Between papers to grade, data to review, and documents to file, teachers have to deal with A TON of paper! Aside from that, paper is also one of the hardest things to get organized. Which is why today’s post is all about how to organize paper clutter!
Unfortunately, paper is kind of a necessary evil in the teacher world. Maybe your district is working on moving over to doing everything electronically, and that’s great! But chances are, you aren’t quite there yet. Which means stacks to grade, hundreds of copies, student portfolios, paperwork, and more are all lying around your classroom.
If that sounds like you, and it’s driving you crazy, hopefully you will find my paper clutter organization tips helpful.
Tips for How to Organize Paper Clutter
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There are so many different types of papers that teachers deal with. Over the years, I have developed a few different systems for organizing the various papers I have laying around my classroom. These are the systems that worked for me. Remember, it is most important that you create organization systems that work for you! I am simply sharing what I did to give you ideas. Hopefully it will spark some inspiration in helping you figure out how to organize paper clutter, too!
1. Papers to grade, file, and copy.
My first system was to have a place to temporarily store files that required an action – to be graded, filed, or copied. I simply stored these papers in file folders that I kept on a file folder organizer so I could easily see and access all the folders.
I picked up my file folder organizer for free at a local non-profit event, but here is a similar one on Amazon.
The first folder says “File” which is where I would temporarily store any papers that needed to be filed into a more permanent home. Next, “Copy” is where I would place any papers that needed copies. This made it easy anytime I headed to the copy room to just grab the folder and take it with me.
The “Math” and “Science” folders were more for permanent storage. I only taught math and science, so this is where I stored important papers for those subjects like curriculum guides. For the most part, those papers lived there permanently.
The last two folders (excuse the top one which is missing its label) are both for grading. I had taught two sections of math and science, so I had a grading folder for each section. When I collected papers, I would quickly put them in alphabetical order, paperclip them, and stick them in the appropriate folder until I had a chance to grade them.
2. Using student mailboxes.
The second tip I have for how to organize paper clutter is to utilize student mailboxes. There are many options teachers use for mailboxes, but because I was in a small and mobile space, I found using file boxes the best solution. After grading papers, I would file them into a file box according to each student’s class number. This made it easy on Thursday when their envelopes went home to grab all the papers for that student, stick it in the folder, and hand it to them. (Students can also easily use this system themselves, I just never got around to teaching them how to do it). Using student mailboxes keeps your papers to return sorted and out of your way!
3. Get a filing cabinet!
Sorting my papers got way easier once I got a filing cabinet. You don’t necessarily need a huge one – mine is just two drawers. When I was in the classroom, I used to top drawer to store master copies of handouts I wanted to reuse the next year. I organized these by topic so that I could easily find what I was looking for. In the bottom drawer, I stored our student cummulative portfolios that followed the students to every grade. I also put any IEP folders I received in the same section so I could easily access all student information, and I knew exactly where everything was.
Now, I use my filing cabinet to store copy paper (regular paper on top and cardstock on the bottom). That way I can easily find whatever color I need! Both of these are great ways to use a filing cabinet. As I mentioned in my previous post, I got my filing cabinet for free, but I also see these all the time at thrift stores!
4. Vertical space is your friend.
One of the best systems I came up with when figuring out how to organize paper clutter was to use the space on the back of my closet doors to store copies for the upcoming week. Hanging file folders are a great way to organize paper without taking up a lot of valuable classroom space.
I had two and hung them on the inside of either door in my large storage box (which I refer to as a closet). I put a file folder inside each section and labeled what was in them with sticky notes so that I could easily change it out later. On one side I kept all my copies for the week, sorted by day, plus a few extra copies of other handouts. On the other, I kept my homework copies and science handouts. This system allowed me to make copies ahead of time without having to leave stacks of paper lying all over the place.
5. Creating a binder system.
The last system I used frequently for paper clutter is binders. I love binders because they are so versatile. You can use them for so many things! For large resources, I would store the master copy in a binder so I wasn’t taking up filing cabinet space. I also used binders to store the TEs of our math curriculum:
My favorite way to use binders, though, was for storing student data. I had a large binder where I stored all my student information. Inside the binder I had enough two-pocket poly dividers for each of my students. I labeled each divider tab with student numbers so that I didn’t have to rewrite their names each year.
Behind each divider I stored important student information that we collected at the beginning of the year. If you have to keep copies of report cards or other data, this is a great place to keep that as well. In the pockets, I would keep track of any discipline referrals. Our discipline system involved writing slips called infractions, which we had to keep track of each quarter. Slipping a copy of each infraction in the appropriate student’s divider helped me keep track!
I hope these tips have been helpful for you as you attempt to figure out how to organize paper clutter! Check out the other posts in the series below, and don’t forget to check back on Thursday for the next post!
Part 1: Organization Basics
Part 2: Organization on a Budget
Part 3: How to Organize Paper Clutter
Part 4: Teacher Storage Ideas
Part 5: Teacher Time Management
Part 6: Teacher Organization Tips