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.

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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?

Time Saver: How to Store Student Work Samples

IEP documentation….need I say more?

Documenting our student’s progress toward their IEP goals is something that every educator realizes is necessary but, I don’t think it is a task that many of us look forward to. Every week it seems like there is a new requirement, a new form, or more student work samples that need to be organized and saved. The to-do list seems to be continually growing. I realized early on in my career that without systems in place to keep yourself organized, the to-do list can seem daunting. But, alas, it does not have to be that way!

During my first year of teaching there was a big push to make sure that everyone was documenting student progress toward IEP goals and keeping necessary student work samples. My administrator wanted every general education teacher to have a folder for every one of his/her students with an IEP. We needed to keep work samples that showed each individual student’s progress toward his/her IEP goals in the IEP folders. This was an understandable requirement. This was an overwhelming requirement.

Out of 150 students, I had 35 students with IEP’s. I went to work right away creating the necessary folders. I put the folders in my desk drawer, thinking that if they were right next to where I did my grading, filing them away would be no problem. Simple enough, right? .

It turned out to be much more difficult to keep up with filing work into the IEP folders than I thought it would be initially.I realized that I couldn’t file away student work samples without giving my students a chance to look at their assignment and see the comments that I had made. What ended up happening was that I would grade an assignment, pass it back to my students so that they could see it and then collect it again. I didn’t want to single out my students with IEP’s and only collect their assignments to file away, so I just collected them all. After that, the pile of papers would go into a box in my closet that I would sort through “later”. Well, later came on the very last day of the school year when I had to get my IEP folders ready to turn in to the ESE Supervisor. There must have been about 25 assignments stored in my closet. This meant that I had about 3,700 papers that needed to be sorted through so that I could have my IEP folders ready to turn in. It took me hours to dig through this pile of papers to find the student work samples that I actually needed to keep. It was ridiculous. I knew that there must be a better way to go about keeping work samples for my students with IEP’s. Sure enough, there was a better way. It just took me a couple of weeks and an “ah-ha” moment in Wal-Mart to realize it.

Walking through Wal-Mart one day during the summer between my first and second year teaching, I came across a big display of colorful file storage crates. I took one look at those crates and realized that I should keep a file of work samples for every single one of my students. The students could be responsible for filing the work away after their assignments were passed back. I knew it wouldn’t be too difficult to set up a procedure for this. Plus, if the students were responsible for filing their work, they would be able to see their assignment, review the comments, ask necessary questions, and as an added bonus, implementing this system would keep the papers from piling up in my closet.

This is what the crates looked like:

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I had to use two crates to accommodate folders for all of my students. I called the folders student portfolios. The portfolios were organized alphabetically by class period. Each time an assignment was passed back that I wanted to keep, my students would file their papers away. I would call five students up at a time and in a matter of ten minutes tops (per class, of course) we were good to go. This saved me hours of sorting and filing time later on. If I needed to pull some student work samples for an IEP meeting, all I had to do was pull that particular student’s folder. This also came in handy for conferences as well. Once I had the portfolio system in place, I never went to a conference without one. I rarely had to use the work samples, but using this system, they were there when I did need them!