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Getting Organized for Academic Success: Tackling the Paperwork Trail

By Angela Bunyi on October 22, 2010
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8



Think about the positive and negative components of teaching. Working with students and having an impact on their lives probably ranks highest on the positive list for most. A large majority, I suspect, would rank keeping up with papers as the top negative aspect. With stacks of paperwork to correct, reams of forms to pass out, and files to complete and return, how does one balance the positive and negative components of teaching? In this post I will share the eight tips that allowed me to tackle the paperwork trail and organize myself and my students for academic success.  

Note: This post uses photographs to demonstrate how you can organize your incoming and outgoing paperwork. 


Use This, Not This: Organizational Tools for Academic Success

If you find yourself surrounded by large piles of paperwork, know that it doesn't have to be that way. With a few resources and tools you can be on your way to organizational nirvana. Here are a few "must have" tools for the classroom.


Tip 1: Skip the large open mailboxes for housing graded assignments that need to be returned to students.

They take up a lot of space, look cluttered, and allow papers to slip out easily. Instead, why not try a large file tote like the one pictured below? You can house it nearly anywhere in your classroom and easily transport it home. I have had this tote bag for several years, and I am amazed at how durable it is. At times, I have even thrown my Mac laptop in the back, and had room to spare.



Not This...


Tip 2: Skip the usual paper trays and pockets for assignments that need to be graded/turned in.

Again, it looks cluttered and unkempt. Instead, consider purchasing another file tote bag for turning in assignments. Having a sleek, small file tote bag allows you to take papers anywhere with ease. With this tote bag, you also have two convenient side pockets.



Not This...


Tip 3: Don't throw that extra sheet away: organize it for easy access!

It seems like the moment I throw away that extra sheet notifying parents about the Book Fair, here comes a student asking for an extra copy. It makes you want to hang on to every extra sheet that comes your way. And now you can. In moderation. I purchased a closed green filing box and put files labeled Monday-Friday inside it. Whenever I make copies for an assignment, I make an extra two. These then get filed under that day of the week. I also save two copies of school administration papers, such as the lunch calendar and field-trip forms. This system has saved me many times and only requires me to remember what day the form or sheet was passed out. At the end of the week, I combine Monday-Friday papers and place them in a yellow file. I do this for the entire grading period. With the new grading period, the files are cleaned out and the papers saved in a separate filing cabinet. 



Not This...


Tip 4: Instead of cramming it in a cabinet, use containers and label makers.

My room is literally labeled from floor to ceiling. It took some initial work, but there is not one item I can imagine that doesn't have a labeled bin and spot. My students appreciate this organization as well. They know how to find and return school supplies because all items are clearly marked and do not move from their labeled spots.



Not This...


If you have a specific brand of pen that you adore, go ahead and create a spot just for those pens. (See the photo below.) Be proactive! What is it that you want easy and consistent access to? Create a spot. Find a container. Label it. 



Tip 5: Invest in file folders for incoming papers.

With so many passwords, test results, faculty meetings, and so forth, it is essential to have a place for paperwork. My file folders are not the prettiest ones around, but I can find important papers and I have a clean desk. These file folders are housed in my teacher desk drawer.



Not This...


Tip 6: Instead of open bins, consider using containers with lids.

For lunch count, absentee notes, and forms that need returning, I have a letter-sized box with a lid. It keeps our room looking crisp and clean at all times. Open bins instantly make me stressed. This way, I choose to open that box and deal with paperwork when I am ready.



Not This...


Tip 7: For favorite units, conference notes, resources, and frequently used paper resources, consider a labeled notebook.

It also helps to include a few clear sheet pouches at the back of the binder to quickly store new material without worrying about a hole puncher. You can even use a notebook to record grades or save turned-in lesson plans.




Tip 8: Whatever you do, clean your desk at the end of the school day.

The first thing I do at the end of the day is make sure that my desk is cleared off entirely and that all papers have found their new home. I avoid having a "teacher shrine" on my desk and surrounding area. Instead I opt on placing family pictures and meaningful knickknacks in various spots around the room. 



Not This...



Other Tips and Suggestions?

Feel free to share your ideas and success stories. I'd love to hear what works for you!

To learn more about our class happenings, visit http://bunyi.weebly.com/.



Comments (32)

When I was teaching, I assigned a number to each student. If I had 22 students then we had numbers 1 thru 22. Numbers were assigned alphabetically. I instructed them to put their number behind their name on every paper they had to turn in. When it was time to collect them, I would put them in numerical order. If a number was missing I knew right away who did not get it turned in. When it was time to file them or hand them back, they were already in alpha order and a breeze to file.

I love the tote...where did you get it?

Love all these organizational tips! After I grade my second graders' assignments, I store them in a secure spot in one stack. When it's time to pass papers back( I pass back each Friday) we play the "Quiet Game". First I put a circle on the board, then say "okay, let the Quiet Game begin! Everyone who wants to pass papers, lines up and I hand them a small stack of papers to pass out to its owner. You can hear a pin drop and the "game" takes less than 5 minutes to play! If I hear ANY talking, I write the talker's name in the circle on the board. The game ends when all papers have been passed out and whoever doesn't get their name in the circle earns a sticker! The kids love this! When someone does talk, it usually only happens only once!

Love your idea of clearing off desk at end of the day. I have been doing that for years and all my colleagues think I am crazy. It helps me to focus for the next morning.
Angela G.

Angela, I think I love you. I hope to adopt a few of your ideas. I inherited literally stuffed full cabinets and files I am still struggling to get under control. (7 years... oops). I laughed out loud at "Oh, and I tend to throw them up in the air for students to catch". I know exactly how my high schoolers would react, they'd watch them float to the floor and walk out. Just a great mental picture! Truly, keep the great ideas coming. Blessings, Shay


Thank you for the kind words. It really means a lot to me. I just feel so lucky to have this platform that has allowed me to do this for the past couple of years. I'm happy to hear I have helped you. :)

Best to you,


Angela, thank you very much for sharing all your great ideas, you are a phenomenal teacher!!!! I am a bilingual first grade teacher, at Newark, NJ and a CLI model teacher, and since I discovered you 2 months ago, I improved myself and teaching because of you. You are an inspiration for every teacher !! Happy Holidays!!!! Felices Fiestas!!!!! Andrea


I return grades, stapled, with our weekly newsletter on the top each Tuesday afternoon. As students are packing up, I call names and start passing out. Since I write their name on each newsletter, I call names and start placing them on my desk quickly for pick-up. The whole process takes less than one minute.

I do not have students grab their own work and my file tote is usually in my teacher closet (which has a lock) for most of its life. It comes out when papers need to be returned and for my son to sort papers after I grade them (poor kid, right?). The folders are by students' names, organized by first name because it is easier for me to sort.

If you were worried about privacy, how I store it would solve that issue. We have a full length closet with a key. This is where we are to store cleaners, private files, etc. If you have something like this, it would be an easy fix.



I'm curious about the return work system. I'm a high school teacher and my biggest problem is taking the time out of class to get papers back to the kids, mainly when it's not something we're going to review in class together.

Do the folders sit out in the room and the kids just go pick them up? Are the folders by student name or by class?

I tried setting up something like that in my student teaching placement and my cooperating teacher nixed it, saying the school would have issues with kids being able to see other people's grades....how does that work? Do you have problems with students or parents having privacy concerns with it?

after finding papers all over the floor and wasting class time handing out graded work I came up with this system. I keep all graded papers in a file labeled by hour. I do not return eveything: only tests and things that need to be reworked (students can check their grades on-line). If a student says "I handed that in" I give them the file and have them look for their paper. If it is not in there they know they did not turn it in. I clean out the file after every quarter or semester. This has saved me time and headaches. Hope it helps.

Yes, I think this is a serious enough cause that you will not regret it. I am SERIOUSLY, in no way joking, lost without a black flair each day(especially for my conference notes). My back-up is purple, but that's just me. I even have a student who has a back-up black one that he keeps, and he is always willing to let me borrow his when he sees the worried face of despair.

Also, I would consider a little label maker work on said created flair container. My recommendation is the following:

"Flairs...each one has been personally stuck up my nose for at least 30 seconds."

That should do it. No more lost flairs. :)


Mrs. Bunyi, I love the cup labeled "Flairs". It gave me the idea that maybe I could label each individual Flair with my name so that they no longer to missing... during the school day, after school, at conferences in Conn...Thanks for the great idea. ;) -Mrs. Verbic


I'm just happy to know you came back and found the link. I often wonder if the questions I answer find their way back to the reader. :)



Oops. Sorry, Angela. I knew I was writing to you. Must have had a brain blip. Thanks you so much for posting the link for me. I searched for a long time looking for that! Nicole

Hello Kristin,

Yes, we have a school-wide format that is suggested to use. I do like it a lot and I will post it on this post next Friday for you.

And yes, I need to post a classroom video tour. Although late in the year, I will get it on the Nov. 5 post for you. :) Three years of changes in a row, and each room looks so different...even with the same elements in it. Odd.



Thanks for the tips on reaching organizational nirvana. This is always an area I strive to improve in. I was wondering what your lesson plans/planner looks like? Do you use the good old teacher planner book or something more technologically advanced? Also, it would be great to see pictures of your new classroom setup! Thanks, Kristin


Yes, my entire grade level will have student led conferences, but not for this first round of conferences (this week, actually). I think this could be a post on its own really. If you send me an email, I would be happy to share our plans for the next conference round (angela.bunyi@cityschools.net).



i know this is off topic but, do you or anyone involved with Top Teaching do Student Led Conferences? I am very interested to hear how teachers handle conferences.


oh, you have followed me for a while...it has been a while since mentioning Engrade. I am a 100% supporter of Snapgrade and a totally satisfied with each feature. I don't know about easy grade pro, but Snapgrade is worth looking into.

It has every single feature I can imagine and the settings are set up by the parents and students (eg- when they receive an email, notifications, etc.). Entering grades is easy, setting up accounts is easy (each student is allowed 3 accounts), and writing notes to students/parents is easy. I'm even going to use it for reading/writing conference notes.



P.S. Excuse any typos...I'm on my iPhone multi-tasking at a pumpkin farm!

Hi Angela, Great post as always. I was wondering your opinion regarding the different web-based grading systems out there. I have followed your posts and have heard you mention snapgrades and engrade. I currently use easy grade pro (I teach 5th grade as well). I wanted to know which you thought was best for this grade level and ease of use.

Pat, I purchased both types of file totes at Target. Both cost 30 dollars, I am guessing from memory.



Wondering where you purchased the tote in first picture. I like this idea better than the plastic file holders.

Even I was overwhelmed looking through all of my old posts (going on 3 years worth). Let me save you the time:

Teaching Conventions in Context: Author's Craft Study Link- http://blogs.scholastic.com/3_5/2009/04/teaching-in-context.html

Readers Workshop: Taking a Closer Look at Nonfiction Link- http://blogs.scholastic.com/top_teaching/2009/09/taking-a-closer-look-at-nonfiction.html

~ Angela

Nicole, Yes, that was my work (you wrote Beth, ha!).

I have written two posts on this subject. One on nonfiction (with lots of printables) and a general post on studying craft. You can find both at www.mrsbunyi.com where I have a link thst lists all of my previous work with Scholastic.

I hope that helps. Write back if you have any questions.



Hi Beth, Last week I found a fantastic article here on Scholastic that I was pretty sure was written by you. I wanted to print it off but now I can't find it. It was about teaching writing and conventions through authors' craft. Was that by you? Can you direct me to where it would be? Thanks for all your wonderful ideas. Nicole

I almost deleted your comment thinking it was spam, but then I checked out your link. I really like your tech. link recommendations, among other things. Thanks for sharing!

And we are already headed that route. We don't use textbooks much at all, several grades are taken on-line, including our spelling, S.S., and science, and digital books are becoming popular in our room as well (2 have a Kindle). You're right, it's just faster and more efficient!



Use technology! The use of technology will minimize papers in any classroom setting. Go paperless, get rid of textbooks.


Hey Megan,

The quick answers: ~I staple our weekly newsletter with all the grades and pass them out on Tuesday afternoon. Time-3 minutes. ~ One student passes out any school fliers at the end of the day when we are packing up. Oh, and I tend to throw them up in the air for students to catch. No really. It's faster than passing them out one by one. You should try it. :)

The more complicated answer: My returning papers has somewhat gone high tech. because each child has their own laptop. Not only can I see, virtually, what is missing, but so can my students and parents. I post all grades online using Snapgrades.com. I can post a note telling a student that they scored poorly on an assignment and need to review X,Y, and Z again...and to come and take the assignment from the file...or that they turned in an assignment and it wasn't complete. It's awesome!

And regarding school news, most of that is now streamlined with a frequent on-line school newsletter (sent 2-3 times a week), automatic phone calls for school events, Facebook for the school and for our classroom, and emails. It's actually a challenge NOT to know what is going on now. :)

Hope that helps!


Thank you for these tips. I love you knack for thinking of what works best and not just sticking to the norm. What does the procedure of returning graded work from those files to students look like? Do kids get this independently-- and is this also the way you pass out the school admin. papers? I am thinking it through and in my current system both types of papers go to one place: mailboxes. It works better than having them take something directly to backpacks, since this area is hidden around the corner. It's also very quick to check if anyone is missing a paper or assignment.


We have enough "stuff" to do, grade, write up, sort, and return that I am sure we would keep a secretary busy. However, I'd rather have money go toward teachers being paid more and recognized for the work that goes beyond what the public sees. It baffles me that anyone can still think teaching is an easy job. I am 200% confident that anyone that has that opinion would change their mind if they stepped into the classroom for one week.


It may not be practical, or even possible, but my tip number 9 is that every teacher (or at least every group of three teachers) should have a secretary. This would be a productive use of tax dollars.

I totally agree!

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