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Don’t look now, but it’s time for pre-spring cleaning

New York Teacher

With the school year at its halfway point, now can be a good time to take stock of your classroom and do a little pre-spring cleaning. Here are some of the best tips from seasoned teachers about keeping your classroom organized.

First, make sure your classroom has a “home” for all papers and supplies. “Bins for everything!” enthuses Marina Webb, a biology teacher in the Bronx.

Baskets, crates and hanging folders can help you maximize storage space, but it isn’t necessary to buy expensive containers; consider repurposing shoe racks or sturdy cardboard boxes as shelves.

“I buy milk crates and use them as sturdy portfolio holders,” says Stacy Sideras, a Bronx middle school teacher.

Once you’ve decided where everything should go, you’ll need to make sure that both you and your students can easily locate everything. It’s important to consider the layout of your room from a student’s point of view — where will students find extra pencils? Is there a place for them to turn in important papers? The more “user-friendly” the space is, the fewer interruptions you’ll encounter from students who need direction.

“Everything will stay organized if it is clearly labeled (both pictures and words) with clear packing tape,” says Jessica Grasso, an English-as-a-second-language teacher in Brooklyn.

Teachers of younger students may consider labeling storage bins with pictures of what the items inside should look like, so that students can take cues from a model. Grasso also recommends creating a “Lost & Found” basket for misplaced items.

If you’re like many teachers, you may have organized your room impeccably before the first day of school only to find that reality has disrupted your vision. In that case, it’s important to relinquish a little control and allow your students to take some ownership — after all, it’s their room, too.

“Each group in my class has a leader or captain in charge of giving materials to each table every morning,” says Ana Anglada, an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn. Kit Golan, a middle school math teacher in Manhattan, recommends using student volunteers to assist with organizing.

How you choose to organize your students’ work will likely depend on the grade or subject area you teach. If you’re an elementary school teacher, or a teacher who sticks with one class throughout the day, you might benefit from color-coordinating by subject — for example, students’ writing folders are always red, and so on. Teachers who see multiple classes might color-code by class period.

Richard Kavesh, a high school social studies teacher in the Bronx, uses an expandable folder for each of his five classes. During each period, his students place their completed work into the “in” folder and remove graded work from the “out” folder.

Brie Matthews, an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn, advises teachers to assign each student a number (arranged in alphabetical order) to use on all of their assignments; this can make it easier to file papers and notice if anything is missing.

You might even choose to take this numbering system a step further and label coat hooks, cubbies, student mailboxes and other important areas by number. This will save you from having to re-label them with students’ names every year.

If you’re a teacher who travels between multiple classrooms, folders are your friends.

“When my students enter the classroom, their group folders already have their graded work and new handouts inside them — no wasted time handing out worksheets, and they return their completed work to the folders, too,” says Shoshana Berkovic, a biology teacher in Brooklyn, who also notes that “a cart is essential” for roving teachers.

Whatever system you choose to keep yourself organized, be sure to check in periodically to make sure it’s working for you.

“If you haven’t used something in a year, get rid of it,” advises Joli Isip Scollo, an elementary school teacher in Manhattan. “Don’t be a hoarder.”

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