Although we are still sweating out the last few days of July, August will soon be upon us and I’m already having my annual nightmares about the first day of school. You know, the ones where you wake up an hour late and can’t get to the school because of traffic, and when you finally arrive, half of the class has disappeared and parents are calling wondering where their children are. Those kinds of dreams. My night terrors have returned early this year.

My first year of teaching I was a nervous wreck. I kept wondering if was I prepared enough, what had I forgotten? Fortunately there were six other veteran teachers on our grade level who helped guide me through that first tumultuous year and gave me ideas about what would be most useful in the classroom. Over the years I’ve added things to my class inventory (legal in all 50 states) to make emergencies a little less traumatic and saved me trips to the office and custodians room to “borrow” things. I’ve decided to share a few of the items I use regularly in the classroom that might help if you’re an elementary educator.

I have my own set of tools that I use instead of constantly having to borrow stuff from the custodian. A hammer, assorted pliers, roll of wire, tape measure, hex wrenches for adjusting desk heights, duct tape and a set of small precision screwdrivers. I can’t count the number of times I’ve made repairs and tightened those tiny screws on pairs of glasses.

I keep a pair of tweezers and fingernail clippers in my drawer for splinter removal, clipping hangnails and those little flaps of skin from blacktop crashes during recess. I also order a half dozen tins of “bacon” band aids to put on wounds (visible or not) and tell the kids about the amazing healing power of bacon when I issue them. They know that I only use them for special occasions; it’s just another ploy to keep their minds off their owies and get them back in the game quicker instead of sending them to the office.

I have a complete change of clothes for myself as well as long and short sleeved T-shirts in my coat closet. When kids have an “accident,” it’s nice to have something immediately available for them to either slip on or wrap around themselves until Mom or Dad can drop off a change of clothes. I’ve also had my own wardrobe malfunctions that can’t wait until I get home — like ripping out the seat out of my pants or a defective zipper.

I have an industrial-sized electric pencil sharpener that will grind and sharpen small trees if they’d fit. I spend the extra money to get one that works well and will quit sharpening when the pencil is sharp rather than the hand crank ones that will continue to grind pencils until they become 2-centimeter long nibcicles.

I always have a package of snack-sized ziplock bags in the cupboard back by the sink so when kids come up to me at random times during the day and show me a tooth (or two) in the palm of their hand, they can go get a baggie to secure their Tooth Fairy investments in.

Every summer I make each of my upcoming students a wooden pencil holder that holds their pencils, a get them each a highlighter or Sharpie marker and a small U.S. flag. These serve a few different purposes: It gives them somewhere to store writing supplies that are readily available instead of digging through their desks to find some, and if they need to use the restroom, they simply take their flag out of their block and hold it thus, letting me know they need to be excused, and with a nod of my head they can excuse themselves without having to raise their hands to ask. Then I can go right on teaching without skipping a beat. Of course, if I’m busy at my desk and hear urgent flag flapping, I know the situation has reached DEFCON 4 and requires attention.

I like to keep a week’s worth of pre-made lesson plans for a substitute where they are easily accessible. You never know when an emergency is going to happen and you are unable to get to school to plan for a sub. Unfortunately, life isn’t very predicable, and planning ahead will make things easier for everyone at school in your absence.

Years ago a student gave me a rubber stamp that has “From the desk of Mr. Hawkes” engraved on it. I use this frequently during the school year to let parents and students know that the documents are from me, even though it may seem kind of impersonal, like the signatures on all the correspondences (if you’re so lucky) from our politicians in Washington, D.C., and persistent loan recovery folks.

Most of all, I’ve found that coming back to school with a good sense of humor will negate many of those tough days in the classroom. Laughing with your students and sometimes at yourself are surefire ways to help make your school year a pleasant one and will get you ready for the days that are sure to come when you hear, “Why are you your socks different colors?” Heavy sigh.

So let the games begin!

Chad Hawkes is a fifth-grade teacher at North Park Elementary School. He can be reached by email at