School supplies: what not to waste your money on

Now that shops have reopened, it's tempting to load up on supplies for next term. But there are some things you should think twice before buying, argues Fiona Stewart

Fiona Stewart

School supplies

The holidays have started, the shops have reopened and we’re (apparently) getting a pay rise. But, before you go out and spend your hard-earned cash on teacher “must buys”, consider this: are the usual September essentials going to be worth it this year?

Folders, wallets and pockets

Nomadic teachers, bubbles, families. While we may have a blueprint for September, who knows what that first half term will actually look like? As teachers, we’re determined to plan everything to ensure minimal disruption for students, but it’s not worth putting yourself out of pocket for a plan that might not even make it past week one. 

While having storage boxes and wallets for work might seem necessary to reduce how much things get touched, how easy will it really be to dig them out of that storage room that no one dares enter?

And if school returns to being virtual in the case of a second wave or local lockdown, you will have you shelled out for glorious-looking folders that will wind up gathering dust in a cupboard. It might be tempting to have every possibility covered, but this one is really out of our hands. 

Before breaking the bank, hold out to see what September really does look like and only then (if the department budget is bleak) purchase exactly what you need to get through this weird term.

Goodies for your own positive praise policy

The internet is awash with lovely looking ideas to reward positive behaviour. This is something I lapped up as a new teacher, designing various charts, schemes and passport projects for behaviour management before even meeting my classes. Although some of these were fun, they didn’t help learning and they probably did very little to set high expectations. 

Most children work hard to do well. Children really do rise to the bar you set. Handing out lollipops, stickers and prizes for classes might seem like an ideal way to build relationships and reward children, but it could be doing more harm than good by undermining colleagues who don’t want, or can’t afford, to bring in prizes for students. And can you honestly say that students are getting prizes for excelling, or for simply following the rules? 

A behaviour policy is a school-wide scheme that all teachers must buy into. Besides, to keep it up, you’ll be broke by Easter.  

Snazzy notebooks

Some teachers will always be content with picking up an exercise book for any notes five minutes before CPD starts. Other departments (I’m looking at you, English) go positively bananas for journals, eccentric pens and a Dulux chart’s worth of highlighters. 

But if there’s one thing that having more diaries, notebooks and pens than sense has taught me, it’s that an organiser doesn’t maketh the organised. It takes more than dotted pages and pastel highlighters to manage your workload, and much more than inspirational inserts to keep you going through November. 

Before splurging on promises of productivity, perhaps put it off until you know what exactly it is you need to streamline your workload. If accessorised stationery benefits your work-life balance, then stock the shelves! If not, consider what you actually need to stay organised and then purchase exactly that.

A slow cooker

This one does the rounds online every summer. Before my SCITT course, I almost wondered if owning one was part of the teaching standards – maybe it was nestled in Part 2 somewhere? I really thought I wouldn’t get QTS without one. Did I buy one? No. Did I starve to death? No.

If, as a new teacher, you’re struggling to feed yourself a healthy meal, then there are issues at play that a slow cooker can’t solve. I’m sure they’re a lifesaver for those with extra responsibilities at home, and if you think it will benefit you then look for a great bargain and stew your cares away. 

However, if having a slow cooker means you’ll spend your evenings, and early hours, creating lesson resources that end up in the bin, on the floor, or abandoned before they even hit the printer I’d suggest prioritising an hour in the evenings to cook a good meal and wind down before the next day. That hour really will make more difference to your health, career and your classes than a casserole ever could.

Fiona Stewart is a secondary English teacher in Kent. She tweets @OhOkLol

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