As educators, we handle a lot of paper over the course of the year. If we’re not careful, all that paper can be very overwhelming. Here are a few tips to help you better manage all that paper and stay organized.
1. Refuse to bring paper into your office. Many times we get paperwork in our mailboxes and take it back to our classrooms or offices only to misplace it or otherwise not complete the paperwork. A better strategy is to never let it leave the office. Do it right there at your mailbox and forward it on to the proper person. If you need materials (your grade book for instance) to complete the paperwork, leave the paperwork in your mailbox and bring whatever you need to finish it the next time you are in the office.
2. Eliminate as much paper as you can. Recycle unused materials. Be ruthless! Throw out anything that you know will never use or that is out-of-date or no longer useful. If you haven’t used a thing for more than two years, then it is probably time to let go of it. Try to keep as much as you can electronically.
3. Divide what’s left into 4 categories: To Do, To File, To Read, To Grade (if you are an Administrator, you can eliminate that last pile). And, as each new piece of paperwork lands on your desk, place it in its proper category.
For the TO DO file, use a tickler system: The items in your TO DO pile are typically forms you need to fill out, papers you need to bring with you to a meeting, papers you need to give to someone else, or items you need to copy for upcoming lessons. Some papers you will need right away but others you won’t need for days or weeks. Rather than keep all these papers in one big pile or file, use a tickler system. You can purchase a tickler file rather inexpensively from an office supply store, or you can make your own by taping together several file folders. A tickler file has 31 slots representing the 28-31 days in each month, and 12 slots representing each month in the year. For the papers you will need to address in this month, file the papers according to the day you plan to use it or the day that it is due. For the papers you won’t need this month, file the paper in the section for the month where you will need that paper. Then, each day at the beginning of the day, you can turn to the corresponding section of the tickler file and pull out the papers you will need to address for that day. Each month, you will turn to the papers in that month’s section and file them according to the day of the month you will address that paper. In this way, you can not only keep your papers organized, you will also be able to quickly find the papers you need to address when you need them.
Now for the TO FILE pile. You will want to have file folders and a marking pen or label maker for labeling the folders handy, as well as the “round file,” otherwise known as the recycle bin. The type of folders you will create depends on your individual circumstances. Make a file for everything you need to keep. (Even if the file has only one piece of paper in it.) This will make finding paperwork much simpler. Some teachers use colored files for certain categories (e.g. blue for student information, yellow for curriculum, green for tests/quizzes/answer keys. Here are some typical categories:
- Lesson plans/Lesson plan ideas (It is a good idea to keep individual lesson plans in their own folder, properly labeled. You may also want to keep any ancillary material in there also— handouts—any item you will use with that particular lesson.)
- Student information (if you have more than one class, make a separate folder for each class)
- Originals (of handouts, worksheets, etc. It is also a good idea to keep a class set in the file as so that you are always prepared)
- Test/Quiz Masters and Answer Keys
- Substitute Information (including emergency lesson plans, instructions)
- For administrators: keep a file for each teacher you supervise, a CYA file for each year, and perhaps a file for each department or grade level you supervise.
Everything else can be kept electronically.
Place your now-full file folders in a file cabinet or holder. You may want to alphabetize them, put them in order of use, or according to color.
TO READ: That professional journal you never have time to read? That new curriculum guide you are trying to understand? The article you’ve been meaning to get to? Put them in your TO READ file and grab it any time you are heading to do errands. You might be able to finish an article while you are waiting for your copies to finish, or get through a chapter while waiting for a meeting to start. Once you’ve read something, determine if you want to save it. If so, file it immediately. If not, recycle it.
TO GRADE: Clip class sets of grading and place in this file folder. Include any answer keys, rubrics, or other material you will need to grade those papers.
Share your own tips managing your papers below. We can use all the help we can get!