more efficiently while assembling packets and printable books because you will be exerting less physical energy when putting everything together.

There is only one downside to a reduced effort stapler…it will not open 180 degrees (completely flat). This means that you will NOT be able use it for your bulletin board.

So my suggestion would be to use the traditional stapler (that will probably come with the classroom) for bulletin boards and then use the reduced effort stapler for everyday stapling.

I know it sounds like a useless waste of money when you consider that you will most likely have access to a traditional stapler.

But if you’re genuinely wondering, “What do first year teachers need?” then I think this is a good candidate to add to your wish list because chances are you will be putting together a LOT of packets and student papers your first year.

Expo Dry Erase Markers

Let’s all just be honest for a second. There are some brands of school supplies that just don’t cut it and then there are those that stand out among their competitors.

And when it comes to dry erase markers, Expo is the brand you want to purchase.

Just like I mentioned with the pencils, if you are adding these to the student supply lists, make sure you indicate the Expo brand or you will get cheap brands that don’t work.

The Best Dry Erase Markers

And as a parent, I would rather spend a few more dollars now than have to go back 3 more times to replace the junky supplies I bought the first time.

Other brands just don’t cut it. In my experience, these markers work the best and last for the longest time.

A couple of tips from a veteran teacher…

  1. Request different sizes so that you have larger sized ones for writing on the whiteboard and smaller ones for students to use on their own personal whiteboards.
  2. Use black most often because some students may have difficulty seeing the colors.

We want to make sure we are constantly adding value to our teaching and accessibility should be something we always consider. If you do want to get a few colored dry erase markers, stick with the purple, blue, red, and green while avoiding the orange and yellow.

Sticky Notes

I don’t think I need to elaborate on this one at all, but since I am helping you answer the question, “What do first year teachers need?” I will share a couple of thoughts.

You will need sticky notes in a variety of sizes and you will use them daily. 

From hall passes, quick reminders, and to do lists to student shout outs, and anchor charts, you will use sticky notes multiple times every single day.

And again, brand matters. The Post-It brand stands out as the clear winner in this particular category because it is far superior to its competitors.

The Best Sticky Notes

The sizes I tend to use the most are…

  • 3×3 – best for reminders, Student Shout outs, Custom Post-It Templates, and Tickets out the Door
  • 2×2 – best for anchor charts (for older kids), calendar reminders, and numbers (for activities)
  • 4X6 – best for lists and to-do items

If you are on a REALLY tight budget and can’t afford the extra cost, there are some other brands that have great reviews on Amazon.

But if you can splurge just a little (even if it’s only on the ones YOU will be using), go with Post It brand because their products are far superior to their competitors.

Ballpoint and Flair Pens

Ok. To the average person this may sound silly, but in my opinion pens are a classroom essential.

Now I want to be clear here because there are two types of pens that will be used in the classroom, student pens and teacher pens. And yes, in case you weren’t sure, there is a difference.

The Best Pens

I will admit it…I am a pen snob.

I genuinely don’t care what types of pens my students use, but when it comes to my pens, I only want Papermate Flair Pens.

They are more like a super-fine tip marker than a pen, and they just make my heart so happy.

So stick with requesting cheap BIC brand pens for your students (the ones that cost around $1 for 10) because they are honestly the best pens for the cheapest price.

Then hoard all of the flair pens for yourself…you’re welcome.

Printer Paper

In your first year teaching, you may think you have endless access to paper, but that’s not always the case. My second school provided limited amounts of copier paper and once it was gone, you had to buy your own. And while paper isn’t the most expensive item on this list, it certainly isn’t cheap.

So you want to make sure that you have an extra supply on hand at the beginning of the year in order to make copies early on that will save you time later.

In addition to regular white copier paper, you might want to get some colorful paper as well. One of my favorite ways to use colored paper is copying task cards and other activities for small groups.

The Best Paper

This allows me to save tons of colored ink while still giving students some color in their activities.

By using colored paper, I can also color code activities by skill level. Simply changing the color of the paper allows me to see which sets I will need for a particular skill or level at a glance. 

Without a doubt, Astrobrights is the premium colored copy paper brand. And the kids LOVE the vivid colors.

Calendar or Planner

Novice teachers may not realize how many obligations they have. So do yourself a favor and start on the right foot with a planner to document everything. 

You will find that you have to coordinate several events throughout the year including school calendars and activities (for you and your kids), parent-teacher conferences, required meetings, your to-do list, and even your personal appointments.

The Best Planners

Writing all of these important dates in one place will ensure nothing gets overlooked and will help you stay on top of any extraneous priorities that may overlap.

The type of planner that will be best for you may not be best for others. So I suggest spending some time researching great options.

If you just want printable planner pages, I have a bundle in my TpT shop that might fits the bill for you. You can check them out by visiting my shop!


The selection will vary when it comes to building your own classroom library based on your grade level. Know that you do not need a dump truck load to start with and can always add through the year.

Before purchasing them brand new, look for books at local thrift stores, garage sales, eBay, and other online resellers. 

You can also ask families if they have any books at home that they don’t use and would like to donate to your classroom library.

Then ask the librarian to let you know when she does an inventory of the library because there will always be some books that go into the discard pile.

If you find that your classroom becomes overrun with books, you can always go through them and resell some of them yourself. Then use the money to invest back into some of the other items you need for your classroom.

Additional Items

The things that I mentioned above are the most common items you will need for your first year that will be worth the investment. If you want to know a few more ideas that might be beneficial in your first classroom, consider…

  • Bins and storage solutions are nice to have since little ones have very little sense of staying organized. 
  • Rugs and bean bag chairs make the student library feel a little more cozy. 
  • Scissors just in case someone didn’t come to school with theirs.
  • Binders and sheet protectors are perfect for holding master copies of lesson plans and workbooks. You can also add worksheets to a sheet protector really quickly and turn it into a magic white board. 
  • Bluetooth remotes work well when sharing slides and your screen through a projector. This way you don’t have to stay at your desk the entire time. 
  • Desk paper trays are great for keeping you organized, but you can also place them at the front of the room.
  • File folders are excellent for keeping important papers close at hand. 

Other Things Needed for Your First Teaching Job

First-time teachers often get hung up on the supplies they will need, but there are a few other things to keep in mind.

Procedures and Expectations

These need to be in place for all scenarios. So, it’s important that you know your school’s procedures for all the different types of drills and have a process and procedure for other events that will happen in your classroom.

Helping children know what to expect and how to act in specific instances cuts down on classroom chaos, time you have to spend redirecting students who are off-task, and empowers students to self-regulate. Everything goes more smoothly when each student knows what to do when the time arises. 

Think about the flow of your day and pretend your incoming students have never been to school. This will allow you to think about everything you need to explicitly teach including…

  • when and how they will go to the restroom, 
  • where to find and turn in makeup work, 
  • what to do when they don’t have all of the needed supplies or books, 
  • how you will enforce the dress code in your classroom,
  • your expectations for behavior when student teachers, administration, or other adults are present,
  • what to do when they are finished with their work and have free time, and so much more.

Consider what types of things your students will need to interrupt you to ask, then make a procedure for that particular activity or situation.

Emergency Lesson Plans + Sub Plans

You need to have emergency lesson plans and sub plans prepared in advance. Undoubtedly, a time will arise when you (or your own children) are sick and you will have to be out. And it never fails that you won’t be able to go to school early and prepare these the day of your absence.

So prepare these before you start school so that you have a back up plan if something were to come up. Creating effective lesson plans is time-consuming, but you need to have some activities ready to go in the event you have to be out of the classroom unexpectedly.

This allows students to keep learning and stay on track while also reducing your stress before you come back. 

If you know ahead of time you will be out, you can make super-targeted lesson plans that align with your current pacing and curriculum map. But for emergency plans, you want to incorporate review skills and hands-on classroom activities that will keep your students engaged for the whole amount of class time available. 

One last thing, make sure to include a schedule of the day and inform your teaching partner where these can be found at any point in time.

Obviously as with most things, veteran teachers (like me) have suggestions we can provide for your first year of teaching.

But at the end of the day, you’ll discover that you have to purchase those things that will serve you and your students. There will be items you purchase that will never get used and then there will be things you find along the way that you will wish you had known about sooner.

It really takes getting into your own groove to determine exactly what you will need. When starting a new school, don’t forget to ask questions of your fellow teachers, mentor teacher, or school leader.

They are a great resource and give the best tips on what has worked for them, along with district specific information. 

Invest your time and energy into those things that you can take with you if you have to switch your grade level or your school because these essential items will come in handy no matter where you find yourself.