Each year as the new school year approaches, teachers and librarians look for ideas they can use to inspire their students—and psych themselves up—for the term ahead. We asked some educators to tell us about back-to-school items they purchase each year and why they love them.

Anne Mlod

School librarian

Genesee Elementary School

Auburn, N.Y.

My favorite items to bring back to school are things I’ve acquired while traveling over the summer. Last year, I went to the Philippines as a fellow in the Teachers for Global Classrooms program and brought back a replica of a Jeepney [a Filipino bus], volcanic rock from the Mayon Volcano, and a coconut husk mat. This past summer I traveled to Morocco for a global education conference and brought back a fossil that is more than 380 million years old, a Marrakechi shirt, Islamic prayer cap and beads, and a Moroccan puzzle box made from thuya wood. I love starting the school year with a display of these things because it gets my students excited to learn about other parts of the world.

Jonathan R. Werner

Library and instructional technology specialist Cape Elizabeth Schools Library and Learning Commons

Cape Elizabeth, Me.

Each budget season, I choose a piece of fixed furniture in our Library and Learning Commons and replace it with a mobile one. A heavy table and chairs gets swapped out for a lightweight set. A large fixed bookshelf is exchanged for two shorter ones on casters. The result: an increasingly flexible range of options for configuring our learning space, and therefore greater—and more diverse–utilization of our space.

Margie Jones, MLS

Media specialist

South Street School

Danbury, Ct.

I purchase Hefty Slider 2.5-gallon jumbo storage bags for all of my kindergarten, first grade, and second grade students to use as their library book bags, because they help protect our library books and maintain our collection.

Lisa Hunt LMS, NBCT

Media specialist

Apple Creek Elementary

Moore, Okla.

Years ago I invested in Judy Freeman’s Books Kids Will Sit Still For, Vol. 3. It was worth the money. It’s still in print, and I pull it out each year when school begins to refresh and rejuvenate my thoughts on children’s literature in practice. It always reminds me of the great practices that work, and I find something new to try each year. Also, at my school students are eagerly awaiting the next books out from Rick Riordan, Richard Evans, and Jeff Kinney. I always make sure I am on the earliest lists to receive these books from Amazon and my regular library vendors. Additionally, I make sure I review my blog choices. Each year I seek new blogs to follow and evaluate how well previous choices still serve me. My time is precious and I want a short list of the best. This year I have added Mrs. Reader Pants to my blog list.

Josie Perry, NBCT

Social studies teacher

Rising Sun High School

North East, Md.

I teach in a rural district in Maryland and many of my students don’t have the opportunity to travel internationally, so I love to pick up things from my travels to decorate my classroom. I have a bag made from banana leaves from the Philippines, Kit-Kats from Japan, Gaudi-style elephants from Spain, papel picado from Mexico, soda bottles from Britain and France, etc. The items I collect are often the source of great conversations with my students and are used to introduce a range of topics from globalization to development.

Amy Marquez


Marcia Garza Elementary School

Alamo, Tex.

Every year for back to school, I always like to buy an outfit I feel really confident in. That way, as I get dressed to start the day I feel great and my focus at work is getting the students excited about reading. Each school year, I buy myself the nicest sweater I can find. I love the coziness of wearing a sweater around campus. I like for work to be cozy; it is my home away from home. I also usually purchase items for organization or motivational items for my desk. I enjoy having an organized space—it makes work more productive and helps me think clearly.

Mary Gaeta


Our Lady of the Assumption

Lynnfield, Mass.

I purchase a yearly subscription to Quia [Quintessential Instructional Archive, a tool that helps teachers create customized online content and activities for their students]. I use is to assess what students know. I also use it to teach the Dewey Decimal system in a fun way. The students play the game Rags to Riches and they are having so much fun they don’t even realize they are learning the categories.

Elissa Malespina

Teacher librarian, ISTE Librarians

Network president

Somerville Public Schools

Somerville, N.J.

Each year I try to add more flexible seating to my library so the students have a comfortable place to read and relax. So I continue to purchase Big Joe bean bag chairs for my library. They are inexpensive and the kids love them. I also restock on duct tape and Perler beads, which the students love to use in our maker spaces.