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How-To: Get Started

Getting (And Staying) Organized Pat Haughney

As I get older, I think, "If I only knew then what I know now.." With that thought in mind, here are tips for making your teaching career easier by setting up a filing system.

To begin this process you must understand how much stuff you will accumulate in your teaching career. Teachers are creative, resourceful people, which is a tremendous strength. It also results in an amazing amount of paper, which can quickly overwhelm you. I found that I never used some of my best information simply because I couldn't find it.

First, invest in some type of filing boxes. I use those plastic boxes from the office supply store -- the type that support hanging file folders. I found it most useful to buy five different ones. They hold; books units; general reading and language arts materials; science materials; math materials; and miscellaneous items such as school communications, parent feedback, and personal information. You may also wish to buy a box to hold photocopies of future homework assignments, etc., but I found it easier to file those by subject matter.

Next, buy different colored hanging folders. This is a lot easier than finding five different colored storage bins and makes it easy to identify which materials are in each box. I keep an extra supply of folders at home so that I can throw in all those clippings and downloads I accumulate and use a traveling storage box to bring them to school. I also finally learned to take the time to thoughtfully label those file folders. "Miscellaneous writing tips" does not really help you find that information on Writers' Workshop you're so desperately seeking.

Put the boxes in an easily accessible place and religiously file information in them. This sounds so logical but I have wasted many precious moments circling my classroom in a last ditch effort to find the math links that I photocopied last month. Also, I would recommend that you keep it simple. My first efforts resulted in an aesthetically pleasing, clever storage system that utilized every square inch of my room. The problem was that I had to stand on the countertops to access it (not a good move when you're teaching 23 children).

Finally, be religious about filing information when you first get it. My desk was such a disaster of newspaper clippings, school bulletins, workshop tips, and other clutter that I panicked when a parent or school administrator came in. I would quickly shove the piles into desk drawers or in a big box under my desk. This is extremely counterproductive in terms of your original intent of getting (and staying) organized.

Once you have your basic filing system, think about other areas of the room that could benefit from better organization. I found it useful to keep a simple in/out basket for collecting and returning homework. I kept a checklist next to the in-box and students would check off that they had handed in assignments. They quickly learned that I would verify the checklist at lunch and were very honest about recording their assignments. I also kept a crate to hold Writer's Workshop folders and notebooks. Students liked the continuity, independence, and flexibility in storing and using their materials. Finally, I organized my books, labeled the shelves, and appointed class librarians to keep them in order. This saved lots of time when we were looking for particular books. I also used this method in arranging books on my own professional shelf. The key was to have materials at my fingertips and to always know where they were.

This is only a beginning list of ways to organize your classroom. I would love to hear other teachers' advice and look forward to your comments on my bulletin board.


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