How to Manage Paperwork So It Doesn’t Take Over Your Life

Teaching brings on endless amounts of paperwork. It is easy to be drowning in papers by the end of the workday if you don’t have a system in place to manage everything that is being thrown at you.

During my first year teaching, I remember feeling so overwhelmed by everything coming my way- from collecting regular student assignments, to make up work, to tests, to resources other teachers were giving me, and administrative paperwork that needed to be collected, filled out, and turned into the office- it just seemed endless and the papers kept piling up on my desk. I put the papers in neat stacks, you know, to help keep my anxious feelings about getting everything done at bay. Ha! Can you relate?

Over the years, I developed a system for managing paperwork that works well for me. Hopefully it will help you too!

Tips for Managing Paperwork

1. Have a place for everything.

2. Find a system that you think will work and stick to it! Sometimes it takes a while to adjust to using a system. You have to make a conscious effort to use the system until it becomes a habit. During this process you may or may not feel a little frustrated. Remember, you are breaking your old habits and patterns. That takes time. I like to give new systems a full three months of use before making any changes to them. That way I have time to use the system and really identify what parts of it work well and what I need to adjust to my needs.

3.Keep your desk paper free! A clear desk equals a clear mind.  I know that it is not possible to do this during the course of the school day. However, one of the best management strategies I implemented for myself was taking time to clear my desk and put everything away before leaving work each day. This was particularly helpful in the mornings because I felt like I was getting a fresh start every day when I entered the room and sat down at my clean desk.

So, I bet you are wondering how I have have place for everything. Well, my solution has been to use milk crates for filing all paperwork that comes through my hands.There three different ways I use milk crates in my classroom.

  1. Milk crates to manage papers that need to be graded, filed, or taken to the office. 

I have one milk crate that lives by my desk. It has seven hanging file folders in it. There is one folder for each of my six class periods and an extra file folder to house papers that need to be turned into guidance or the office. I use the file folders by my desk to house student work that needs to be graded (organized by class period). When I collect an assignment it immediately goes in the appropriate folder.

2. Milk crates to organize work that needs to be returned to students.

There is a second milk crate that lives on my student workstation table. This milk crate has six folders (labeled by class period). Every time an assignment is graded it goes into the appropriate folder. Whenever I have a chance during class (like while students are working independently) I grab graded work out of the folders and pass it back to students.

3. Milk crates to store student portfolios and work samples. 

There is a third milk crate that lives on a table in the back of my classroom that is used to store student work samples. At the beginning of the year, students make a folder with their name and a few fun facts about themselves (we use these as an ice breaker activity the first week of school). Throughout the year there are certain assignments that I want to keep as work samples, so I just store them in these folders. Sometimes, I will pass portfolio assignments back to students so they can see their grade and any feedback. If I do that, I have students take a few minutes at the end of class to put their assignment in their portfolio. This saves me the time of recollecting the assignment and filing it myself.  You can find a more detailed post about my student portfolios here.


Here is an example of the milk crates I use to store student portfolios.

Lastly, I use a student make up work folder to manage make up assignments. All student make up work should be placed in this folder. This is a procedure that is taught to students within the first couple weeks of school. I do not physically take make up work from students because, lets be honest, the likelihood that I will lose a random paper placed in my hand between third and fourth period is pretty high. I can hardly find my keys if I take my lanyard off!! Any time students try to hand me make up work I tell them to put it in the folder. Part of my afternoon routine is to check the make up work folder and grade anything that was placed in it throughout the day.

There it is. This is the system that I have developed to manage all of my paperwork and, for me, it works like a charm.

How do you manage all of the paperwork that comes your way?


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