Ways for Teachers to Stay Organized
The life of a teacher is many things. It’s a chaotic whirlwind that’s at times rewarding, but at other times just a headache waiting to happen. But if there’s one word that could perfectly sum up what it means to be a teacher, it might be “unpredictable.”
A teacher’s job changes frequently — sometimes even from one hour to the next. They work insane hours both in and out of school, put up with everything their students can throw at them and must be able to roll with the punches in a way that’s required of few other professionals.
So how can the busy teacher make their crazy and chaotic life a little more manageable? As it happens, the key to managing it all is a little organization. Organization means doing things like color-coding notes and folders with neatly labeled sticky tabs. It means storing things in correctly labeled cubbies. And it means having a to-do list, so you never forget a meeting or a task again.
This type of organization is crucial to both your mental health and success in the crazy profession of teaching. That’s why today, we’re going to go through some basic tips on how to stay organized as a teacher. These tips will not only help you get organized, but also help you stay that way. By learning how to be a little more organized, we hope you can also learn to be less stressed and anxious, as well as more productive and more eager to cross items off your to-do list.
Ready? Then let’s get started.
Why Organization Is Important
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wanted to argue organization is a bad thing. You might find people who say organization isn’t really their style, and that they work better in chaos. You might also hear people say organization makes them feel too confined. But even among these people, you will rarely find someone who actively argues organization is a negative. We all agree being organized and put-together is a desirable goal.
But why is that? Why do we all inherently agree having things in order is a positive?
There might be many possible answers to that, but the simplest one is this. Life — especially when you’re a teacher — is always going to throw the unexpected at you. You might think your day is going to go one way, when suddenly it starts heading in completely the opposite direction. If you haven’t taken time to organize, you might find yourself in a flurried panic as you desperately try to figure out how to cope with this new direction.
If, on the other hand, everything in your classroom and your life is in its proper place, you are much better equipped to stop, take a deep breath and confidently head off in this new direction.
Organization in your own sphere helps you cope with the disorganization you will always encounter in your job. You can’t predict what crazy shenanigans your students will get up to today, but if you can predict exactly where you left that file of graded papers, you’re off to a pretty good start.
Based on all this evidence, we can see organization is important for professionals in any career, but especially for teachers who deal with massive amounts of chaos and unpredictability in their daily lives.
How Not Being Organized Can Affect You Negatively
We mentioned why organization is important, but let’s consider the flip side of that question. How will being disorganized negatively affect you?
- You’ll Waste More Time
Disorganization is a time-waster. Imagine if every time you needed to find a specific paper or note, you had to spend five minutes looking for it. Five minutes might not sound like much, but if you need to find 10 papers throughout the day, suddenly you’ve wasted almost an hour. If, on the other hand, everything is right where it should be, you’re suddenly ahead of schedule.
- You’ll Be More Stressed
In almost every case, being behind schedule means being stressed. Our brains and bodies feel the pressure of being behind in our work, and stress is the natural reaction. Chronic stress is not only bad for our mental and emotional health, but it’s also bad for the work we do. Work we do under the pressures of stress is almost always of a lower quality than the tasks we take on when we’re in a healthy mental place.
- You’ll Lose Relaxation Time
It’s no secret teachers work crazy hours. Long after the students have gone home, they’re often still at school — grading papers, planning lessons and preparing materials for next week’s classes. If the teacher is unorganized, these long hours become even longer. And every extra hour you spend at school planning is a lost hour of relaxation time at home.
- You’ll Set a Poor Example
Organization in the classroom is also about setting a good example for your students. As a teacher, part of your job is to model good behavior for your students. An impeccably organized desk makes a statement about the kind of person you are, the kind of classroom you run and the kind of behavior you expect from them.
If, on the other hand, your desk looks like it was just hit by a hurricane, this also sends a message. It tells the students their teacher isn’t organized, and they can be disorganized as well. While ultimately, you can’t control how organized your students choose or choose not to be, you can send them a message about what you expect from them.
How to Stay Organized as a Teacher
Now that we’ve covered why organization is important, it’s time to get practical. In no particular order, here are our favorite tips for being an organized teacher.
- Stick to One Unified Organization System
Are you that person who is always putting things in a “smart place,” only to immediately forget where that place was? If so, you might benefit from this tip.
Many times, we feel the urge to start organizing and cleaning, but we aren’t systematic enough about it. We create one to-do list on paper, another on our phone and still another on our computer. Or we make one box of random junk in the kitchen, another in the basement and another in the bedroom. Nothing is ever where it’s supposed to be because your “organizing system” is almost more disorganized than having no system at all.
Time to step back, take a breath and do some real planning here.
Make one to-do list and stick with it. Decide what format is best for you. Do you find the motions of writing something down help you remember it better? Try a physical list. Do you value portability and the ease of having your list with you at all times? Put it on your phone. Or do you like the ease of editing, writing, copying and pasting that comes with a real keyboard? Just put the list on your computer. It doesn’t matter which format you choose if it works for you.
Do you like to have a place where you put random junk you don’t know what else to do with? Consolidate your random junk stashes so you only have one. This way, when something goes missing and you want to check for it, you just have one place to check.
While these are two examples, you can carry the idea of having one single system throughout your entire organizational scheme. Simplify and consolidate, and you’ll find organization becomes much more convenient and easier to maintain.
- Use a Different Folder for Every Day of the Month
Everyone feels intimidated when they look at the mound of work they have to do in a single month. It’s impossible not to. One of the most effective ways to make it feel less intimidating and more manageable is to break it down by day. Even if you have 300 things to do every month, that’s only about 10 things every day. And staring at 10 things every day is way more manageable than staring at a mountain of 300 things every day.
To make this system work, we recommend setting up a filing cabinet and filling it with 31 folders, all labeled according to which day of the month they represent. Then use these folders to store worksheets, templates, copies of tests, prepared materials and anything else you know you’re going to need on that particular day. This way, everything is exactly where it needs to be when you need it. You’ll never waste time trying to find those test copies again.
You can also use this filing system to file things other than student materials. Assuming the filing cabinet is private and only you can access it, why not also store things like bills, upcoming events and reminders to yourself on the day when they’re relevant? You can even make to-do lists ahead of time to file on their respective days. It might even be something as simple as scribbling a note to yourself on a Post-It and dropping it into the file of the day on which you’ll need to remember that thing.
- Color-Code Your Student’s Files
Color-coding is one of the best visual aids there is. At the beginning of the year, pick a color for every student in your classroom. If you have an extremely large classroom, you may struggle to find enough colors for everyone, but don’t be afraid to use different shades of a color to represent different students. After all, lime green and dark forest green are different enough that you will have a hard time confusing them.
Label each colored folder with the student’s name. Then, for the rest of the year, file all the student’s work and information in this colored folder. Most likely, you’ll end up needing multiple folders, but the principle stays the same. Every time you see any sky-blue folder, you’ll know at a glance what student it belongs to.
- Talk to Your Students About Organization
Of course, no matter how much effort you put into organizing your classroom and workspace, it’s difficult to make any real headway if the kids aren’t on board. That’s why it’s a good rule of thumb to involve your students in your organizational efforts.
At the beginning of the year, why not try talking about the importance of organization and how it relates to things like time management, stress and mental health? Ask them if they have any ideas about how they’d like to organize the classroom. At the end of the day, any real decisions will be yours, but it’s important to ask for input from the students. They’re much more likely to participate and help keep the room clean if it feels like it was their idea, or at least if it’s something they agreed to.
- Stay on Top of Cleaning and Organization
We’ve all been there. It’s only Tuesday, but your desk and teaching space are already a mess. You don’t have time to worry about it, so you tell yourself you’ll clean up by the end of the week. But every day, your space gets messier and messier and you feel yourself falling further behind and getting more panicked and stressed.
Take our word for it. As much it might be a struggle at the time, it’s always best to stay on top of your organization. Don’t set something aside, saying, “I’ll file that later.” You won’t want to later. File it now. The more things you set aside with promises to take care of it “later,” the more these things will pile up and the less you’ll want to take care of them.
The simplest method to organization is to just do it as you go along. Don’t put it off and don’t let messes pile up. You’ll be less stressed and more productive for it.
- Invest in Some Organizational Supplies
Nothing makes you feel the organizational spirit more than investing in some practical boxes, cubbies and storage bins. And let’s face it, it’s tough to get organized if you don’t have the right equipment.
So head out to your local Target, Walmart or Homegoods store and pick out some organizers. As you shop, think about what will be most helpful to you. You might want to color-code them based on what you’ll be using them for. Or you might want to be wary of what size containers you buy, given the space you have to work with. Maybe you have very limited space, so you want to buy containers that easily stack.
Whatever you choose to stock your classroom and space with, you’ll be much more eager to get started using it if it’s attractive, fun and something you picked out yourself. So buy something that inspires you to get organized.
- Labels Are Your Friend
When it comes to organizing, there’s nothing better than a big, easy-to-read label. These labels will also help you remember what’s inside every box, file and cubby without having to open it to see. It’s also good for the students. They’ll be less likely to make a mess as they search for supplies if the crayons, scissors and tape and paper are all in clearly labeled containers.
Read more tips and ways to become a better planner
How to Get Back on Track After Being Disorganized
As much as we’d all like to think we could be organized all the time, it doesn’t always work that way. We’ve all had days, weeks and months where we let things slip. First, we let one thing go, then another, and before we know it, we’re drowning in piles of disorganized work.
Recovering from such a situation is going to take time. We recommend blocking out an afternoon, or even an entire day. Use this time to clean up the clutter, sort through your papers and files and put things where they belong. You’ll be able to gauge how much time you need based on how long it’s been since you let your organization slide.
If it’s been a very long time since you’ve had any kind of organization, we recommend taking it slowly. If you try to introduce a whirlwind of changes into your daily activities, you’re going to be overwhelmed and intimidated. Before you know it, you’re likely to slip back into your old habits.
Instead, try changing a few things at a time. Maybe your first step is putting your desk supplies in neat containers and giving each student a dedicated file folder. Once you get used to these few changes and they become habit, introduce a few more. Little by little, take steps to become an organized teacher.
What About Day Planners?
Day planners are often a topic of heated debate. Some people love them and claim they don’t know how they’d get through their day without one. Others vehemently oppose them, and claim they’re nothing more than a nuisance that isn’t helpful anyway.
There is no right or wrong answer to this debate. The only thing that matters is what works for you. If you’ve never tried a planner of any kind, now might be a good time to give one a try. Use one for a few weeks or months and see how you like it. Do you find yourself constantly relying on and checking it to see what your engagements and to-do items for the week are? If so, maybe day planners are a good way for you to go.
On the other hand, maybe after a few weeks, you look back at your day planner and realize that you have only entered three things in. And even after writing these things, you never looked back at them during the week they were supposed to happen. If so, there’s no need to worry. Day planners just might not be a good fit for you.
There’s nothing wrong with disliking day planners. There are plenty of other tools and methods that might work for you instead. Maybe you’d do better with a desk calendar. Maybe you’d prefer a Post-It note method where you stick Post-Its to your desk, using them to represent the days of the week and writing your tasks on them. Or maybe you just want to open a Microsoft Word document, make a list of all the upcoming days and fill them in with all the tasks you need to do on those days.
It’s not about having the fanciest or the prettiest method. The most important thing is finding a method that works for you. If that’s using a planner, OK. If not, no worries.
Try Using a Planner Today
Now that you’re armed with these organized teacher tips, the next step is to begin putting them into practice. As a first step, why not try out a planner and see if they’re right for you and your organizational style?
If you’re looking to purchase a planner, we encourage you to check out our unique and beautiful planners. Here at Success by Design, we know success isn’t something that just happens. You plan for it. That’s why we design all our planners with your organizational needs in mind. We offer a variety of styles and designs, so everyone is sure to find something they like, regardless of their preferences.