Sunday, 17 April 2016

The essentials I reckon a Beginning Teacher needs to start their class.

Ever since the Facebook page NZ Teachers (Primary) started, I've seen multiple posts from beginning teachers asking what others suggest are essential for them as they set up their class.  In this post I will attempt to pull together some of what I consider essential to help a beginning teacher set up their first class.

You will read advice on storage, the walls, setting up your literacy programme, numeracy, and there are numerous links to blogs, downloads and websites and a whole lot of ramblings from a teacher who has been in the game for twenty years.

If you are on Twitter and have any questions, you can get me at @melulater.  Otherwise if you arrived here through Facebook, I am always on the NZ Teachers page, so you can hit me up there to with any questions.

Firstly I recommend you get lots of boxes of various sizes for reading groups, fluency boxes and various resources.  Thankfully the Warehouse has some very cost effective options now, and they often have great sales with two for one deals or great percentage mark downs, so shop then if you can.  I've detailed below ones that I have found good and for what:
The front boxes are the guided reading boxes, and the back boxes are the boxes for fluency reading.
This box cost $3 and I use it for my reading groups, one per group.  I usually have two sets of books in here at a time.

This box cost $5 and I use it for my fluency boxes for each reading group.  It can hold more books than the box above and is more stable for the number of books I think kids need to browse through.

This is the box I use to put maths or language activities in to keep them mobile and intact (providing the kids put the stuff back in).  It costs about $6.
This box is great for keeping your modelling books in and any other books like ELP or Numeracy books as well as felts and pens and rulers....  I move it about the class to wherever I am working with my groups.  They are usually about $10 a box.
When I need to carry portfolios home or store them, or store a lot of stuff, these hobby boxes are my go to.  They can cost $7-10 depending on how the Warehouse is pricing them.
Trays like this are great for table groups to store stuff like pens, pencils, felts, colouring pencils, glue sticks, pencil sharpeners and rubbers.  They start from $3.
You can't go past boxes with lids like this for storage.  I have these in a variety of sizes to keep different things, and because they have lids, sticky little fingers are less likely to find their way into them.  There are different prices for different sizes.
This trolley is a great way to keep things at hand.  You can get metal ones and plastic ones in a variety of prices.
I use these wallets to store the photocopying in for each week.  Anything I know that I will have every week, like poem of the week or handwriting or a basic facts test or whatever, I photocopy off at the beginning of each term and I have a wallet for each week of the term with my photocopying organised in it ready to pull out and go.  I keep the wallets in a hobby box (best size) in order, the current week at the front.  I get these wallets at Warehouse Stationery and you can buy singly, but I find it more cost effective to buy the packs of 10.
I also use these wallets when planning for my reading, writing and maths.  I plan directly into my modelling books (see the link further down in the literacy section), but as I plan I will photocopy, print, create or whatever resources that I want the students to work with, manipulate or write on.  So I have a wallet for each reading group, each maths group and one for writing to keep the things for each group in an easy to grab way.  I will even put the reading books I am working on with a group next in there.  If I don't do this I tend to lose stuff and then kids are left waiting for me to shift through the mammoth piles on my desk.
The Walls
Now you need some of that nice teachery stuff that teachers love having up on the walls.

First of all you'll probably want a visual time table (they are all the rage) and the best one I have found is from Sparklebox (see footnote at bottom of blog regarding Sparklebox) and this is the link here

If you are in juniors, you can have one of those calendar things from Sparklebox too.  The link is here.

If you want a birthday display, the link from Sparklebox is here.

If you want a display for classroom jobs, the link from Sparklebox is here.

If you want some numbers in te reo Maori to 20, the link from Sparklebox is here.

If you want the colours in te reo Maori, the link from Sparklebox is here.

If you want the days of the week in te reo Maori, the link from Sparklebox is here.

The link to more te reo Maori resources on Sparklebox is here.  Just click on the resource, and then click on the Te Rangatiratanga flag to access the te reo Maori version.

Also look for the "editable version" in Sparklebox to personalise certain resources.

You may consider a Twinkl subscription (check to see if your school already has a subscription or not) as they have heaps of cool things for setting up a class.

Don't be afraid to make your own resources for the wall.  Embrace using programs like publisher as well as the colour printer, coloured paper, glue sticks and a laminator.  Getting your own laminator for when you have a need/desire/necessity to laminate is advisable.  You can get a decent one for $50-$70 at Warehouse Stationery.

Also check out Files on NZ Teachers or the Weebly for more fabulous resources others have shared.

And I like using this site, Instant Display, to create my own lettering that I print out for my walls (see the example above).  You can also buy ready to go lettering from catalogues you will find in your staff room, as seen in the picture below.

Setting up your Literacy programme
Personally, I have a modelling book for each group and I run the Reading Tumble as I teach guided reading.  To find out more about various parts of teaching Literacy, see:
Sparklebox has a lot of literacy resources you can download and make, you can get some phonics activities here, and these websites will also help you out with your literacy programme:
So books I definitely recommend that the school should have on hand for you are these:

Effective Literacy Practice - there are two books, one aimed at Years 1-4 and one aimed at Years 5-8.  This really should be already in the classroom ready for you to use (you should not have to buy your own copy - thanks Dawn for reminding me to put this in), but I included the digital link above for when your book is not where you are.  Teachers in the know call it ELP for short.  I've still got the original copy I got when it first came out.  I highlighted and scribbled in it enough that I wanted to keep it, so when I left the school, I replaced the one in my class and kept this one.

Teaching Handwriting  -  It might be from when I was still at primary school, but it has the style of handwriting that is mandated for New Zealand.  There is a digital link to this book in my blog I linked above about Handwriting.

Junior Handwriting and Senior Handwriting from Start Right  -  I use these books because they are brilliant with teaching kids correct formation, from learning to write through printing, flicking and linking.  You can get them at your local bookstore or order from the publisher.  I explain how I use them in my Handwriting blog post up above.

Sheena Cameron's books are gold.  Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies has lots of fabulous resources that will support your guided reading programme, which makes it, along with your ELP, a companion book to planning.  Check that it is in your school first before you run out and buy it for yourself.  Use The Reading Activity Handbook along side it.

The Publishing and Display Handbook and The Writing Book are also must haves for teachers today with lots of ideas for writing lessons, displays, techniques, indicators, etc.

I also recommend the Alison Davis book Building Reading Comprehension....

....and Jill Eggleton's Lighting the Literacy Fire.

I also really love Gail Loane and Sally Muir's book I've Got Something to Say:

I also recommend these books for supporting word family work:

I picked these four resources up through the Teacher's Scholastic Book Club - it's a cost effective way of getting great teaching resources.

Definitely make sure that you have all the pinkish Numeracy Project books in your class to have at hand for planning and teaching - at worst you can download the PDFs at NZ Maths (link is below in my essential website list).  Ensure that your classroom has been kitted out by the school with the full box of resources for teaching the Numeracy Project.  Check out the NZ Teachers page or Weebly for heaps of really awesome maths resources.

NEW:  I've just published a new post on Maths Tumble.  Check it out and take what works for you from that.

Here are some essential websites that I use regularly when planning my maths time:
I've also collected a number of my own books over the years.  The Teacher's Bookclub has provided a lot, but also watch out for books at $2 Shops for the younger kids or the struggling older kids.
A few more helpful websites and blog posts and ramblings
  • UPDATE:  I've become a big fan of Rosie over at the Green Grubs Garden Club blog and resource page.  If you want a really awesome source of great Kiwi resources, especially for Maori kupu, and typical NZ topics like Waitangi Day, Anzac Day and Matariki... this is a great place to go.
You will never be able to walk through a $2 Shop, bookshop, the Warehouse or a supermarket without wanting to buy the shop out.  Resist everything except what you truly need.  Set yourself a limit each pay period if you feel you must indulge.  Keep receipts for anything you can get reimbursed for and fill out that paper work and hand it in.

However, a number of $2 Shops now have magnetic te reo Maori resources that are worth getting.  I get my map posters and the like from $2 Shops and a lot of crafty stuff like pom poms, feathers, googly eyes, and the like.  They are also fabulous for stickers and stamps.

David's Emporium in Hamilton is a great place to get resources too.  Someone pointed out that they got 25m of velcro for $40 which is way more cost effective than $27 for 10m at Warehouse Stationery!  And there are so many other useful things in an emporium too!

Get sauce bottles with wide necks to use as glue bottles for PVA.  The wide necks make it easier to fill up the bottles with PVA when you are time poor with 50,000 kids wanting your attention at once.  With the narrow nozzle it allows the glue to be easily manipulated.  Use a folded out paper clip to unblock it, but teach the kids to put the bottle upright and give it a wee squeeze after use to make a bubble blow out and keep the bottle tip unblocked.

NEVER EVER use a paint brush in PVA.  You'll never have any paint brushes for painting if you let the kids use paint brushes in PVA.  They will all end up with the bristles glued together.  Have dishwashing liquid in the class and use warm water to wash brushes regularly.  That would be a good monitor job.

Teach your kids to glue in, either with PVA or a glue stick, by going around the outside edge and then doing a diagonal cross from corner to corner as a quick and efficient method of gluing that will minimise the risk of the work falling out.

When it comes to hot glue guns, I prefer to purchase the smaller ones.  I find the big ones hard to use, so imagine how tricky they are for children!!  But I always supervise the use of the glue gun.  I burn myself all the time after all.  Make it a rule that when it is not in use that it is unplugged and if it's not needed at all that it is put safely away from sticky little fingers.

I personally prefer A4 sized books for my classwork.  It means we usually only have to trim two sides of an A4 paper before gluing in worksheets.  Teaching skills like this are essential at the beginning of the year to getting tidy books and preventing loss of work. 

I also teach the kids to cut using scissors by holding the big side of the paper and then cut off the little side and then rotate the paper.  I can't stand seeing kids turning their arms in Twister fashion to cut something out and then seeing them cut off a part that was essential!  (I know!!  I'm a control freak!!).  Teach the children to hold the blade of the scissors rather than the handle when moving around the classroom for safety.

Teach kids to only use felts for outlining and colouring small titles, so the felts last a long time.  Have a lot of colouring pencils and Jovis for doing the colouring in with.  Choose sharpeners that have containers to catch shavings.  You don't want shavings all over the floor.  I make the kids pick them all up with they do that.

I usually have trays for each table group with the felts, colouring pencils and Jovis they need in there.  I wrap different coloured insulation tape (see below) around each pencil and pen so that if someone finds a random pencil on the floor, they can put it straight back in the right tray.  You can get the tape at the Warehouse usually and sometimes at $2 Shops.  Occasionally I've had to go to Mitre 10.  It means that every group will have equitable access to equipment and then one group can not hog everything.  I also make sure I have a PVA glue bottle and sellotape holder for each group.  It helps with time management when we are all gluing or taping something in our books at the same time.  I also have enough staplers per group for the same reason.  Students usually have their own glue sticks.

Personally, I believe bookwork should be done in pen, and that pencil is for maths, drawing and drafting.  I really can not be bothered with the "My pencil is broken" chant which is why I prefer pens, but you need to abide by the school expectations if they have them.  I also can't stand bendy rulers.  Within a month you can't rule a straight line with them.  I encourage parents to buy rulers with cm and mm on them rather than inches to save the confusion when learning measurement.
Teacher Wellbeing
Remember to take time out to enjoy your family and friends.  Don't be a hero and keep going without asking for help - you'll burn yourself out and be no good to anyone.  Ask lots of questions of your colleagues, be aware of deadlines and plan for them (ironic of me to say!), and check in with those in the know to make sure you are on the right track. Make sure that at least once a week (minimum) you go home with no extra work at 4:00pm and have some "Me Time".  Eat sensibly, exercise.  Try to keep a store of healthy snacks at school and eat breakfast every day.  Eat your veges! 

New to this blog:  Read this article, Advice to grad teachers: 'I made one big mistake you should avoid.'  It is written by Tegan Morgan, a young Australian teacher who burnt herself out before she even got through her first year of teaching.  Don't repeat her mistake.

Start taking vitamins and immune boosters early on, because you will get every bug going during your first year - so also keep a healthy supply of Panadol, cold & flu medicine, cough mixture, throat lozenges and tissues at home.  If you get sick, stay home and get better faster - don't give it to your colleagues or students.  If it persists, go to the doctor - save some money for going to the doctors, because you will need to go more often than ever before.  Most classes are fitted with soap for hand washing - do it regularly, particularly before eating and if the school doesn't provide it, get yourself some of that gel that disinfects your hands.  Teach the kids how to sneeze and cough into their elbows to stop them spreading germs from their hands around the class.

It would pay to put together a reliever's kit with a class roll, time table, outline of routines and a few go to ideas for a reliever so they don't obliterate your plans you have going on with the students.  Thankfully, in these days of email, you can always email a plan into your principal or senior leader to give to the reliever if you are as much of a control freak as I am as a classroom teacher.  But, speaking as a reliever currently, we are paid the big bucks to step in at the last moment and if we are worth our big bucks we should be able to whip up a great day of learning without bothering you on your sick bed.

It would pay to be familiar with the life of a reliever, so check out my recent post Tips for Relievers.  This is a NEW ADD to this blog.

Being Organised for the Term:
At the beginning of every term, during the term break, photocopy everything you know you will use during the term with the students, organise it into the groups and which week and store it in folders or wallets ready to go.  I can not stress how much time this saves me during the term knowing that my handwriting or poetry or homework is ready to roll.

Homework is going to be a huge bugbear during your teaching career.  You will never have all the parents happy at the same time, so KISS - Keep It Simply Simple.  But for some inspiration, here is my post on homework: Homework - the eternal can of worms for teachers, students and families: "To give or not to give?  That is the question!"

Take the time to set the routines for sitting on the mat, lining up, moving around the school, getting equipment and activities out and putting them away, setting up art activities and cleaning up, listening to instructions, pack up at the end of the day, coming in after breaks, how you listen to stories, class discussions, group work, guided teaching sessions, how to do literacy and numeracy activities independently.... you name it, be thorough.  It will pay off in the long run if you take that time and you are consistent with enforcing the routines.  If you are coming in part way through the year, you may need to adopt some of the previous teacher's routines, but the students need to fit with how you teach, they need to learn to adapt.

You will always need more blutack, Velcro dots, sellotape and glue sticks than you are given.  Make the admin staff in charge of this stuff in your group of closest friends as soon as possible.  Learn what you can get on your classroom budget as much as possible and guard it from small sticky fingers jealously.  You will spend a lot of your own money.  But try very hard to resist this for the basics that schools should provide.  And if you do, supply the receipts to the school so they see how much you are subsidising them.

Get to know the caretaking staff and the cleaners well.  Please respect your cleaners by getting the kids to tidy up properly.  The caretaking staff always know where extra furniture is and can often work miracles with existing furniture.  Make sure the kids respect the furniture.

Make sure you know the routines for when kids feel sick, especially a child who feels like they are going to vomit.  One school I was at had the sacred sick bowl and if someone felt ill, a child was sent down to the sick bay to get it and the ill child sat with the bowl in class until they went home or they felt the time had passed.  Find out who is responsible for cleaning up any vomit.  Some schools have specific staff to do that, and in others (usually a small school) it will be you, so you need to know where to get the stuff to clean it up with.

Most importantly, take the time to learn about your students.  You will only learn so much from their portfolio.  You need to take the time to talk to your students before and after school, during duty, at random times like during a running record.... talk to their mums and dads or significant caregivers who are full of very important tid bits about their child.  Talk to the teachers who had the students before you - they have a lot of important tid bits too.

Don't forget to share who you are with the children.  Think about what is appropriate before sharing with the students.  But I've found that the kids love to hear about my pets or funny stories from when I was a kid.  They love knowing what I did in the holidays (within reason).  Share those experiences that demonstrate that you are a learner and that life is a teacher too.  (This part is a late addition due to feedback - thanks Marama).

And remember to laugh and have fun.  You can cry too - certain Anzac Day books always bring me to tears when I read them to the class.  Sing to them during spelling tests, put on a crazy voice during marking sessions, dress up for house events or for a special day (one time I dressed for Melbourne Cup Day and we made fascinators and ties).  Every now and again do something nice for the kids for a treat, like letting them choose the sport for the afternoon, or having a bring a boardgame day, or popcorn and a DVD.  Learn to love the children in your class.  Even the most interesting child will have something special about them that you can cherish.  

Do something nice for your fellow staff members too every now and again.  A morning tea shout, a sneaky bite sized chocolate bar with a message attached, offering to do a duty or take their class into yours for a shared story or some singing... these things are always appreciated.

This applies to beginning teachers, teachers who are returning to the profession after a break in service and those whose fixed term positions were short so their holiday pay will not carry you through until the 27 January:  YOU SHOULD BE PAID TO ATTEND ANY TEACHER ONLY DAYS AND MEETINGS PRIOR TO 28th JANUARY.  It says so in the Primary Teacher Collective Agreement.  Make sure you and your principal are on the same page on this because it is in the Collective.

Good Luck and Best Wishes
As I think of more things, I will update this post, and if you have any further suggestions, please put them in the comments.  This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the things I have found useful each and every time I set up my class.

Best wishes to you as you begin in the journey of being a teaching professional.

I did wrestle with including the links to Sparklebox in this post.  Most people are aware that the founder of the site was a teacher and was arrested, convicted and jailed for having child pornography on his computer and all that entails.  I believe the founder has changed his first name and remains a director of Sparklebox from what I have gleaned.

But I did include the links because most Beginning Teachers are financially poor, setting up their classrooms weeks in advance of being paid.  Sparklebox has free resources, resources that were created by a teacher for teachers.

So I believe it is a personal choice as to whether or not you choose to use the resources.  Personally, I have.  I just tend to cut the Sparklebox logo off what I can before laminating.  It makes it fit into the pouch better and stick together (pro tip there).


  1. Absolutely brilliant list, this should be distributed to all PRTs and all other teachers too. Thanks heaps for your brilliant blogging.

  2. Wow Mel what an absolutely comprehensive list of information for those starting out in teaching as well as those like me who have been around forever!

  3. Thanks Mel, I have recommended your blog to five of my beginning teachers. I know they will find it very useful. Nga mihi nui kia koe Mel :) - Donna N

  4. Love your ideas and suggestions. Thx. My only problem is there is a expectation in education that teachers pay for all of this. It almost seems expected. This really annoys me.

    1. I know!! I've spent thousands of dollars over the years and anyone who knows me knows I have more boxes of stuff than will fit in my car and on a trailer! The advantage of buying and making most of this stuff is that it goes with you when you move on. Some schools have very good classroom budgets for you to take advantage of, but it then belongs to the school.

  5. Who would have thought teaching would be such long hours! Thank you for this. Very helpful, as well as informative!

  6. Just finished my first term in a y3 classroom and now setting up for y2/3 MLE from term 2 this is extremely helpful - thank you!

  7. Thanks very much for your extremely helpful advice and guidance - your common sense tips are awesome and as a beginning teacher starting my first teaching position in two weeks this blog has given me plenty of ideas to start setting up my classroom.

  8. What an amazing resource. Thanks for your generosity in sharing this - I'm sure it will make many a PRT's life much easier!

  9. WOW! A great resource-thank you for sharing.

  10. Wow this list is truly amazing. You have so many things that I use too. I have shared your link with two beginning teachers I know. Those $2 shops are the best!

  11. Fantastic resource with so much all in one place. Thanks.

  12. This is one of the best things I have read for new teachers (and some oldies too)... full of practical tips that we learn over time.

  13. Oh my goodness!! You are amazing �� As a BT starting my first job next year this post has eased my anxiety majorly and saved me a lot of time. Thank you so much! I will be looking at this regularly over summer ☺️

  14. Anja van Niekerk8 February 2017 at 18:02

    Thank you so much for this blog post! I am heading into my last year at university and will hopefully get a full time teaching job next year if i'm lucky so this will be soooo helpful for me when I go to set up my class next year! :) :) :)

  15. Hiya, I have begun reading this and have loved some of your great ideas. Just a random feedback comment, I find the colors (especially the orange) really difficult to read :( not sure if the same for other, so I am going to have to finish reading later.

    1. Hi. Thanks for your comment. I used to have the writing all white on black, but changed that. As the themes and colours improve I hope to improve the look of my blog. This may be a Summer holiday activity!!

  16. Thank you so much for this absolute wealth of information!

  17. I absolutely love your explanation of how you use modelling books for reading. I'll be in my third year of teaching this year and really want to use modelling books well. I have tried using them but they just didn't seem to have a specific purpose in my lessons. Will definitely be following your style.

    1. I think modelling books are an individual thing. It is part of my planning process as well as my teaching and assessment. You will find a way to make them work for you.

  18. Great list of teaching resources. By the way, purchasing teaching related resources (even things like sunblock) is tax deductible. Just keep all your receipts.

    1. Really? Because I've never been advised that what we buy as teachers is tax deductible. However, I am encouraging my local Labour List MP Jamie Strange (as a teacher himself) to make a Private Members Bill on something like this.

    2. Apologies - I am a teacher in Australia and just assumed it was applicable in NZ.

    3. Believe me when I say this is one thing Australian teachers have that Kiwi teachers are extremely jealous of. :-)

  19. Great blog post. I also recommend teachers pet. for display resources!

  20. Kia ora mo tena, I have shared this to our Te Rangakura Tautoru page. We will all be beginning teachers next year...exciting!!

  21. Great information to say the least. I really do appreciate everything so much from this great website.

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