It’s no secret that I’m a bit on the creative side. I love paints, clay, and glitter way more than the average 4th grade teacher. That said, I’m also a little compulsive when it comes to organization. Case in point: my dad bought me a label maker one Christmas. It remains one of my most awesome possessions. Every classroom presents organizational challenges, but all-inclusive elementary classrooms might take the cake. Everything from testing booklets to puffy paints needs a home somewhere among the 25 children, the SMART Board, and hordes of library books. Here are a few simple things I do to make my room manageable.
My classroom has three large, double-door closets in the back of the room. I keep one closet open for the students to store their books, coats, and backpacks during the day. This keeps them out of the way and also reduces the amount of sneaking into bags for candy or toys. The other closets are organized by subject. I have one entire shelf for math books, one for reading, etc. Many of my loose test booklets that I don’t need every day are in buckets with lids in the base of the closet. This allows many more books to fit while eliminating towering stacks that will ultimately fall. In other rooms I’ve seen the tubs or towers used for extra supplies such as sticky notes or pencils. I take a clear shoe holder with hooks and sling it over the inside of the closet door. I use it to store odds and ends for my calendar and bulletin boards.
Last year I rescued an old cubby stand from my neighbor who was moving out. I didn’t want it to store student papers, but instead, broke open my many packs of construction paper and had a few kids sort them into color piles for me. Now each color is easy to access when needed, and I’m not left pulling every sixth paper out of a mixed pack.
I keep most of my supplies in plastic storage tubs in my bottom cabinets. The clear ones are easy to see, and I’m able to keep scrap paper, ribbons, yarn, and glue from attracting mice. For days when students are working with only one tool, I bring out the tub filled with just that one type of tool, and this cuts down on off-task children playing with tools unrelated to the task at hand.
The rest of the time, each of my students’ supplies are in individual clear boxes on an easily accessible shelf and labeled with their names. Boxes are organized by table, so one child can easily pick up boxes for the entire table and deliver supplies all at once. Each box has markers, crayons, scissors, stick and white glue, a large eraser, and colored pencils. Children who like their boxes intact can keep them neatly organized while the “dump it all out” kids can suit themselves. If a kid leaves supplies out or misuses them, I simply don’t put them back in the box. Then they are left with what they have or forced to borrow. It raises the level of supply conservation by leaps and bounds. I’m in a school where I personally provide many of the supplies, and giving students this kind of ownership and accountability helps make them think about caring for their possessions.
A few other spots in my room help keep me calm and organized amid the daily chaos. All of our library cards are in a pocket chart with each child’s name. The card goes in front of the name while the child is in the room. That way I can see, at a glance, how many students are already in the library and our cards don’t go missing.
I have color-coded baskets for each subject labeled with days of the week. For example, all of the purple baskets are reading baskets, and there is one for each day. We have a centralized copy system, so this helps me organize the week’s worth of materials that are returned at one time. Three filing cabinets are labeled by subject. My personal files and master copies are in order in the top drawer while class sets are in lower drawers. Each drawer is in order by quarter, so I know about where to look when hunting for a material.
Finally, the math manipulatives that are not on students’ desks take up tons of room. I keep my sets and often-used materials in storage drawers, which conveniently double as my pencil station. All the other materials are stored under a small table at the back of the room. And just because I’m compulsive and can’t stand to look at the clutter, I put Velcro strips on the table and attach material to make a table skirt that hides everything until it needs to be used.
Classroom organization takes time, and I do a little every school year to get more in order; however, being organized saves me time in the long run. It also makes me an asset to my coworkers who need the odd supply or master copy, and it sets a good example for my students. I’m far from having a clean desk, but at least I know where to find my silver glitter when I need some sparkle!