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Scrounging & Saving: The World Language Teacher Way

Bonjour! I’m Erin: guest blogger du jour! I’m a Colorado French teacher and author, and I love connecting with other world language teachers across the country. I hope you find some of my ideas below helpful, and bonne rentrée à toutes et à tous!

I grew up on garage sales, cutting coupons, and variety of other ways to make ends meet, both commonplace and wildly weird. That kind of upbringing, combined with my background in art, allows me to see objects not just as they are but more as they could be. It’s in my DNA to scrounge, save, and otherwise make my world language classroom function the best it possibly can using the least amount of money.

Here are five of my favorite classroom hacks:

1. The “Please, just help yourself” area

Do you have a Band-Aid? Can I have a rubber band? Is there a paperclip I could have for this? These are questions high school students incessantly ask that I simply don’t have the mental space to entertain. Instead, I have the “Please, just help yourself” area. My favorite hack is using Bonne Maman jelly jars in this area. Practical, cute, and definitely “on brand” in a French classroom!

In that same spot, I have a tin marked “crayons supplémentaires”. In this box goes every pen, pencil, or marker I see lying on the floor of the classroom or the hallways…and there are a lot! I never fail to pick them up. I also have repeatedly found entire gallon bags (!!!) of pens and pencils listed for free on NextDoor, the neighborhood social media platform. I have stashed away enough writing utensils to last for years!

2. Put your wallet away

I never—and I mean never—buy plastic utensils for food days in class. But we often need them. So where does it all come from? Any time I order takeout, I ask for the utensils, even though I won’t use them myself, and I immediately bring them to school. Same goes for any time I see them available for free: picnics, meetings, events… It doesn’t take long to build up enough for a class. Then after we use them, like anyone with a smidgen of “green” blood, I take the plasticware home, run it through the dishwasher, and return it to school. Squeaky clean and ready to go!

3. ALWAYS get the shoes

I am often confronted with the question, “Do I really need these?” when staring at a beautiful new pair of shoes. (I will wear heels to the grave. Thank you, French women of the world, for showing me how it’s done. And by “it” I mean “life”.) The answer, nine times out of ten, is a resounding YES! And what puts it over the edge is this thought: Well, I do need more classroom storage, and this is a really sturdy box… Shoeboxes make for excellent storage of unit manipulatives and other essentials that don’t fit neatly into a manila file folder.

4. Make the mundane more fun

I believe in learning through play, and some games require game pieces. Bingo requires cover-up pieces, and Chutes & Ladders requires objects to move. Now, we could shred pieces of paper for Bingo, and we could use random coins or found classroom objects for board games, but I find buttons to be far more fun. Most people—myself included—have a stash of buttons in their house that they often add to but never collect from. I put out an all-call through the staff email: Anybody got buttons lying around that I could use for my classroom? Within days, thousands of buttons were at my disposal to make Bingo bags (small buttons) and keep for game pieces (larger buttons).

5. Is it really junk mail?

Some projects that require photos. Specifically, I want catalogs for my clothing catalog project and home goods catalogs for another. Whenever I order clothing or home goods online, I always enter my email, even if it isn’t required. Doing so puts me on their mailing list for…eternity, it seems? I also put out all-calls both to staff and to parents asking if they have any clothing or home goods catalogs lying around and, inevitably, dozens come in. In some cases, you can even call companies and ask for a catalog to be sent in the mail.

With the start of school looming, get those parent and staff emails ready, and create a NextDoor account. If there’s something you need for your classroom, put it out there—someone has it! Not only that, they’ve been looking for someone to dump it on! Enter: teachers everywhere.

Guest blogger Erin E.H. Austin is a National Board Certified French teacher in Colorado. She blogs at onygomadame.com, and she is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Selling Your Original World Language Resources (Routledge, 2021). @Erin-EH-Austin

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