Michele has been a teacher for 7 years and is currently teaching 1st grade. She loves sharing tips with fellow teachers on her blog Teaching with Mama Owl. Michele loves spending time with her husband, son, and their dog, Bentley. She also enjoys traveling, finding the latest deals at Target, and finding new ways to be more organized.
If you’re like me, being more organized is one of the things you want to focus on this school year (or…every year). Organization skills are critical for any efficient teacher. In my seven years of teaching, I have discovered and refined many different organization methods and systems. Being organized helps me to work smarter, not harder. Let me share with you my top 10 teacher organization tips to start the new school year.
I love to color-code everything.
It makes it easier to see when things are out of place. It helps students keep the proper materials together. It also makes your room look neater and more systematic.
Last year, I bought color file folders to organize important assessments and papers by quarter. I placed first quarter papers in green folders. I used orange folders for second quarter papers. You get the point.
So when I open my filing cabinet, I can quickly find and pull out papers when I needed them. After grading and recording assessments, I place them back in the same file folder so I can easily reference it if there is a discrepancy in grades.
~Weekly Work Stations~
I also love to color code weekly student workstations. Our reading curriculum is broken up into 5-week units. The stations from each week are copied and laminated on a different color (week 1 – green, week 2 – orange, week 3 – yellow, etc.). This helps me to quickly change out stations and provides a visual cue for students.
It was a nightmare trying to keep things organized in my first year of teaching first grade when I had copied everything on white. Learn from my mistake. Color-coding is a lifesaver.
I love using clipboards to keep different papers organized and handy. I have one clipboard that is used when checking students’ homework in the morning. This works really well as I’m able to copy enough record keeping sheets for the whole quarter and keep it together on the clipboard.
Each week, I just rotate it to the new sheet. At the end of the quarter, I file away the used sheets and replace them with new ones. Now I have instant data if I ever need to know if a student absent or if a particular student has had issues with completing homework.
I need to monitor and record the daily behavior of some of my students. To keep things organized, I have a clipboard for each of these students so I can quickly grab it and jot down notes. Having it on a clipboard comes in handy when I need to pass the forms along to a support teacher when I’m not with the class.
Finally, I recently discovered and fell in love with mini clipboards! These clipboards are perfect for keeping single checklists handy. I usually copy several sheets of my class list (fitting about 4 lists on the same sheet. Then I cut them so each list is on a smaller strip of paper. I use these lists to keep track of who has turned in different forms and simply attach it to the front of that stack of papers. The mini clipboard is just the right size for these strips of paper and I don’t have to worry about them getting lost.
3. Numbering System
When you have 25 students in your class, it is vital to have a system to keep them, and their stuff, organized. I use my alphabetized class list to organize EVERYTHING in my classroom. Each student’s number corresponds with their name.
At the beginning of the year, I print off a sheet of 30 labels for each student. Each label has their name and class number. These labels go on their folders, tablets, Ziploc bags for storing extra supplies, placeholders for hanging their work on the wall. The possibilities are endless!
The labels follow the same template and are strategically placed in the same spot on their supplies. This makes it easy for the students (and myself) to quickly pass out supplies.
Grading writing samples? This system helps me to quickly put their tablets in ABC order for easy record keeping. Need to figure out who didn’t turn something in? I can even have a student put, say, all their folders in order and easily see whose is missing.
This year, we began a school wide initiative where we always have our students line in up ABC order. This eliminates cutting in line and helps you to see if any students are missing.
I put labels on EVERYTHING, in addition to the student name labels I mentioned above. I have lots of other labels that I print off at the beginning of the year and use to identify all kinds of stuff.
- Station materials
I swear by using Avery brand labels. My personality is set on being very frugal so I have tried other off-brand labels in the past. However, I’ve had problems with them not working well with the printer or the ink not sticking to them well. Save yourself a headache and just go with Avery brand labels.
~Brother Label Maker~
I also have gotten a lot of mileage out of my Brother Label Maker. I bought this when I first started teaching and have still not used up all of the tapes that originally came with it. This label maker is great for labeling things where you’ll only need one copy of the label. They’re also very long lasting. I even use it to create labels at home! I’ve used this to make labels for my sugar and flour containers at home and they haven’t come off after several years.
I. Love. Baskets!
I know I’m definitely into school supplies more than your ordinary person. But baskets? Baskets are like my kryptonite. I find it nearly impossible to walk by the organization section in places like Target without taking a look at their baskets.
Remember when I said I’m a very frugal person? Well, when I see a great deal on baskets, I just can’t pass it up. When I went to Japan in 2014, I came back with baskets from the dollar store. While on a Professional Development trip last year, I bought a class set of baskets because they were such a good find.
So why do I love baskets so much? Just like labels, I use baskets in EVERY part of my classroom. Baskets are great for organizing:
- Student supplies
- Teacher supplies
- Craft project materials
- Small group materials
- Materials you want a volunteer to work with
- Materials for a sub
- Work stations
The list goes on and on.
~How I Use Baskets~
Baskets also help your students know where to find things. You can say things like, “Put it in the blue basket” or “Grab a book from the orange basket.”
My collection has TONS of different baskets in all shapes and sizes that I’ve collected over the years.
I also love plastic magazine holders. I have students keep their homework binder and tablet in during the day. They’re also just the right size for file folders. I have one of these for their reading test folders and one for their math test folders. It makes it easy to grab and go when it’s grading time.
6. Test Folders
Grading can be an absolute nightmare if you haven’t kept your evidence organized along the way. The next tip I’m going to share with you totally blew my mind when I started teaching at my current school.
My coworkers were already using this system when I started, but over the years, I’ve helped to improve and refine it to make grading even more streamlined.
At the start of each year, I create a reading and math test folder for each of my students. Their name label is placed on the tab and front of their folder, making the folders easy to sort.
I have another label that goes on the front of the folder explaining for the parents what it is and how to use it when it’s sent home. On the inside of the folder, I dedicate one side for the quarterly grading sheet. Their scores are recorded here as I grade them. The other side will house their tests as they are taken throughout the year. At the end of the quarter, I have all of their scores inputted and ready to be used to give them a final grade.
The beauty of these test folders is that it’s a quick and easy way for me to stay on top of grades while also providing a way for parents to see their child’s progress.
My grade level has gotten many comments from parents on this system. I’ve also had parents who are teachers comment on how much they appreciate being able to see their child’s tests. It provides them the opportunity to reflect and set goals with their child.
~Premium File Folders with Prongs~
To save money, for years, my frugal side insisted on using the manila folders and prongs that I had in my closet.
Last year, though, I had some extra classroom funds and I decided to work smarter, not harder. I splurged and bought file folders with prongs. This saved me a TON of time and they were better quality than my DIY folders. Totally worth it.
8. Paper Trays
In addition to storing papers in fine folders and binders, I used paper trays to organize papers that’ll be used right away. This would be things like:
- Project letters
- Upcoming assessments
I love keeping these paper trays right on my desk to keep homework handy so I can easily grab it at the start of the week/day. The next assignment is right below it and ready to go.
Secret tip: I also have paper trays in my supply closet to organize my various colors of printer paper and cardstock. It keeps them from getting bent and helps me to grab the color I want very quickly.
9. Command Hooks
Command Hooks are a great, temporary way to hang things in your classroom (and home). I use a variety of hooks for all kinds of tasks:
- Hang curtains
- Hang posters in sheet protectors above my whiteboard
- Hang my emergency vest and bag
- Hang clipboards
These hooks help to keep things handy and it can also help students to find things quickly. If you decide you don’t like them in a particular place or if you’re just changing up your routine, they’re very easy to remove. Some of my Command Hooks have been up for years and are still holding up strong.
10. File Folder Organizer
My final teacher organization tip is utilizing a file folder organizer. I use this as a means to organize things outside of a filing cabinet or basket.
This year, I started using a file folder organizer (which I got on clearance) to hold the clipboards that I use every day.
As mentioned in tip #2, I like to keep clipboards to organize the papers that I use on a regular basis. Once I’ve finished using, say, my clipboard for checking student homework, I place it back on my file folder organizer. This keeps my work area clutter free and I know exactly where to find the clipboard when I need it.
I have such a hard time focusing when my work area is cluttered. It may seem a little unorthodox, but it’s something that has worked well for me.
These last two things I’m going to share with you are have been key to helping me work smarter, not harder.
If you haven’t started using Google Drive with your coworkers, I strongly recommend checking it out. Google drive has been critical for saving, sharing, and editing things as a grade level. We can all view and work on the same document at the same time. When I go home, I can continue working right where we left off. I can also pull up documents that someone else may have created years ago. It may take a little getting used to, but it’s totally worth it in the end.
~Teach Your Students to Be Organized As Well!~
Every week, I have time set aside for my students to organize their own spaces and as well as different parts of the classroom.
At the beginning of the year, I explain and model exactly how their desk and supplies should look. We review these points each week before I give them time to clean. They have gotten a lot faster at it because, overall, they have gotten better at keeping their spaces organized on a daily basis.
This is a HUGE contrast to my first year of teaching first grade. I didn’t give them time to do this and I didn’t provide clear instruction on how to be organized. It was so bad, that the following year, I turned all my desks around and didn’t allow my students to put stuff into their desks.
Now I spend 10-15 minutes every Thursdays to have my students do clean. This not only keeps our room looking neat it also instills in them a sense of pride and responsibility that they’ll take with them.
So those are my top 10 teacher organization tips to start the new year! Remember, good organization skills are critical for any efficient teacher and are totally worth the time and effort you’ll put in.
Being organized helps me to work smarter, not harder. Hopefully, these tips will help you do the same 🙂