Editor’s note:  This is a post from regular MSTA contributor Pam Clifton’s Teaching & Learning blog. Clifton is a sixth-grade English language arts and reading teacher at West St. Francois County R-4.

All teachers can relate to the dreaded paper pile. One paper quickly multiplies into more and before long, the pile has tripled in size. If the plethora of paperwork is not contained, it becomes an overwhelming and chaotic nightmare.

The best way to maintain control of the paperwork is to have designated spaces for all the different types of papers: copies to make, already made copies, mail and catalogs, graded and ungraded work, absentee and leftover copies of assignments, enrichment activities and more.

Many options are available to sort the papers: bins, baskets, different types of trays, file folders, hanging file folder systems, crates or filing cabinets with hanging file folders, and more. Some teachers prefer vertical storage; others prefer to have separate containers laid flat across a desk, table or other surfaces. A general paper storage system such as this one keeps it all organized and is certainly visually appealing.

  1. A Place for Your Papers. You need to have a designated spot for teacher paperwork: mail, catalogs, paperwork that needs to be filed, papers to sign and return, parent notes and communication, student files, and more. One possibility for storage is this three-drawer plastic storage unit. Don’t forget all the creative drawings, paintings, letters and notes that students write to you throughout the year. This is a simple yet effective organizational system for those.
  2. Student Work Stash. Where do graded and ungraded student papers go? The answer to this question depends on the grade level and subject. For elementary teachers, they may use one bin each for graded and ungraded papers. They might also prefer a spot for each subject (reading, language, math, science, history, etc.). Even an inexpensive filing system such as using this dish rack and patterned file folders is an effective organization method. A mailbox with slots for each student can also help contain papers.
  3. Copies There never seems to be enough time to make all the copies needed for upcoming lessons. But once you have successfully made all your copies (and of course refilled the toner, staples and paper in the copier because one of those is more than likely empty), then you have to find a secure place to store them. Quizzes and tests should be kept in a closed cabinet or file drawer. Other student copies should be organized by teacher preference and use: bellringer bin, hourly (first through seventh hours) or daily (trays labeled Monday through Friday) baskets or trays or this one, or by subjects, chapter numbers, themes, etc.
  4. Absentee Assignments. When students are absent, the class flow becomes interrupted. A routine of what to do when students return to class after being gone must be discussed with students. What should students do when they come back to school? Many options are available. For younger students, the teacher might assign an absentee helper. He or she is required to gather the student’s missing work, add in any necessary notes and handouts, and put in the student’s mailbox, folder or desk. For older students, a hanging file folder system (labeled Monday through Friday) might be an option. An absentee board with hanging folders similar to this or this is another possible. A set of labeled vertical trays or simple file folders could also be beneficial. After older students check in with the teacher, they retrieve their work on their own from the designated spots.
  5. Daily Work Location. Where will students’ work be located? Consider their routine as they enter the classroom in the mornings or at the beginning of a new hour. Will they pick up assignments on a table nearby? Will you pass it out? Is another student responsible for passing out assignments? Decide on the process and explain your expectations to students so they will know how to be prepared when they enter your classroom. A general student center is an easy option where all assignments are located in one area such as this.

Regardless of the types of containers you use, keeping papers organized is key to managing the dreaded paper pile and keeping your sanity.