Six Strategies for Organizing Your Teacher Stuff

As soon as the school year starts, everything starts moving a mile a minute and it’s easy to find yourself buried in papers and unfinished to-do lists if you’re not careful. Even several years into teaching, the times I found myself most frazzled and stressed out were not times when I was necessarily busier or teaching less effectively, but rather times when I had let my organization slip and all of a sudden I felt like I was drowning.
Whether you already have great systems or have no idea where to start, one great resource is The Together Group, an organization started by Maia Heyck-Merlin in order to help teachers and leaders stay organized. With Maia’s permission, I’m sharing some of her strategies here along with some best practices from my YES Prep colleagues.  Today we’ll focus on keeping your teacher ‘stuff’ organized and in an upcoming post we’ll talk about managing your time.

Organizing the stuff you carry around

  • Have a sorting system in your teacher bag. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve lugged my teacher bag to and from school and after several weeks realized about 6 pounds of what was in there was just being living there and I never took it out. I was most successful when I literally put an accordion file in there for papers and didn’t let myself put papers in my bag unless they fit in the categories of ‘to grade,’ ‘just graded,’ or ‘for planning.’ When I did this it stopped me from just shoving random meeting agendas or handouts in there that I didn’t know where else to put.
  • Make a plan for what you take with you to meetings for taking notes or recording tasks. I was often guilty of showing up to meetings practically empty handed and then had to try to make sense of random notes on scraps of papers, the backs of meeting agendas, and one sad time even on my hand. Try having a notebook with pages exclusively for recording to-do’s and deadlines and then take any notes in a separate section. This way you won’t lose sight of tasks amidst your general notes.
  • Sport a utility apron. I wanted this one to be first, but it sounds weird and I didn’t want to lose you. Many teachers at YES Prep use these, but Maia Heyck-Merlin was the first person I knew to sport one in her classroom about 15 years ago. The idea is that you can keep pens, dry erase markers, your phone, hall passes, power point clicker, stickers, a timer, or whatever else you’re always reaching for and can’t find while you’re teaching. Another option is a fanny pack, but I don’t think many of us are ready to bring that back.

Organizing the stuff on your desk

  • Have a sorting system on your desk. Maia likes to say, “The second things go horizontal, it’s hard to get them back upright.” This is so true for our teacher desks! It’s so easy to just drop the extra handouts, the passes from the nurse, the papers from the staff meeting, and the papers you just collected onto your desk and worry about it later. Unfortunately by Friday that usually means you have several days’ worth of random papers on your desk and you have no idea what’s in there or where the papers are you need to grade. If you have some sort of system for where you put papers to be graded, things to go back to the office, extra handouts, things to be returned to students, etc., you’ll more easily be able to wade through each of those at the end of the day.
  • Go digital when you can. Depending on your school, you may be able to have students turn some assignments in digitally to cut down on paper. Another idea is to use a mini-scanner or scanning app to digitize all the random, but necessary papers you collect at staff meetings so they don’t take up space when you may only reference them once or twice the rest of the school year.
  • Ruthlessly clean as you go. This is probably the hardest one. It’s all well and nice to set up an organization system, but the key is holding yourself accountable to it. At the end of the day, go through all the papers and take care of them.

Want more organization help? The Together Group has tons of printable resources on their website, as well as a book, The Together Teacher?

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