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How to Set Up Your Classroom Without Breaking the Bank

Back to school classroom set-up tips from Teach For America alumni and corps members

Teach For America How To Set Up Your Classroom

By Jesse Ratner

August 15, 2019

All over the country, new corps members are entering the classroom as teachers for the very first time. If that includes you, we’re thrilled to see how you’ll bring your unique leadership skills to the work. We know you’ll bring everything you can—your whole self. 

But no one has unlimited resources. In fact, most of us are on a budget. 

As you go into the first days and weeks of the school year, you might be wondering what effective, inexpensive resources can you leverage right away. To help, we asked a few experienced teachers—corps members and alums—for tips on how to set up your classroom without breaking the bank. 

What you’ll discover is the answers are as varied and visionary as the many incredible leaders you now join in our mission for redefining the future. 

Chloe Lopez | Coupons, Donations, and More

Chloe (Phoenix ‘18) teaches 4th grade at Maryvale Preparatory Academy, a K-12 college prep school in Phoenix.

  • Coupons! TFA publishes a great discount resource for teachers every year and that is so helpful.

  • Reach out to neighboring stakeholders. A lot of companies donate items: My local Chipotle offered to donate burritos for my cross-country team.

  • Reach out to the library for free or super-cheap books. I received 300 chapter books that were relevant and interesting from the Phoenix public library!

  • Don’t be afraid to put a wish list for things like markers in the class newsletter. (On occasion, I would get a pack of three Expo markers, and I was so thankful.)

  • Save all salvageable resources. For instance, borders become printable name tags next year.

  • Goodwill and Dollar stores have some hidden-gem teacher supplies.

  • Borrow from other teachers or share the expense. For instance, the 1st grade is learning about magnets? Ask to borrow for your unit! Another class is having a snack party? Ask to have a joint, shared party to split the cost.

Sarah Scheter | Partnering with Friends 

Sarah (Los Angeles ‘18) teaches 8th grade math at Alliance Richard Merkin Middle School in Los Angeles’ Pico-Union district. 

When I first started, I really relied on the friends I made at institute. One of them is also an eighth-grade math teacher at another Alliance school. We're lucky that we get to collaborate across our charter network. 

So I'll call her and say, "When you taught this, how did you do it? What would you do differently having now taught it?"

A lot of times, she'd send me the worksheet she made for a related lesson, and we'd share with each other that way. Even if we weren’t lesson planning together, being able to talk something out and then snag a worksheet or two really saved a lot of time.

Samantha Sidoti | Focusing on Your Passion

Samantha (Phoenix ‘15) is currently teaching 5th grade at Maryvale Preparatory Academy, which is where she began her teaching career as a TFA corps member.

The best thing you can do for your students is to find a passion for the content you're teaching, and then get creative. You will always find ways to supplement your materials or your curriculum with things that are fun, like themes or activities that don't require a lot of setup or extra material.

I love Teachers Pay Teachers. I find a lot of really great free or very inexpensive resources there. I would say most of the math games, I've gotten from Teachers Pay Teachers. 

I love Khan Academy as well. I use it a lot for my students who need some remedial help with math, and I use it to improve my own understanding. If I was struggling with a concept, and I needed to teach myself the content for the first time. Khan Academy was really helpful.

Anthony Zarate | Being Yourself

Anthony (Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana ’13) taught 5th and 6th grade English in Chicago.

I think the easiest free thing you can do as a teacher that can transform your classroom is just being your genuine self.

I know that sounds pretty simple, but I think kids will see the technology, they'll see all the things that doesn't happen in your classroom. I think the thing that makes the most impact is when they can see that the teacher is genuinely acting or being themselves in the classroom, whether that's bringing in the interests you have outside of school into the classroom or just connecting with them about shared interests. I think the more you do that, the more you can transform your classroom.

Seeking more great ideas 

Do you have ideas for how to set up the classroom without breaking the bank? We want to hear from you at

Planning Their First Classroom

We caught up with some incoming Teach For America corps members during their summer training institute and asked: What do you want your classroom to look like? Here is what these new teachers said about setting up their first classrooms.