Skip Navigation
We use cookies to offer you a better browsing experience, provide ads, analyze site traffic, and personalize content. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies.
NEA News

What's in Your Desk?

What are the essentials to a well-stocked teacher's desk? We asked, you answered.
teacher at desk
Published: October 5, 2021

NEA members took us on deep dive into their desk drawers, sharing the stuff they just can’t live without. Turns out, these grab-and-go supplies can make the difference between smooth sailing and classroom chaos.

Members generally keep three kinds of stuff within arm’s reach. First, you need the essential bits and pieces that keep the wheels on the bus: glue sticks, gel pens, binder clips, etc. Then, there’s the stuff that keeps you and your students healthy and sane. Dark chocolate, anyone? The bottom drawer is where things gets interesting. Do you really need a plastic beetle and a bottle of Creole spices? Absolutely! “I find it so fascinating to see what people have on and in their desks,” says Cleveland teacher Kyle Cohen, aka Instagram’s Mr.KyleCohen, who recently produced a YouTube video on this topic.

Ultimate Desk Tour

Many thanks to the NEA members who shared the contents of their desks via Instagram. Check out NEAToday on Instagram to join the conversation!

Top Drawer


Teachers usually stash essentials in internal dividers to create mini bins of stuff. These include musthave items, such as sticky notes, paper clips, Scotch tape, stapler and staples, calculator, hand cream, lip balm, coins, Sharpies, measuring tape, and batteries, plus a few surprises. Here are some popular items that might earn a space in your top drawer.

Colored Gel Pens: When teachers use a red pen to comment on their papers, students view those comments more negatively, a University of Colorado study found. Try mixing it up: Blue can be nice!

Note Cards: New York geometry teacher Brianne Beebe keeps postcards in her desk so that she can quickly pen a note to parents saying, “Your child did great today!” This is a positive way to lay the groundwork for effective educator-student communication. (In addition to teaching, Beebe is a “productivity coach” for teachers—see MissBusyBee on Instagram.

granola bar

Lucky Crystal: You may be a skeptic, but plenty of teachers figure it can’t hurt to keep a chunk of red jasper nearby. It’s reputed to increase emotional stamina, courage, and calm!

Staple Remover for Bulletin Boards: You know you’re a teacher if you recognize this handy tool, essential to removing staples from wall-mounted bulletin boards.

Ear Plugs: A clean set of earplugs is a must have for school pep rallies.

Union Card: Keep your union card handy! You’ll want to peek at it for a sizzle of solidarity—and also to get your discounts and perks from NEA Members Benefits, including help in navigating Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Middle Drawer

Chocolate, tea bags, soup, nonmedicated cough drops, baby wipes, Advil, deodorant, bandaids, hand sanitizer, tissues, gum, breath mints, toothbrush and toothpaste, plus these come-tothe- rescue items:


Granola Bars: A hungry teacher is an ineffective one—and the same goes for students. Ideally, all public schools in the U.S. would have a free-meals-for-all program. (Find out how to support the Universal School Meals Program Act at The reality is that many teachers keep snacks for students in their desk.

Peppermint Candies: It’s been nearly 30 years since Ohio researchers found that a whiff of peppermint helped test-takers to concentrate. Since then, it’s the preferred candy in many classrooms!

Feminine Hygiene Products: One in five teens struggle to afford tampons and menstrual pads. Do them a favor and keep a stash in your classroom.

Bottom Drawer

yoga ball

What’s behind drawer number three? You’ll never know until you explore this random collection, which includes a Magic 8 Ball®, pepper grinder, flip-flops, cell phone charger, handheld fan, and these eclectic belongings:

Yoga Ball Inflator: Aaron Riedl has a bunch of yogaball seats in his Portland, Ore., sixthgrade classroom. If he didn’t hide the air pump, his students would love to over-inflate their seats!

Stuffed Animal: There are so many ways to use a stuffed animal in the classroom … as a reading buddy, a birthday bear, or a mascot that goes home with students on weekends. (Ask those students to maintain a diary of its travels.)

Hanging Folder: You’re going to need a special place for the thank-you notes from students and parents!

Get more from

We're here to help you succeed in your career, advocate for public school students, and stay up to date on the latest education news. Sign up to stay informed.
National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.