Are you a teacher struggling for ways to maximize your productivity and provide your students with the best education possible all at the same time? With the demands of managing a classroom, preparing lesson plans, grading assignments, and juggling various administrative tasks, it can be very challenging to stay organized and efficient, believe me. But fear not, because we have got you covered! Let’s dive in and discover 5 Organizational Tips for Teachers to become a more organized and focused teacher, even if you have Type B personality traits.
Being a super organized teacher is something that has never come naturally to me. I’ve had to find tips, tricks, and systems that eased me into a sense of organization. I love the idea of clean and clear spaces and the image of those Pinterest-organized teacher closets and shelves, but when you’re actually teaching, it’s another story. Papers pile up, students need things, and there’s just so much going on that at the end of the day, it feels like a tornado has hit. Then, you do it all over again the next day, and by the end of the week, you can’t find your teacher lanyard under the piles and the clutter gives you a headache on top of the one you already had.
I knew I had to find a better way. I am definitely Monica from Friends.
Back then, I could make things appear clean when I wanted, but there was always a closet in the back shoved with crazy stuff as well.
So, here are some organization tips and tricks I have learned over the years from a self-confessed Type B teacher that wants to appear to be Type A.
1. Organizing Your Lesson Plans and Units
When it comes to storing papers needed for units, I went digital as much as possible. Less paper meant less clutter. Google Drive became my best friend. Every unit I needed was right where I could find it. I just had to search for what I needed on the Drive and print it.
When that wasn’t possible and I had physical papers I needed to keep up with, I utilized binders as much as possible and accordion folders. Accordion folders are great because you don’t even have to hole-punch papers into a binder. You simply slip the papers in. There are various divided sections in an accordion folder making for a natural way to organize topics within your units.
Oftentimes I would use an accordion folder and then later on, shift the papers into an organized binder when I had more time.
Binders are a great way to keep everything in its place. Within the binder, organize different topics with tabs or cover pages. Put an adorable label on the spine of the binder and store it on your shelf, to find it right where you need it later on. Print out fun cover pages to organize each section. I found that making my organization cute helped motivate me more.
For my daily lesson plans, I employed a variety of methods over the years. I used online software systems my schools mandated such as Schoology, Renweb, and Google Classroom. I wrote my lesson plans by hand as well when a school didn’t require an online system.
Online Lesson Plans
My favorite and most efficient way was to store my lessons online, whether that’s in Google Classroom or typed into a Google Doc or digital teacher planner. When it’s online, you can just copy and paste from year to year. Of course, you’ll change your lessons depending on your class and their specific needs, but even just having the main points, standards, and activities laid out for you already year to year, saves so much time. Additionally, I would print out the lesson plans for the week in case the internet went down (which happened a lot) and I would store those in my cute and fun, yet professional teacher binder.
Teacher Planner: Digital or Print
Check out our adorable Coffee Shop Themed Teacher Planner that we created. It is printable as well as digital for PowerPoint and Google Slides. (My favorite is the Google Slides version because I can easily pop over to Google Classroom to access various worksheets I have uploaded for my lessons.)
Student Worksheets, Baskets, and Bins
For student worksheets that I would be using that day, I utilized baskets or bins, whether organized by subject or grade level (when I taught middle and high school.) At the beginning of the week, I would make all the copies I needed and put them in the right basket for the week. I did try baskets that were just labeled Monday-Friday, but I ended up not liking that system. Some days, I wouldn’t get everything accomplished I needed to on a particular day, and papers would be moved to the next day and pile up. It just felt like clutter in my brain. That system may work well for you though. The key is to try something out and see what works best for you.
2. Organizing Your Student Papers
Create a procedure for incoming and outgoing papers. Find a system that works for you, be consistent, and stick to it. Each year, I would always switch things up to see how I could make it the most efficient and easiest on me as possible, but I would stick to it throughout the year to really make sure I had given it a proper try. Each system was also different depending on what grade level I was teaching.
In elementary, students had a Classwork Turn-In basket and a Homework Turn-In basket. I would collect those papers in the Turn-In baskets and grade them. Then I would place them in the Outgoing Basket to be passed out daily. For a couple of years, I utilized folders in which I would file papers into individual student hanging folders in a crate as I graded them and then pass out the folder at the end of the week. That wasn’t my favorite as filing papers was time-consuming.
When teaching middle and high school, I collected papers and placed them in various baskets. I had two baskets for each grade, such as 6th English, 7th English, 9th English, and so on and so forth. I would store the papers in the Incoming Basket, grade them, and paperclip them to be passed out right away. Then, I would store the graded papers in the respective outgoing basket. I also had a basket for each grade level for all the worksheets I would be using that week. Needless to say, my classroom had enough space for all the baskets and I made them cute with various labels. This same idea can be accomplished with storage drawers as well.
Check out the labels we have in our store!
Hanging Folders in Crates
If your classroom doesn’t have abundant space for baskets and storage drawers, this same concept can be utilized with hanging folders in crates. I have had tiny classrooms before where I would store the crates in an open area and organize it by Incoming Papers, Outgoing Papers, and Daily Worksheets.
Color Code Labels
When I had to teach from a cart for a year and a half due to Covid, baskets and crates simply would not fit, of course. I used folders in one big basket. The concept was the same. I had a folder for each grade. On one side of the folder, I labeled Incoming and on the other side, I labeled Outgoing. Then, I had another folder for each grade containing the worksheets needed for the week. To keep it easy to identify, each grade had a color. For instance, 6th grade would have two yellow folders, 7th blue, and 8th green.
Folder Filing Method
I ended up loving the folder system the best. It kept me motivated to stay on top of my grading as only a certain amount of papers could fit into the folder. Additionally, the folders took up minimum space. I did miss my beautiful blue baskets, but the folder method was just as organized and efficient, and it saved space.
3. Managing Student Information
As a teacher, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Document everything.” Documenting behavior, parent communication, and student progress is crucial to the job. Having a designated student portfolio or area to keep this information is important because it is easy to access when needed.
I used a large binder for this and there was a tab or cover page for each student. In each student’s section, there was a Parent Communication sheet, a Behavior Log, any IEPs, medical information, Parent Conference records, and anything else I needed.
I have also seen teachers have a folder for each student with all of the above information as well.
Our Teacher Binder contains everything you need to create a Student Portfolio for your students.
4. Organizing Teacher & Student Supplies
Around my eighth year of teaching, the Teacher Toolkit exploded all over Pinterest. I knew this would be the solution to my organizational problems. For years, my desk drawers were overflowing with paper clip boxes, Expo markers, erasers, binder clips, push pins, staples boxes, you name it. When I needed something, I would have to riffle through my bursting drawers to find it. With the Teacher Toolkit, everything was in its little space and was cute to boot. (I spray-painted mine.) I found my Teacher Toolkit at Home Depot, but Lowes and Amazon sell them as well.
The Teacher Toolkit has been the best thing I ever made! It was even awesome for students to use as well. If they needed a rubber band or a band-aid, I’d say you can get one from the toolkit. (I did make it a rule that they had to ask permission before going into my Teacher Toolkit.) It saved me time as everything was right where I needed it. It was also an easy way to see what I was running low on and I could quickly restock my supplies that way.
Check out our Teacher Toolkit Labels right here!
I eventually made a second Teacher Toolkit but it was for my students. It was placed in the designated Student Supply Center. I love having a Student Supply Center. This is where I would store extra pencils, Kleenex, a basket of colored pencils, glue sticks, index cards, etc.
The Student Supply Center was either funded by me or I would send out a letter at the beginning of the year explaining what it was for and asking for any donations. I would explain that the Student Supply Center is not the individual supplies the parents bought for their students but was communal as a backup. I would always get some parents that were able to send in some things and stock it for the year. It was great to have a designated area for group supplies. The Student Toolkit was filled with more student needs rather than teacher needs such as staples and Expo markers.
I’ve had the opportunity to have spacious closets located in my classrooms. At one school, I did have a smaller closet and that was a challenge. My closet, for years, was the dumping ground for all the things, until one year, I had a type-A teacher friend help me organize it. She created a simple system for me and I’ve used it ever since. Every shelf in the closet had a label, whether it was Student Textbooks or Science Supplies. Once I had the shelves organized by label, I could organize what would go on the shelf by category. For instance, if it was the Art Supplies Shelf, I would then organize items into bins such as paint in one bin, construction paper in another, etc.
The best place I found for affordable bins was Dollar Tree. I had a classroom with a closet that didn’t have any shelves, so I used large Tupperware containers and labels. I would stack them on top of each other and try to keep the contents inside the Tupperware as organized as possible.
5. Clean Desk, Clear Mind
I had a rule for myself that I would make sure my desk was neat and clear (as much as possible) before I went home each day. I just hated coming into my classroom in the morning and finding my desk cluttered. It was like waking up to a sink full of dishes. Having a home for everything in your classroom helps you keep your desk tidy. Papers would go back to the appropriate folder or basket. Stray supplies would go back to the Teacher Toolbox.
Next, I would straighten up the items on my desk that I kept out in the open. Throughout the day I also used the “One-Second Rule.” I do this at home too. If it takes only takes a second to put an item away and I see it out, I instantly do it then. It creates a more organized environment. Plus, it’s not as overwhelming as saving all the tidying up for the end of the day or week.
As someone who has struggled with organizational skills in the past, take it from me. You can become an organized teacher. Find a system that works for you. Don’t be afraid to keep tweaking it and trying to figure out what works best. Making your organization cute with delightful labels and adorable binders helps make it a fun process. At the end of the day, if you struggle, fake it until organization becomes part of your day-to-day. You’ll be surprised how easy it is once you find the best system for you.