Back to School Essentials for the A-minus Teacher

Approximate reading time:5 minutes

Back to school season is in full swing and for arguably the first time since I was five, I am not participating as a student or a teacher. Part of my brain still thinks it’s June, of course. Artificial divisions of time seem to blur when you become a mom, and each day is paradoxically the same and totally different from the one before. Fire Monkey might nap 4 times today and then NO NAPS TOMORROW MOMMY HEEHEEHEE. Nights and weekends cease to be meaningful “time off” and so sometimes it only occurs to me what time or day it is because it’s dark outside or suddenly today everyone can do things again. But I digress.

The thing I miss most One thing I miss about back to school is the school supplies. (Obviously, I miss shaping young minds the most, yep.) Honestly, I think teachers enter the profession at least partly because they are addicted to new-textbook smell, the whir of the laminator, and the simple beauty of unsullied folders. I always love coming up with brilliant new organization schemes that last approximately two weeks before devolving into well-meaning chaos. (Subtitle of my memoir right there.)

Instead of trumpeting my color-coded art supplies or neatly labeled lab shelves (which I definitely have in my classroom, sure) I am going to share a few unexpected items that made a world of difference last year when I was pregnant and a lunatic.

Date Stamp: God love whoever posted this suggestion online for me to stumble upon last summer because the date stamp saved my sanity last year. (So much so that I went out and bought another one when I left mine at school over a long weekend and had a pile of notebooks to grade.) Everything that came in to be graded got a date stamp so that there would be no quibbles over who turned in what when where why or how. And this wasn’t just to keep kids from trying to pull a fast one on me; when I forgot to write a grade down in my gradebook (as started to happen with increasing frequency during third trimester), a student could show me the date stamp as irrefutable proof that I was insane and they had done their homework. By the end of the year the kids were thoroughly conditioned to seek the stamp. Somewhat surprisingly no one tried to forge a stamp, which wouldn’t have been that hard considering I used the most generic blue ink possible. If you’re concerned about forgeries (or if you just want to treat yourself), splurge on fancy metallic ink or a super-fancy custom stamp.

Daily Agenda: I’ve already written an extensive paean to the Passion Planner but I’m going to make the case again that weekly lesson plans are not quite enough if you really want to be organized in the classroom. Once I started planning exactly what I was going to do during my 102 minutes of student-free time every day, my productivity and efficiency skyrocketed improved. (Nothing skyrocketed during my pregnancy except for crankiness.) Whether you have a whole planner for this purpose or you add Post-it notes to your lesson planner, write down and check off exactly what you need to accomplish during planning time. I still use mine at home now because there are some days I need it just to make sure the diapers get put away and my family doesn’t starve to death.

Pre-printed Passes: I definitely stole this idea from a coworker but he doesn’t blog so I’m taking all the credit when this hits Pinterest by storm. (Hah.) Our school requires students to have a pass to see a teacher during study hall or lunch, or if they’re going to learning lab or the testing center for help during class. Rather than write out the same information over and over, I ordered handy-dandy printed notepads from Vistaprint. Check a couple boxes, scrawl a signature (I got so lazy that my signature literally became J-indeterminatesquiggle), tear off and move on. Genius.


I also ordered business card bathroom passes, which I then date-stamp upon use and [meant to] collect at the end of the quarter. (My classroom management strategy last year basically revolved around the date stamp.) You can totally print and copy these sorts of things at school (especially if you have a copy center service or student aides to help) but Vistaprint or Kinko’s will cut everything nicely for you and print color more cheaply than the school copier. I also just needed some things to be pretty and easy. (But don’t be like that if you’re a person.)

IPEVO Point2View USB Document Camera: Most document cameras are hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, but IPEVO makes a great one under $60. That’s still not a small amount of change but I take the tax write-off and chalk it up as the price I pay to educate your children. (Smiles, everyone!) I was never a huge fan of delivering notes by Powerpoint (though I do it, of course) because somehow something switches off in students’ brains when viewing a typed presentation, even when the notes fly in line by line. I do a lot of diagram coloring and labeling in biology (because describing a cell membrane just ain’t gonna cut it) and the document camera was super helpful in the absence of a SMART Board. I parked my notebook under the camera and colored and labeled along with them, which I think was a more interactive experience than just running Powerpoint slides. I also do foldables and being able to project a demonstration of the cuts and folds made me a lot less crazy than trying to run around to each table individually.


Page Protectors: I must have developed a penchant for these in grad school when our program manager insisted we shell out for the expensive, heavy-duty side-loading kind for the teaching portfolios we never used again proudly display in our classrooms EVERY DAY. The economy top-loaders are fine but make sure you get the kind with the smooth surface, not the pebbly kind. Why? Because if you aren’t lucky enough to own a desktop laminator (best Christmas gift ever, dad!) or you just don’t want to spend the money on laminating supplies and paper, page protectors are your new best friend. Print off a class set of practice worksheets or lab instructions and slide them into page protectors. Dole out some skinny dry erase markers (which all teachers love) and let the learning begin! (Just kidding. Always give clear directions 14 times before starting any learning activity.) I made a permanently laminated set of blank Bingo boards for vocabulary practice but for unit-specific review materials, the page protector method was perfect. Because let’s not kid ourselves…if I’d printed off a review sheet for every kid to take home, no less than 80% would wind up in the trash by the end of the day. This lets me print just 30 copies instead of 150, and I can always make a few more for kids who ask for their own copy.

Those are my unexpected classroom supply hacks. One of these days I’ll do a post on interactive notebooking featuring even more of the paper products that make us all so happy. Today is not that day. For all those who are going back to school, have a great school year!

A-minus Mama

This post contains affiliate links to items I personally found useful. I have not been compensated by the manufacturers for purchasing or promoting any of these products.



  1. I love my passion planner. And I think it’s such a smart idea to have pre-printed hall passes, that’s got to make life so much easier. I remember the first school year after I had Jada, it was weird not going back to teaching, but it didn’t take me long to get adjusted to having to leave my apartment so early in the morning.

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