Holly Richardson is an initiate of Alpha Omicron Chapter at Franklin College, a current seventh-grade teacher in Indiana, and has been teaching for eight years.
While I’ve always prided myself on being clear-headed, when it comes to having classroom materials in order, I can go a little off my rocker. Like most teachers I know, I have purchased many of the supplies in my classroom. School supplies have always made me happy; I think most teachers are that way. Being excited about a new stack of freshly sharpened #2 pencils is normal, right? Different colored Post-it® flags signifying different forms, benchmark tests, and data reports would make anyone’s heart skip a beat. So when MY things are in the WRONG place, I am none too happy. But it’s not always the teenagers who have misplaced something of mine—sometimes, it’s me . . .
Too often I have come back into my classroom after a long meeting or unforeseen absence and not been able to find something. Something I know I did not throw away. Something important. Something I NEED. And I know, deep down, that I am the one who put it wherever it happens to be. I have realized over the past 8 years that teaching English to middle school students requires a high level of organization. Nothing says “What was I thinking?” like eight piles of rough drafts, peer editing papers, and final copies. Ever spent a weekend reading 120 research reports and then trying to figure out which no-name peer editing paper belongs to which student?
Organization, however, has always meant more to me than merely knowing where things are placed—it’s also about establishing and maintaining a routine. If I can’t find the testing schedule or the extra permission slips, I’m sure it’s in an email somewhere. Having the students know my expectations inside and out and being able to trust that I can walk in late and know that my students will be in the right place because they have learned to follow a routine are more important to me than any well-organized desk or filing cabinet.
I’ve seen the color-coded sub binders on Pinterest, and they certainly are impressive, but I would much rather spend my time refining my classroom management techniques than making something like that. For the past 2 years, I have been the Title I teacher. Some days, the amount of paperwork nearly blows my mind, but even at the height of my despair, when the bell rings and my prep is over and I’m nowhere close to being done looking at test data, I know that my established routines will save me.
My students know exactly what to do. We’ve practiced the classroom routines and they know my expectations. They pick up their books and folders. If it’s a Tuesday or a Friday they go straight to their second rotation, and I love that they do these things without any prompting. I cannot imagine working in a classroom without specific routines. Surprisingly enough, students love the routine as well! They get a little angry when the schedule has to be changed. It’s not boring to them; routine is comforting!
My advice would be to organize your students instead of your paperclips. Spend more time on procedures and expectations than color-coding. Yes, it is nice to know where everything is, and one day I hope to find all those missing papers. Maybe I’ll even give in to the color-coded binder, but until then, at least I’ll know that my students are where they should be, doing what they know is expected.