I have a feeling I'm not the only frustrated teacher who frequently says, "I can't find [fill in the blank]!"
It's so annoying trying to find the file I'm looking for. It's piled on a table, buried in the depths of a file cabinet, stuck on a flash drive, or lost in a sea of random folders on my computer. All of this disorganization costs me precious time that I can't afford to waste. True, it also takes time to organize. But not as much (if you have a good system), and the time spent is more productive. I'm still working on creating a system that best fits my needs, but along the way I've discovered a few helpful tools, and I'd like to share them with you.
1. For papers I use every day and like to keep together in a way that I can easily flip through and see, I use three-ring binders. I keep them in a milk crate on a bookshelf behind my teaching table so they are within my grasp. You could either label the spines on the outside with a Sharpie marker like I did, or slip a thin piece of paper inside the clear cover.
Now, I know what you're thinking: binders aren't frugal. But they can be. In my case, a teacher who was retiring put a bunch of used binders in the teacher's lounge, and I grabbed them. (Another case of a fellow teacher being my best resource.) You can also find these easily at second-hand stores and garage sales. If all you need are binders that are about ½" or 1" in width, they may also be available at a dollar store.
2. For papers I need out in the open so I can get to them quickly — such as field trip notes, emergency plans, new student info, and IEP forms — I use a vertical wall-hanging folder organizer, which I got on clearance at a local teacher supply store that was going out of business. I hung it on my whiteboard with colorful duct tape from the dollar store. When I need to take a paper out to glance at, I can easily hang it up with a magnet I have positioned right next to the organizer.
If you can't find a ready-made wall organizer (or one that's cheap enough for you), I'm sure it would be just as effective to make a DIY version by putting Velcro on the backs of file folders and affixing them to each other, then hanging vertically.
1. For digital files that I keep and access mainly on my PC, I use a program called Tabbles. It lets me tag my files, folders, e-mails, and bookmarks, so I can do what's natural to me — dump them wherever — and simply tag them with keywords that I can later search for, or browse alphabetically. Being able to assign multiple keywords to a file is a great thing for a teacher, for whom there are many equally valid ways to store a file, and many equally valid occasions to want access to it. The benefit of tagging not only means saved time in searching, it means saved time in trying to figure out where to put the file in the first place.
The free version of Tabbles allows tagging up to 2,000 files, which is more than enough for me. If you have more files, and/or if you want to be able to sync the tags to Dropbox, you can get the home version for a one-time fee of $29.
2. For files I like to be able to access no matter where I am, I use Evernote. It's available on the Web, on my school computer and home laptop, and on my iPhone and iPad. No matter where I add or edit a file, it gets synced to all those other locations. No more being chained to one device! Besides being able to add a note and write directly in it, I can attach documents, PDFs, photos, emails, URLs, clippings of Web pages, etc. The mobile apps even have a built-in camera, so I can easily add my handwritten notes. And I can tag everything.
Talk about a timesaver! Did I mention it's free? You can upload up to 60 MB of data a month, and storage is unlimited. If you need to upload more (but you probably won't), and/or if you want attachment search and offline access, there's a small monthly fee of $5.
Here's how I stored the photos for this post in Tabbles: