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Free stuff


According to the August 22-29, 2007 poll taken on Teacher Magazine, more than 65% of the 155 educators voluntarily polled said they spent $250 or more on classroom supplies in a year. I remember the first time in my life while in college I realized teachers had to spend their own money for supplies for their students. And that they would spend a lot of it. I was dumbfounded, angered and thought this must be an anomaly and surely they must get tax breaks like my small-business owning parents.

And then, two years after my initial discovery, I became a teacher and traded my chronic shoe-buying habit for an equally pricey storybook-worksheet-flashcard-buying habit. I also realized during that time that the generous tax break was $200 a year. I was lucky that my school was part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and had a warehouse of basic classroom supplies available. The $800 I spent my first year could have and should have been far more like many other educators. Like everyone else, I wanted and needed specific books for my students-- not the sun-bleached, dog-eared paperbacks that were published before even I was born that revolved around the titillating adventures of Joe and his dog, Buff.

Anyway, the point is, teaching is costly and it doesn't pay too much. And when your weekends are spent catching up on grading, cooking dinner for the whole week and finally getting some sleep, you probably don't have too much time to troll for freebies online. So here is a quick start of a list of freebies out there-- If you have a way to get discounts or free supplies that wasn't listed below, please add them as a comment!

A list of links to free DVDs, science posters, and lots more. Definitely check this out.

Free Clorox Multimedia Kit AND a free canister of those handy disinfecting wipes!

Barnes and Noble's 20% discount for books in the classroom increases to 25% for a week four times a year. It's not available online, so use at the store. Borders and other major bookstores also have discounts. Make sure you bring your teacher ID or pay stub when you apply for the discount card.

Office-supply stories like Staples and OfficeMax have reward programs for teachers.

Free pair of Drillmasters' marching band shoes for directors of marching bands.

Starfall was one of my favorite free phonics sites as a new teacher. It's interactive, has low-level, non-fiction stories, and a number of useful activities.

And because our lives can't revolve only around the classroom, here are more ways to get free stuff in your personal life, such as free 411 information access, free books and free samples.

Revised 10/9/2007:

Also check out TLN's Teaching Secrets... all the secrets divulged are delicious, but scroll halfway down to read tips on "scavenger hunting" for your classroom! Thanks John!

For quick tips and cheap ideas on fostering organization skills in middle schoolers, read TLN's latest piece.


Thanks for the information on Frre stuff. I signed up for the chlorox kit!

I came across this awesome poster free for your classroom: http://www.oilposter.org/
. It graphically shows the development of oil, our dependency, and how much we have left. It's a great graphic to convey the concept to students. Well done, and FREE!

www.rainforestmaths.com is the math equivalent of Starfall. It covers all the math concepts students need to know from Pre-K on up. The students love the interactive format that teaches and practices concepts in multiple ways-- they can choose a method that makes sense to them. The only draw back is it's an Australian site, so money only works for Aussies.

http://www.leoadventures.com is a place for teachers and other U.S. public service employees from the Special Ops guy to the 7th grade teacher(anyone who works for the U.S. government)to get great deals on things you want but think, "there's no way I can afford that." We created this program so that you can offset some of the out of pockets costs that teachers spend...and have fun along the way. This is about companies who want to thank you for what you do to serve our communities. Kelty, ExOfficio, Isis for Women, Larabar, Mountainsmith, Brooks Running, etc., etc. over 40 companies offer their products at Professional Courtesy Pricing through LeoAdventures.

One of the Office depot stores in my area puts items on clearance at unbelieveable low prices. Example: Visa-a-V transparency markers 4 pack for $1. This is usually dependent on the store manager (who by the way gave free goodies for a begining of the year meeting)so keep your eyes open at all stores for a clearance area.

Also, at the beginning of each year both Office Depot and Staples does a Teacher Apprecietion Day with Breakfast, free items, bigger discounts,and door prizes. It is usually the weekend before schools start in the area.

In the "Teaching Secrets" series for Teacher Magazine, members of the Teacher Leaders Network shared lots of tips and ideas for novice professionals. We couldn't get them all in, so we posted some "delicious leftovers" on our own TLN Teacher Voices blog. The leftovers include a great set of comments about "scrounging" for classroom materials that fit right into this discussion! See:


John Norton
TLN editor

That $200 (I think it is really $250) tax deduction is a joke. Depending on the kind of class you have and how your system distributes its money, (notice how I phrased that. Schools have money to spend on what they want to spend it on!) you could spend closer to $1000, especially the first year you have a class. When Katrina hit school had been in session for 3 weeks. I had spent $250 out of my last summer check on things for my kids already. Payday was on Friday. Katrina hit the previous Monday. I was leaving New Orleans with $10 and a tank of gas because of all the things I had needed to start school. I was blessed when my neighbor pressed a $100 bill into my hand as I said goodbye for what I thought would be 3 days. I lived in St Bernard Parish. You know what happened. 8 Feet.

One thing you can do if your system allows it is to send a list home to parents asking for supplies like papertowels, hand sanitizer, air freshener and Kleenex. Send it the last week of the month and your stuff should come between the 1sr and 5th. This is especially true at schools in poor areas because that is when the SSI, SSDI and Welfare checks come. Don't pressure your families or children. If it is a choice between a box of Kleenex and a pack of hot dogs, they should get the hot dogs. You will learn a lot about your families when you ask for things, however. Some very middle class parents never send anything. Some very poor parents send every thing. They just have to spread it out a little. My poorest parent in NO sent some stuff in September and the rest in October that first year. She had 4 children and was on disability. But she gave in other ways. She was my room mother and always available for a trip or party, even though coming meant riding the school bus with her child. I had a parent in another system who was well enough off to send her other children (except the disabled one) to private school. But she never sent supplies and we had to tell her when her son needed diapers or lunch money. She also fretted about his extra clothing getting stolen so it was hard to keep an extra outfit. She also refused to send field trip money. It is not always about money. It's about attitude and middle/upper middle class parents are more likely to serve attitude as well as throwing their political connections around. Poor parents are much easier to deal with.

One thing I always ask for is towels and washcloths. I explain that they will not be given back, that they do not need to be new and that they will be used until they wear out. I don't ask for this every year if I keep the same group because they last 3-4 years. You will find that a stack of towels and washcloths one of the most valuable things you can have in your room. Take them down to the severe/profound class to be washed. Good schools have a washer and dryer as standard equipment in those classes. Most of the time bad schools do too. If your school is not blessed with a severe/profound class, take them home and wash them. It is worth it to have them, trust me.

It is also a good thing to know about "check day" when planning a field trip where the kids need lunch money or fees. Try to do your trips within a week of the 1st but not before the 3rd. Send the permission slips home the 3rd or 4th week of the month so they will budget enough for the fees.

But remember, that a special education student cannot be denied a trip because they don't bring the money. I don't know if that is true of regular kids and have heard of them being left behind crying, punished for their parents poverty or negligence. This is a growth experience. It is cruelty.

Ok, Go to Walmart while they are having the school sales. You can get 24 count crayons for 20 cents, spiral notebooks at 10 for $1.00 and glue sticks for 20 cents. Packs of markers ar 50 cents. So you can get some basic supplies for your class for about $10 for special ed or $20 for regular. Go back at the end of the sale period and there are things on the clearance aisle that are even cheaper.

Halloween, Christmas and Valentine pencils go down to 50 cents a pack after the holiday. They write just as well as regular pencils.

If you do adapted toys for severely disabled kids, go to Walmart several times after the holiday. Get the stuff you really want right after or even the day before the holiday when they go 1/2 price and the less necessary about a week later. Don't wait too long, though or that dancing Homer will be gone. (Only severe disabilities teachers are going to understand why a classroom needs a dancing HOmer so don't even try. You have enough to think about.)

Dollar General has been having some excellent clearances lately. If you are thinking about a class garden they have what you need and a lot of small toys are 75-90% off. Their soil is not any good, however. Get that at Walmart.

I got beach balls for 10 cents each today. They make good rewards and also exercise equipment along with the 50 cent jump ropes and velcro tipped darts and dartboards. If you don't need them for class, save them or put them in your Operation Christmas Child or other charity boxes. One thing great about these balls, as well as Nerf balls, is that it is almost impossible for anyone to be hurt with them. And if they break they are so cheap you can throw them away without guilt---or cut them up and use them for lids for paint.

Speaking of paint you need to collect as many baby food jars as you can. With Lids. They are valuable for counting and sorting, paint and other small storage. Find out who has a baby and contact the parents. You want these jars. 100 is a good number to have---well for regular education 500.

Your other place is Dollar Tree. I got packs of word strips for $1.00. and poster boards are 3/$1 for white and 2/$1 for colored. Watch it though. Sometimes Walmart has a better price.

Sometimes you can write a grant and fit school supplies under, say, a science or literacy grant. I mean if you are going to write you need pencils and paper don't you???? Baby teachers need to learn grant writing rapidly. Most grants are due by the end of October so get on it.

If it gets down to it, talk to your pastor about a school supply drive for your class. This can be real good if you don't live in the neighborhood where your school is located. You are likely to get a big box of stuff.

One last thing. Get several rolls of scotch tape. No matter how tempting, do not tape your students' mouths with it. YOu will get in trouble. If you have a child who knocks his worksheets off the desk, whether on purpose or becasue he is hyper or uncoordinated, a simple piece of tape will often eliminate the problem.

Duct tape is sometimes the only fastener that will stick to the wall and not be blown off by the drafty air conditioner. Go to Home Depot, not Family Dollar for this and get CONTRACTOR GRADE tape. It costs about $7.00 a roll but it will last a couple years at least. The cheaper tape does not stick. This is one area where you do not skimp. ONce again, it does not go on the students' sassy little mouths if you want to keep your job. If they can talk they will tell.

No it does not pay much and even police officers don't have to buy their own badge and gun. It is not fair. It is not right. If you school gives credit cards for supplies they will not be in the first week when you need them and there will be restrictions on what and where you can make your purchases. Other systems make you order which is totally stupid and causes you to spend a whole lot more. Administrators think we are going to take off for Tahiti with the supply money so keep your receipts. Do like I did with my community based kids. Get a change purse or cheap wallet just for your receipts and any cash you get from the school.

Go to donorschoose.org. Public school teachers in the contiguous 50 states can submit proposals for anything for their classrooms, school yards, or even for class trips. I've had libraries, microscopes, art supplies, a rug, pillows a little couch, a whiteboard and many other supplies funded through their site.

I always direct pre-service teachers to http://www.teachingtolerance.org. The organization puts out great resources for use in the classroom, including kits with DVDs, posters, workbooks, etc.
And, they are FREE to teachers, librarians, school counselors, and others who work with kids. A link directly to the resources page:

Wow, these are some incredible comments and resources to share with educators around the world.

Rhonda, thank you for sharing your incredible experience as an educator during Hurricane Katrina. We read the news, we hear the policies going through... but to read someone's very real, very personal experience is always jarring and puts our lives and work into perspective. Your suggestions for resources aren't too shabby either. =P

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