Teacher Organization: Back To School Edition

Teacher organization? Read tips for getting the school year off to the best start. #BackToSchool #TeacherOrganization

Teacher organization on your mind?

A little over ten years ago, I became fascinated by organization in the classroom. Teacher organization, student organization, organization techniques. I loved the topic so much that I did my research on it for my master’s degree. (Dorky, huh?)

I’ve written about classroom organization, binder organization, and routines and procedures. People are more successful when they are organized and have organizational tools built into their habits. Since I’ve done research concerning organization, I have a unique perspective.

Today, I’m writing specifically about teacher organization before school begins. I do not spend days upon days at my classroom, and I do not heavily decorate. I would also never encourage teachers to spend time or money they don’t want to spend!

I invest time in my classroom the week before teachers arrive. Typically, I use three days (not even compete days) organizing myself, some of them contractual and some not. Here is how I divide my days.

Teacher organization? Read tips for getting the school year off to the best start. #BackToSchool #TeacherOrganization

Day one: physical classroom

Take with you: Head to school with dust rags, any new library books, material and ribbon for bulletin boards, and any other new supplies that you gathered over break. Pack coffee, water, or tea and a snack.

Keep in mind: Your overall color scheme and environment.

I normally find clearance material at any sewing store. During the summer, I shop garage sales, Goodwill, and any clearance section for random decor and bookends. True, my room has an eclectic feeling, but I love all the homeyness. I take all of my treasures into school the first day that I decide to work. When I don’t shop scraps or clearance, I frequent a store that has a teacher discount, like Joann Fabrics.

Clean

My current room is really clean at the start of each year. My dusting is minimal. With other classrooms, I did more cleaning than I do now. I typically wipe down shelves and desks, but your cleaning time might be different than mine. Even though I’m excited to start decorating, I force myself to wipe down the room. Otherwise, I might be sticking tape to a dusty surface.

Bulletin boards

After I clean, I start assembling bulletin boards because they will tie my colors together. I look at my bulletin boards as background music, as permanent fixtures. Any interactive bulletin board I ever created broke, so now, I keep them simple.

For the border, you can use ribbon, pages from an old book, or a pre-made border. Often, my bulletin boards have student work, so the boards might be blank for a few weeks. Still, the colors and messages are established.

Classroom library

Then, I organize my classroom library. I rotate books throughout the year, so I decide what to showcase first. (This year, I am considering starting with graphic novels to encourage students to pick them up.) I use genre-labels, and I adhere those to shelves. I match a few books with their “if you like __, try ___” posters. Again, I rotate those notes throughout the year, so I don’t put them all out. (I do print them all and store them so that I am likely to switch the books.)

Supplies

My students have open access to pencils, pens, sticky notes, index cards, and erasers… any school supply. I place those in containers around the room. (I have lots of shelving.) If you don’t have shelves, you could perhaps use the top of a filing cabinet.

Knickknacks

Finally, I access all of my knickknacks, all of my little posters and encouragements and dorky pieces that are often talking points for me and my students. Those glass pieces and mismatched baskets end up in different spots every year. I arrange those as the finishing for the physical part of my classroom.

Normally, cleaning, setting up bulletin boards, and organizing my classroom library takes a few hours. That’s day one of teacher organization for August.

When I leave that first day, I know what my overall color scheme and message will be. If I need to pick up a ribbon or something small to tie into my color scheme, I do that.

Day Two: teacher organization

Take with you: Any final pieces (often posters). Coffee, water, or tea and a snack.

Keep in mind: Your goals for the school year.

On day two, (not always the next day!), I spend lots of time with my laptop and the school’s main printer. I arrive with my files for posters to print. I’m also ready to create!

Syllabus

My syllabus is simple and straight-forward. (You might ask if your school has any requirements.) I explain policies and rules, provide my contact information, list the classroom rule, and briefly map out the course’s content.

I look at the syllabus. I ask a coworker to read it. I do not print the syllabus until other adults have proofread it. The syllabus is my first official paper for students, and I want it right.

Rules and posters

One bulletin board has school information like calendars, bell schedules, and rules. On the walls and with other bulletin boards, I add posters. My posters cover grammar, famous quotes, and statistics. I print on colored paper to match my room. Always, I have a variety of colors!

Binder organization

Most schools require that teachers have a binder for substitute teachers, and I clean up mine every year. I also use binders for organizing myself, so I print new covers and toss old papers.

At this point, my physical classroom is done. Teacher organization is important to me and once I am done with the actual classroom, I can focus on the most important aspect: my new students.

Day Three: student prep

Take with you: Any final pieces for your room. Coffee, water, or tea and a snack. Contents for your teacher desk.

Keep in mind: Students!

Schedules change, and I try to organize my student information as close to the first day as possible.

I print my rosters so that I can physically mark them. I begin my initial look at IEPs and 504 Plans. Sometimes, counselors and parents have emailed me at this point. I note special circumstances, like where students must sit. (Please be careful with your notations. Imagine your superintendent reading what you wrote.) After I have student rosters, I am ready to prepare for students.

Seat assignment cards

I write names on their seat assignment cards. Before students enter the first day, I will assign seats by simply putting a card on a desk. I have a first day of school presentation that directs students to find their assigned seat.

I do not complete ice breakers or fun games on the first day. Students who are introverts, who are unsure, who are unconfident are often overwhelmed on the first day of school. The assigned seats accomplish several things:

  • Establishes me as the leader.
  • Gives all students a spot to belong.
  • Eliminates confusion, unnecessary questions, and disagreements about spots.
  • Allows me to start class on time.
  • Creates a calm environment.
  • Naturally places students who require a location near the teacher, at the front of the room, near an exit, and on.

After I make the seat assignment cards, I clip the rosters to a clipboard so that I have it accessible that first day when I stand near the door and greet students.

So! I have student cards and rosters. Next, I create my classes in Google Classroom.

Google Classroom

I label each of my classrooms with straightforward names, something like, “English 9 Fourth Hour.” I keep the pattern with every class and make the titles parallel. I upload backgrounds.

Next, I create a presentation that will contain each of my class’ digital codes for Google, Common Lit., No Red Ink, and on. I copy the class code for each digital platform. I make a master presentation for each class. Doing so saves me time looking for codes with transfer students.

Parent letter

I prep my parent letter to send out by the end of the first week. I want to connect with my parents immediately. Then at meet-the-teacher night, I have already started a relationship with them.

These teacher organization ideas… do not include my coursework. I work and plan with my coworkers during inservice days. I also have a half-day after I meet students to prep for classes. For me, for my personality, I need to organize myself and my classroom.

I mentioned many tools that makes my life easier, and my first day of school bundle contains the seat assignment cards, syllabus, passes, parent letter, Google Classroom backgrounds, teacher binder covers, and first day presentation.

Teacher organization matters a great deal to me, and I was invited to speak at the MSELA Summit on this topic. If you’d like to hear more, please join me!

I’ll be chatting about teacher organization at the 2019 MSELA Summit, the virtual summit for Middle School English / Language Arts Teachers!

For five days, this online conference will be bringing you interviews with dozens of teacher experts (and I’m one of them!) who have incredibly valuable advice to share with middle school English / Language Arts teachers as it relates to heading back to school.

As a featured guest speaker, I will appear on Day 2: “First Day and First Week Ideas.” In fact, my topic is all about “Procedures for Older Students” to help you think about how to plan for procedures that upper-level students need in order to start the year off with a smooth, organized classroom! I’m also featured in a bonus interview session where I share more ideas and strategies to help teachers get and stay organized, too.

If this blog post helped you, please join me at the MSELA Summit.

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