But that might be a slight exaggeration…because while I have no idea where my running shoes are or what I did with that recipe for tofu surprise, I DO know where my copy of Pride and Prejudice is and where my secret chocolate stash is hidden (and I’m not telling!).
I suspect that many people are like me. We ARE organized in certain areas of our lives.
We are too hard on ourselves. We want everything — from our closets to the inside of our cars to the top drawer of our desks (am I the only one who cringes at the thought of a sub opening that drawer?!) — to be organized and orderly.
I think that’s unreasonable and sets us up for disappointment. Rather than try to organize every aspect of my life (and believe me, I wish I could do that!), I try to organize a few areas — really well. And my reason for organizing that area is that it provides me with more space in my life for other things (like sorting my chocolate stash).
Here are 7 organizational tips — tried and true — for organizing just a small part of your teaching life (not including closets and desks!):
1. As an ELA teacher, I deal with a lot of papers. A lot. (There are days I feel responsible for deforestation! But that is the subject for another post!) To collect papers, I have students line up in alphabetical order. I generally do this while having students march around the room singing the preposition song or playing follow the leader (even middle school students will do this!). When all the students are in order (or something that looks like it!), I collect the papers. If someone doesn’t have a paper, she still must write her name on a paper and hand it in. Everyone gives me something. Then, with my stack in hand, I staple them together.
This does a few things: First, I get a paper from everyone. If a student is absent, I have the student after him or her in the alphabetical order write “absent” on a paper (along with the student’s name, of course) and turn it in.
2. Speaking of collecting papers — you will stay organized and save all kinds of time if you have students give you their papers in alphabetical order. I’ve tried the trays; I’ve tried the “pass it forward,” but I’ve still had that student squeak out of the classroom and then later tell me that he already turned that assignment in.
Another good strategy is to stand at the door as students leave. Their assignment is their “ticket out” of the room.
During flu season, you will love having a paper in your stack that reads, “Joe was absent today.” You can quickly write the assignment on the paper and return it to Joe to complete as soon as he is well.
3. Keep it small. In my post about writing journals, I make a case for the minimalist student supply stash. Too many notebooks, binders, journals, etc. etc. are difficult to keep track of for both you and your students. Pare down the supplies your students will need. If you can keep writing journals in a basket in your classroom, that will make it less likely students will forget to bring them to class. You don’t want students to miss out on valuable writing time because they left their journals at home or in their lockers. If you can have students keep all their notes and handouts in one place, yay!!
4. Make five extra copies. Weird tip, right? But you know you will have one or two students who lose the homework and one who is absent. My apologies (again) to the trees, but a few extra copies will eliminate student excuses and frustration at making up missing work.
I have those plastic organization drawers that are labeled “Extras” for each class. After distributing papers, I toss any extras into the drawer.
If you have an Edmodo account, class blog, or other way to upload assignments to a server, by all means do so. Be aware of copyright restrictions, however, before you do.
5. Checklists are your friends. So are clipboards. I think of a checklist as a walking gradebook. I can wander around the room and check student homework, monitor group behavior, review progress on projects, or take attendance. Protect student privacy by keeping a cover sheet on top and making sure your clipboard always ends up on your desk. (If you want to see examples of checklists, I have a few on my Teachers Pay Teachers store.)
6. “Plan your work and work your plan.” Any organizational system needs to be maintained. My chocolate stash will quickly be depleted if I don’t regularly check to see just how many peanut butter M&Ms are left or how full that bag of Dove chocolates is. Try your best to get back on the organizational wagon if you fall off. It’s certainly not the end of the world (unless it involves chocolate, and then…).
7. If at first you don’t succeed…revise your plan. Maybe you don’t need a teacher binder. Maybe you shouldn’t have all your lessons color coded. Find what works for you and adjust throughout the year. If you succeed at organizing just one area of your teaching life, you can build on that.
Let’s agree on one thing. Being organized isn’t easy. If it were, businesses like The Container Store wouldn’t exist.
Start the year with reasonable expectations…and just keep swimming!