Managing the Mess

Copyright 2019 Lisa Julia Photography/Bayard Inc. All rights reserved.

How to handle the paper flow

By Rachel Wilser

Clutter. We all have it. We (probably) all hate it. Let’s talk today about how we can easily start managing the clutter that we all have.

Before we dive deeply into this, let’s quickly discuss the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having or may have had on your classroom. It’s possible that you’ve been home for several weeks by now; these same ideas can help manage clutter at home as well as in your classroom. Even if you’ve been e-learning over the last few weeks with your own students or your own kids, you’re likely dealing with an incoming paper flow. You can still use these tips to manage the flow, and keep ahead of the inordinate amount of paper that comes into our classrooms/lives on a regular basis.

  1. Deal with paper as it comes in.
    Here’s what I mean: don’t shuffle and stack. For example, if you go to your mailbox and pick up a few papers, immediately sort them and then recycle or distribute them. If you have a reminder about an upcoming event, make sure it’s marked on your calendar and then recycle the reminder. If you get copies that need to go home to students, put them in homework folders, or have a student pass them out at the end of the day. One excellent way to avoid clutter is by heading it off at the source, so whenever a piece of paper comes your way, deal with it as soon as possible.
  1. Have a designated place for copies.
    If you’ve followed me at all, you know I’m really pro-making copies in advance. It’s a great time saver, BUT it can also be a huge clutter maker if you don’t have a plan for the copies once they’re made. I have bins organized by day, and then folders within each bin for different subjects. So, a red bin for Monday and then within Monday’s bin are folders for ELA, science, math, social students, and miscellaneous. (Misc. is generally something that needs to be sent home, like a permission slip or picture day reminder.)
  2. Have a designated place for turned in papers.
    Raise your hand if this has ever been you: “Teacher Name, where should we put this when we’re done?”
    Teacher: “Oh, just set it on my desk.”
    I have done this before. It has never turned out well. Even if everything you collect goes in one place to be sorted later, have a specific place for collected work. I like to use those stacking office trays that are usually wire, and depending on the grade level I’m teaching, either I or some students will make labels for each bin, so that after a few weeks, kids don’t even have to ask where to turn in their work; they just know.
  3. Return graded papers.
    After you’ve taken the time to grade assignments (whether for effort or content), make sure you return them so they’re not taking up precious classroom space! I like to return everything I’ve graded on Friday, so it can all get home at once. And, again, the upside is that after a few weeks, most parents pick up the routine so you don’t constantly get questions about when graded assignments will come home.
  4. Clear your table every day.
    Now, this one is hard, because sometimes you just don’t want to deal with it at 3 PM. But let me encourage you to take a deep breath and stay at school for just five extra minutes to clear off your desk. You feel more organized and prepared the next day, and you’re less likely to misplace important documents (especially if you are also doing step #1). The equivalent home version of this this would be clearing your master space daily, whether it’s your dining room table, office table, desk — whatever it is. Clear off your work space every day; for me, the ideal time is between 5 and 6 PM. It’s when I’m already tidying a bunch as dinner cooks, so it just folds in well. Also, I know we’re focusing on paper, but also put away notebooks, pens, art supplies — anything that is out.

Now take a deep breath. Wash your hands. And manage that paper trail. You can do it.

Rachel Wilser has spent the better part of a decade in classrooms around the country — in private, public, charter, elementary, and middle schools. Now, she chases twins and drinks coffee while planning her return to the classroom.

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