I recently had a fellow teacher/blog reader email me asking for any tips and strategies I have for managing the wide array of papers coming and in out of my possession. With over 100 students at one time, the amount of papers coming in and going out can be overwhelming! In my 10 years of teaching at the high school level, I've learned that managing my workflow is key for two really important reasons:
1) It keeps me sane...the classroom can be a chaotic place so keeping my materials organized helps give me a sense of calm and control!
2) It keeps my students honest...if they know I've never lost a paper and I diligently keep track of what comes in and when, they don't try to pull the 'well I passed that in but you must have lost it' routine!
Although I've tried various strategies throughout the years, the ideas I'll share here I've used with great success and am proud to say that I have NEVER lost a student paper yet! So, let's get started...
The Daily Box
On one corner of my desk I have a 'daily box' which is a set of three stackable black trays. This is the place that sees the most 'daily action' in terms of papers coming and going. It's also an 'interactive' box that my students know to go to when turning in ANY paper.
-The top tray is where papers are passed in during class. If a homework assignment is due and I ask kids to turn it in they place it here. If we are taking a quiz or exam, students are instructed to turn it in here when they are done. I find it helps to have just one place that students are consistently asked to submit work so that a routine is established early on. At the end of class, I collect whatever has been submitted, clip the pile, and place it into my 'In/Out Box' (more on that below).
-The middle tray is where I put all late work from the day. Any 'rogue' papers that are submitted either as late or from a student who was absent goes into this box. At the end of the school day, I go through all the papers and mark 'absent' or 'late' with the date. Then the papers get filed with the assignment pile they belong with that are waiting to be graded in the 'In/Out Box'. It's important to empty this basket at the end of every day so I don't forget how many late points need to be taken off, if any!
-The bottom tray is where I keep my lesson planner/plans for the day and other random items. I use large binder clips with paper labels taped to the top of each to clip onto each box. This is a really easy way to clearly identify the purpose of each box and the clips can easily be moved when necessary.
The In & Out Box
On the other corner of my desk I keep a black plastic storage box that has several color coded hanging files, each labeled with one of my 5 classes.
-The red folders are for any work that has been passed in and needs to be graded for each class (red means 'stop...you must grade' ha ha!). I always take the work from the 'Daily Box' and put it into the appropriate red folder at the end of every class. Each folder is labeled with the class period and the word 'INBOX'.
-After the work has been graded, it gets moved into the green folders and can be passed back (green means 'go'!). Each folder is labeled with the class period and the word 'OUTBOX'.
-I have yellow folders at the back of the basket for quizzes and assessments that absent students need to come in and take and any handouts that need to go out to my homeroom students.
Absent Work Bin
In the picture above, I have blue 'absent student' folders in the bin. These folders have since been moved into their own separate box, located on a table in the back of the room. Students know that when they've been absent, they are to look in the bin for the folder with their class name, in which they will find any work they missed.
-At the end of every class (or sometimes at the end of the day) I go through my list of students who were absent that day and put any handouts and directions they missed into the absent work bin. This makes it so much easier to keep track of who missed what and avoids the mad rush to speak to me about everything they missed at the start of class. It puts some responsibility on the students' shoulders, too!
With over 100 students and 3 different courses to prep for, having a place to keep the papers that I hand out is essential! I took the covers from WB Mason paper boxes, spray painted them a fun green color, and placed them on a table in the back of the room to hold all my handouts. The handouts are placed in the box after I've copied them and stay until I give them out to the kids. Then, any extras left over are placed back in the box, too. I have a box top for each of the classes I prep for...this semester I'll be teaching three different courses so I'll have three box tops on the back table.
Items to File
I brought in a cubby type shelf from home to place behind my desk since my classroom doesn't have any open shelving. Here is where I keep another set of black file trays...the top tray is my 'to do' tray...any papers that need to be copied or filled out in the immediate future go there. Then, I have trays to place the papers for each course I teach that need to be filed into curriculum binders. These are usually the master copies of the notes and handouts I use to make copies for my students. I don't often have the time to file everything immediately after I've used them, so after I've copied the papers, I place them in the tray to await filing.
For each course I teach, I have a separate curriculum binder. I take the papers from the 'to file' trays and file them by unit into the appropriate binder. These are the originals I use throughout my units to make copies or to simply remind myself of the lessons and activities I use for each unit. I also have binders for general professional development items, for my attendance rosters (which I'll share in another post), and for the Class of 2017, for whom I am the advisor.
It's tough to keep up with managing the thousands of papers that come through my hands within any given school year but using these organizational strategies on a consistent basis has really brought me a sense of sanity. Ten years into the profession has brought me the knowledge of what works and what is good in theory but just doesn't jive with day to day operations!
I would love to hear what other organizational strategies work for teachers out there!
Leave a comment and let me know!