Back-to-school season is upon us. Of course, parents are probably rushing to check off the list of school supplies schools traditionally send out. And teachers, too, are gearing up for another year — but lessons might be IRL now instead of through a screen. After learning about all the different online apps and tools for the classroom last year (and reminding kids to mute themselves on Zoom), some teachers might be looking forward to using an actual paper planner to stay organized, schedule lessons, and track student progress. “Teachers often need to deal with rotating schedules that aren’t connected to days of the week,” explains Katharine Hill, a Brooklyn-based educational therapist who teaches remotely. “These can often be set up automatically in Google Calendar, but having a planner with room to write out each day’s classes, meetings, and student commitments makes it much easier to plan the week and catch conflicts ahead of time.” Plus, it helps to have a planner that has space to pencil in after-school appointments (contrary to what some kids think, teachers don’t live at school!). To find the best planners for teachers, we asked teachers and homeschooling parents about the planners they love. Here are their favorites.
Happy Planners get an A-plus from four of the teachers we talked to, including Tasha Lathan-Williams, registrar at Xavier Academy, who was introduced to the brand from a planner Facebook group. She’s using the Change the World version of the planner for the 2021-2022 school year. “While other planners are bound together with spirals, this planner is made to add pages and sections that will keep you organized,” Lathan-Williams says. “With the expansion packs and sticker packs, my planner is my brain on paper and that is exactly what I need.” You can also get coordinating accessories like snap-in pencil pouches, page markers, and colorful stickers for these personalized planners. Abigail Ruiz, a fourth-grade math and science teacher in Florida, has owned five Happy Planners and usually buys a new one two months before the old one runs out (the planners’ pages start off in July). Ruiz bought the Jungle Vibes version recently, going for a mini size to fit into her “already overstuffed” work bag.
The planners are also a favorite of Janet Nasir, an elementary-school teacher in California. The perfect teacher planner has large boxes to write in, so you can fit all the important details for each activity and subject, according to Nasir. That’s a sentiment shared by several teachers, who emphasized the need for extra space to jot down checklists and reminders. Having the dates already labeled is a must for her, she says, because she doesn’t have time to spend writing them in. She looks for a horizontal layout (but the brand offers a variety of vertical designs, too), with the days of the week going down the left side of the page, and a spiral binding, so she can open the planner without taking up a ton of desk space. Lisa Jaspers, who teaches college-level math, chemistry, and physics, first found a Happy Planner at her local craft store. Jaspers describes her ideal planner as “functional but also beautiful. I want to be excited to use it when I open it up every day for work.” She likes that the Happy Planner is bright and bold, while it also works really well for scheduling, keeping track of tutoring appointments, and lesson planning. Her current pick is the teacher-specific planner kit. It’s especially practical since it divides the day up into sections, which she uses for subject areas she’s covering.
For a smart(er) solution to a planner, this Rocketbook planner is good for people who prefer writing by hand in a paper planner, but would also like to use those notes in their digital work. It does get extra credit for being reusable, too — get a clean slate with just a swipe of a cloth. Former first-grade teacher Bill Vacca, who is now an assistant principal at the Mohonasen County School District in Rotterdam, New York, calls it the perfect teacher planner. You write on it using a special type of pen (called FriXion) that can be found in most office-supply stores and uses ink that doesn’t smear if you put your hand on it. On the bottom of every Rocketbook page is a QR code that you scan with your smart device. It picks up everything you wrote, takes a picture of that page, and stores it to your Google Drive (or any cloud service you choose) or sends it to your email. For teachers working remotely, Rocketbook makes sharing weekly class schedules or activities as simple as sharing a screen.
“I live and die by my Outlook calendar for scheduling but always have and always will be a paper to-do-list person,” says Emily Atkinson, who teaches special education at KIPP Collegiate High School in Nashville. She loves this Poketo planner because of its flexibility. Unlike Jaspers, Atkinson likes the act of writing the date herself, explaining that she puts in all five weekdays and then chooses one weekend day for one or two projects that require an hour or more of consistent focus. This allows her to plan each week by plugging in to-dos on their respective days, then adding as she goes. “I get endless satisfaction from checking everything off with a Flair pen at the end of the day,” she says.
“Clever Fox are my absolute favorite paper planners,” says Jenna Prada, director of executive functioning at Private Prep, a tutoring service with locations nationwide. With pages dedicated to goal setting, list-making, and schedule planning, they help teachers “remember to take care of themselves as a whole human and encourage breaking down tasks so that they are less overwhelming,” she says. These planners come in a bunch of bright colors and include sticker packs and pockets for receipts and other papers.
Hill admits that she bought this planner out of desperation during the pandemic, when it seemed planners with printed dates on them were sold out everywhere. But it turns out that this feature is its most endearing: “This planner doesn’t come pre-printed with dates, which might seem annoying, but I find that the act of writing in the dates helps me get situated with the week as a whole,” Hill says. “Each weekend, I take a few minutes to copy my upcoming appointments into the planner, along with the dates for that week.” Doing so helps Hill avoid double booking and figuring out scheduling problems ahead of time. And common of Muji planners, Hill says, this offers “extremely smooth paper that’s nice to write on.”
Two teachers sang the praises of Erin Condren’s planners: Jessica Garza, a kindergarten teacher in Katy, Texas, who runs her own blog the Primary Parade, and Heather D. Nelson, a longtime homeschooler and mother of three. Garza calls the company’s Teacher Lesson Planner a “one-stop shop” with graph pages, checklists, and much more (some which you can buy separately). Plus, she loves how the planner “can showcase an entire week of plans on a one-page layout and separates the page into several subjects.” Similarly, the weekly layouts help Nelson plan and see everything going on for her and her kids at once, and the add-on subject stickers and snap-in bookmarks help her quickly flip to whatever section she needs to see. Nelson praises the planner as “immensely sturdy,” saying they easily survive a full year of wear and tear without so much as a bent coil, torn piece of paper, or split cover. You can buy one on Amazon, or if you want to get yours customized, go to the brand’s site.
Susan McCaslin, who teaches introductory drawing classes at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, says she does most of her scheduling digitally. But when it comes to brainstorming ideas for class projects and making sure she stays on task, she uses this blank dotted notebook. Each two-page spread is devoted to a day of the week. She draws vertical blocks of time on the left-hand side for the hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and uses the right-hand side for her daily to-do list and any ongoing projects.
Though it isn’t horizontal, like her Happy Planner, this is Nasir’s other favorite option. She originally recommended the 2020–2021 version, but you can now preorder the updated 2021–2022 planner (you’ll receive a digital download of the August and September pages). More than just an organizational tool, this planner is full of important dates, events, and people who have made an impact toward achieving a more just society and includes links to additional resources to help teach about them. Each week has a social-justice-related quote as well as a question for teachers to pose to their students. Nasir told us she uses the social-justice information in her morning messages to inform kids and get them talking. “It’s become a supplement to my social-studies curriculum,” she says, adding that since all the information is right there in the planner, it’s a constant reminder to incorporate social justice into her daily teaching.