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Help for the Organizationally Challenged Teacher

By Genia Connell on December 30, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

Not too long ago, I was in the school office talking to a parent whose daughter had been in my class years earlier. The mom said she wanted to thank me because she felt that the way I taught students organizational skills for home and school had provided her previously messy daughter with good habits she carried with her all through school and into college. I left the office feeling pretty proud of myself and shared the story with a close teacher friend who happened to walk into my room. She took one look at my desk piled high with a tower of carefully balanced books and papers, looked at me, and said with a smile, “So I guess the old saying is true . . . those who can, do, and those who can't, teach.” Ouch!

I really wish I was super organized, but I’m just not. I admire every teacher who has a neat-as-a-pin, clutter-free room, and I aspire to be like that, but it’s tough for me. Because I know my weaknesses, however, I have set up several systems to help keep me, my students, and my classroom running smoothly. Hopefully a few of my tips will help those of you who also find yourself organizationally challenged.


Keeping My Students Organized


Color-Coded Folders

When it comes to students' keeping their work organized, I take all the responsibility off me. My students have six color-coded, labeled folders in their desks. Every time a paper is to be put away, I tell them exactly where it goes, as in, “Put this map in your green social studies folder.” The next time we need a particular paper and a student says, "I can't find mine," I very nicely can say, "I told you to put it in your green social studies folder, so if it’s not there, I can’t help you.” Most learn quickly to listen to where their papers need to go. Print your own customizable folder labels

help for the organizationally challenged

customizable folder labelsClick the image above to download labels.


Visits From the Neat Desk Fairy

At random times throughout the year, the desk fairy pays a visit while the students are out of the room. Those with neat, organized desks free of loose papers, old snacks, or any extra items that don't belong get a certificate and a small treat. Since there is no set time when I give the awards out, the kids really work at keeping neat in anticipation of the desk fairy's visit.

Click the image above to download the Clean Desk Award.


Attendance and Homework Check at a Glance

From the second day of school, students know when they walk through the classroom door each morning that the first thing they need to do is put their red homework folder in their mailbox with their homework on top. Within two minutes of the morning bell ringing, I know who is absent and who doesn't have their homework just from a quick glance at the cubbies. Perhaps the biggest benefit of this system is that students rarely have late homework because they know I will know immediately and come talk to them about it.


Keeping Supplies Organized

Monthly and Thematic Materials

Totes above my cupboards labeled with the months of the year hold all my seasonal resources for bulletin boards, holidays, and units I teach during that month. At the beginning of each month, I pull down the tote and I'm ready to go.


Bulletin Board Borders Stored in Frosting Containers

I first saw another teacher do this years ago, and to this day I’m pretty sure the idea of storing your unwieldy borders in cleaned-out frosting containers is worthy of some sort of Nobel Prize. My borders stack beautifully in my cupboards and are protected from getting creased or torn. I wrap a piece of border around the outside to easily find the one I want. Fortunately, parents were more than happy to wash their containers and donate them. (Probably a better alternative to eating 50 containers of frosting!)


Antibacterial Wipe Containers Know How to Multi-Task

Wipe containers covered with contact paper make perfect, sturdy receptacles for rulers and paintbrushes. The container pictured below is four years old and still going strong.


Shoe Boxes — They're Not Just for Shoes Anymore

When I moved classrooms a couple of years ago, I discovered that I had enough sticky notes, paper clips, and push pins to last me through retirement. I had kept them in various places and just kept ordering more every year, not knowing what I had. Now, everything is kept in dollar store plastic shoe boxes, stacked in a cupboard so I can see what I have.


Pens, Pens, Everywhere

This fun-to-use dish filled with glass gems has cured my habit of leaving pens laying around. I like how my pens stand at attention ready to be used. If I do leave a pen laying by the wayside, one of my students always returns it to the container, mostly because they enjoy pushing the pens into the gems. This was two dollars well spent at the dollar store!


Community Supplies 

These colorful dollar store bins help kids easily access and put away community supplies like scissors, glue sticks, and highlighters.


These smaller totes stay on tables to give students quick and easy access to supplies.


When All Else Fails, Hide It!

Under the sink in my room there is a great open area for storage. Messy me immediately realized what a great "hiding" spot that would make. Soooo, I used a shower curtain that I cut to fit, hooks, and a shower rod to create this nifty blockade. Since I don't sew (as evidenced by the binder clip I've used in lieu of a button on my favorite pair of pants for the past two years), I used fusing tape and an iron on the bottom hem. 

What a tidy storage area!


Here's what's hidden behind curtain number one. Yikes!


I found this storage seat in Scholastic's Bonus Catalog this year and had to have it. Not only does it provide an extra seat in the classroom, but it also hides all of my reading and writing assessment folders in hanging files.


Next week I'll share with you how I have finally organized my classroom library to make it easy for my students to find books at their just-right level, along with the new idea I had this year to keep my book boxes the neatest they have ever been. I have no idea how I didn't think of it earlier!

Now that I've shared a few of my tricks that give people the illusion that I'm highly organized, I'd like to know what some of your best tips are for organizing. Give us your best ideas in the comments section below, and be sure to check out all the amazing tips my organized blogger friends have shared this year:

"40 Quick and Easy Organization Tips" by Meghan Everette

"Creating Smart Spaces for Math Stations" by Julie Ballew

"Four Tips for Untangling (Power Cords and More!)" by Alycia Zimmerman

"CCSS Math Tub Organization" by Shari Edwards

"Creating a Teacher Workspace" by Tiffani Mugurussa

Comments (6)

Betty--I'm a little late seeing this, but if you happen to see this, what I do with papers copied but not ready to use yet...I use a mailbox set that sits on top of my counter. I designate a row of mailboxes for each subject, and the papers slip into each slot. During class, it's easy to see which one I want and grab it. I also leave the last mailbox at the bottom of each row for extra copies of things I've already handed out. This way finding work for those who were absent or lost their paper is much easier.

Great Kid

Thanks, for your ideas. This is my worst problem, in a small room that holds 25 or more kids. What do you do with your daily papers you take in and how do you store the papers you are going to give out?
I work on this all the time but it doesn't take long to get the desk covered.
I'll see what I can use.

Hi Betty,

I can definitely relate to you. My 28 kids in a small space makes organization even more important. I have separate stacking baskets for students to turn their work into. That makes gathering them at the end of the day to take home and check a bit easier for me. I like to copy things I use every day, like our morning work and math homework sheets only once a quarter so I store those in a file cabinet and take them out as needed. Other papers I keep in a basket on my desk. How are you managing your papers right now? I would love to get some new ideas myself! Take care, Genia

Love the ideas posted here! I am sure to use them again and again.

Your organizational ideas are winners! I went back to my room and started using them immediately.

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