Tips for New Teachers: Organizing Files

New teacher? Think about how to organize your files - and follow these guidelines so you don't lose your hard work.

My fifth year of teaching, I logged into my work computer, first thing in the morning, as I had done for five years.

(I promise the ‘five years’ thing is significant).

Except that I couldn’t log on. Nothing was happening. I called the IT guy. When he entered my room, I went out to talk to another coworker while he worked his magic.

A few minutes later: “It’s fried.” I didn’t even notice him standing beside me.

“You can’t turn it on? Get the files?”

He laughed. “I’ll get you a new one.” He walked out with my old tower, and five years worth of my work trapped in metal.

Overwhelmed with organizing your teaching files? Don't lose your work or waste time searching. Organize! Here's how.

Sure I had some files saved elsewhere, and I had paper copies of most of it.

Still. Five years worth of creating activities, tests, lesson plans… gone.

I was stupid. My lackadaisical attitude toward organizing my files cost me hours of work. I had to recreate activities and products because the paper copies were not sufficient. I had to make tiny alterations in student assignments for them to be compliant with certain IEPs. What should have taken me a few minutes of opening a file turned into my retyping entire units of work.

Organizing files is a must for teachers – especially as you gather material throughout the years. Here are some tips for new teachers, as you start to accumulate papers and digital files.


I’ll say up front, I’m pro-binder. I need that visual of a unit for planning. Plus, some papers always need printed, and they’re already printed and in my binder.

Binders also allow easy organization throughout the year. For instance with American Literature, once I’m done teaching the colonial time period, I put that binder away and retrieve the revolutionary time period binder. I feel as if I have fewer binders cluttering my desk.

Storage can be a problem though. Binders are larger than folders or a stick drive (obviously), so if you have a smaller room, this could be a problem. In one classroom, I did put binders in a filing cabinet.

Folder Filing System

Some teachers are loyal to manilla folders and a filing cabinet. Folders are less bulky than binders. They also allow for you to specifically label. For example, if I had a binder for adjective activities, I could have a file folder for predicate adjectives, proper adjectives, and on.

Files allow you to work in chronological order. You can put a file you use in August in the back, chronologically moving folders forward.

I struggle to see the big picture of a unit with file folders, and I tend to lose papers from folders (normally they’re in the bottom of the filing cabinet).


Digital Files

I still save files on my hard drive. I now move files over to my external hard drive every Friday (every week!) and save periodically on stick drives.

Every file is in at least two places: once on the hard drive, another on the backup drive. The stick drives house completed units and products. When I feel satisfied that a large chunk of material (say, a unit on Animal Farm) is done, I check that it is on the external hard drive and a stick drive, and then delete it from the computer’s hard drive. (My hard drive gets full).

My labeling has changed for the better too. When I go through old files, I see nonsensical names like, “AF19-27.” Years later, I have no clue what that means. Author’s last name? Animal Farm? Page numbers? A date? Now my file names make more sense:

Organizing files.


This is for a novel unit, and each chapter has its own folder. Answer keys are labeled as such, pages are ‘a’ and ‘b.’ This makes sense to me, even if I don’t open the file for years.

Some people save on a Digital Cloud, but I don’t pay for that yet.

Finally, I complete most of my products on my Google Drive. Typed activities, worksheets, tests… they are always in one spot.

Digital is wonderful, especially now that I’ve got a labeling and folder system that works. Still, I would never do without my paper copies. Call me old-fashioned, but I need to arrange paper. Plus, the computer crash of 2007 completely sold me on having a backup of my work.

Now when I’m organizing my files, I put them in several places. I use a combination of binders and digital. My biggest tip for new teachers? Develop a system that works for you – and that will protect your materials.

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