April 13, 2011

Paperwork in a Digital Age

One of the many groups I follow on Facebook is Scholastic Teachers.  I love reading the teaching tips, articles, and lesson plans they post and appreciate having a community of teachers to swap ideas with.  This afternoon, the following post appeared on the wall:

"Which areas of your classroom do you need the most help decluttering and organizing? The magazine is working a story and we'd love to tackle your problem spots!"

My jaw dropped when I saw the responses only two hours after the post first appeared.  Of 76 replies, almost every person mentioned papers - on desks and in file cabinets as being their biggest problem areas.  There were lots of comments about endless paperwork that needed to be filed and desperate requests for suggestions about how to organize handouts. 

This is just not an issue in my life.  The OCD in me would never be able to tolerate random stacks of papers in search of a home.  I like everything to have a place and everything to be in its place.  I once had a coworker ask me if I'm human because he was amazed that I didn't have stacks of paper all over my desk.  True story.  The truth is, I can't work when I'm surrounded by all that clutter, so I can completely understand the frustration these teachers are expressing!

Fellow teachers, your days of feeling overwhelmed by papers are over!  Being the organizational guru that I am, I have a couple suggestions that might help!

My first year teaching, I created a binder for each unit and used index dividers to break up the varying components.  The labels varied depending on the needs of each unit, but for the most part, they were divided as follows: vocabulary, teacher resources, student handouts, tests & quizzes, student examples.  I made sure to keep a master copy of everything in my binder (but never any "extra" copies).  During my planning time, I would just take the binder for whatever unit I was working with, and everything I needed would be right there. 

While this method worked very well for my first year (and I still think it's a great place to start if you're new to this whole organization idea), I decided to change it up for my second year.  I found myself revising my worksheets several times, and it became cumbersome to always have to remember to put the "new" master copy in my binder.  What I ended up discovering was that my digital files pretty much mirrored my unit binders, with the exception of the things that had been handed down to me and student examples.  Thankfully, the copy machine at my school doubles as a scanner, and I made it a habit to scan anything I didn't have digitally as I went through each unit.  Now, everything I have is on my computer (and backed up on an external hard drive), which means I don't have to carry around any more binders.  The only hard copies I've kept are student samples. 

This system has also come in handy when coworkers have asked me to share files because I can send them electronic copies without worrying about losing my masters.  Also, it's extremely helpful when using the SMART board because any of those electronic papers can be easily attached to a file.  Also, if you have to email assignments or attach things to a homework hotline, everything is already at your fingertips!

And I don't limit my electronic filing to only my lesson plans.  I scan just about everything I want to keep: letters of recommendation, evaluations, district information, CPDU certifications... everything!  My file cabinet is filled with stationary and other special papers rather than files I have to dig through just to find one worksheet.  It takes a little more time on the front end to actually file everything after it's scanned, but the end result has been worth it for me!