Keeping paperwork organized is probably the biggest headache I have as a new teacher. In talking to many other teachers, experienced and new, I know I am not alone in the deluge of paperwork. I have been working on a system of practical ways to keep things organized and have found what I think is a pretty manageable system.
Of course, everyone is different, and I am continually tweaking my own system. Maybe something that I do will be helpful to you or get you thinking about an area you need a plan for that you have not thought of already.
1. IEP paperwork
IEP paperwork is easily the most time-consuming and important paperwork for special educators. I have an accordion style folder that I take to every IEP meeting. The folder has extra copies of nearly every sheet I could possibly need for any meeting. So if a student gets arrested on his way to an IEP meeting (as happened this year) and a simple annual review meeting turns into a manifestation determination meeting and change of placement, I am prepared.
I can also put all signed forms in this accordion folder until I make copies, place a copy in the student’s folder, send a copy home, and send a copy to the district office. The accordion folder gives me an easy enclosed place to put all IEP papers. I know anything IEP related that I need is in that one place.
2. Student work
Having an organized plan for student work is crucial. Student work has several subsections to it also: copies of work for the day’s lesson, make-up work, work turned in to be graded, graded work to be returned, and the list goes on.
The best way I have found to manage student work is with a set of trays. I have three stacked trays on my desk. Students know when turning work in, they put papers on the top tray. In the middle tray, I have three folders for the three classes I teach. When a student is absent, I put his name on the top of the missing work and place the work in the folder corresponding to the period I teach him/her. The bottom folder is where all of the graded papers go. After I grade papers, I put them in the bottom folder until I return them to the students.
I have a separate system for my daily journals. I have a three drawer container (like the storage containers common in college dorms). Each period I teach has a drawer assigned to them. Students get journals out of the folder at the beginning of each period and return the journals to the drawer at the end of class.
When I first started the daily journals, I quickly found that grading the journals would take an enormous amount of time. I have about 45 students, depending on who is participating in job shadowing. Forty-five students times five journals a week equals 225 journals I have to grade each week. It is important to me that I give each student feedback on the journals, meaning I do more than just place a checkmark at the top of the page.
What I decided to do is have a rotation for grading the journals. On Monday I grade first period journals. On Wednesday I grade second period’s, and on Friday I grade third period’s. With the daily journals and any student work, the key is staying on top of grading and not letting it pile up.
3. Miscellaneous paperwork
I receive dozens of e-mails each day. Some important, some not. I have more than 120 folders in my inbox to manage the e-mails. I rarely delete an e-mail unless it is obviously trash. Maintaining folders for e-mails keeps my main inbox clutter free and only priority e-mails and recently received e-mails show up.
Binders and folders
My rule is if I have more than one piece of paper on my desk that could be grouped together, they get a folder. If I think a topic will accumulate more than 10 pieces of papers, I give it a binder. I have a binder for the Special Olympics field trips to keep student physical forms, Special Olympics registration forms, field trip permission forms, emergency contact forms, meal checks, and any other form that I could need on the trip.
New teachers, I hope this might help you think through some of the paperwork you will have to deal with as a teacher. Veteran teachers, do you have any helpful tips for maintaining the paperwork you have as a teacher? Techies, any suggestions for using less paper?