Most teachers spend a significant amount of time preparing their classroom in the days and weeks before school starts each year. This approach will help you focus and streamline those efforts, and assure that you don’t miss attention to anything that is important in starting your school year off on the right foot!
Here is a road map to help you declutter and organize so that the new school year will be the best ever. I’ve divided the work up into five separate events. Depending upon the condition of your classroom when you begin, you may be able to condense the work into fewer days. I had an extremely large classroom library, so maybe I’m over-estimating how long it would take to organize a smaller collection. In any case, divide and conquer!
DAY ONE – CLEAN AND TOSS
Day One seems like a real drag, but believe me, the success of the rest of this process rests upon the degree of fidelity to which you complete today’s tasks. Don’t dress up today!
As you go through the items today, if you did not use them last year, relieve yourself of them (unless they are valuable materials for another grade that you might be using again in the future…you will want to pack these items up, label them and put them somewhere out of the way).
You will be going through EVERYTHING (though your helpers, if you are lucky enough to recruit some for today will be the ones to remove them from their storage nesting spaces).
Arrange for three recipticle areas (boxes, bins, etc.):
- One for trash
- One for recycleable items (paper, plastic, etc.)
- One for items to give away (to other teachers, students, etc.)
If you have any helpers today, have them systematically empty out all of your cupboards, drawers, and any other storage places in your classroom. The one exception is your classroom library. Leave that for days 4 and 5.
Have helpers start by arranging the tables (desks) close to cupboards, drawers, etc. and have them simply remove everything to the tables (desks). Once they have completed this task, they can begin wiping down cupboards and helping to sort trash while you focus on decluttering everything that emerged from the depth!
Should your helpers continue to hang out with you after commpelting the emptying and cleaning, you could either dismiss them or have them empty out your teacher desk in preparation for day two. You will not need helpers on day two.
Your work today is to go through EVERYTHING and make a place for it. As mentioned above, if you’re going to keep something because you may teach that grade again, box and label it and put it away, but anything else you come across that is related to what you are currently teaching but you did not use it last year either goes in recycle, trash, or donate.
Focus on just taking care of what has been pulled out of cupboards and drawers around your classroom. Often, we get distracted and fail to complete tasks that future tasks depend upon. That’s how we get unorganized. That’s how we fail to accomplish our goals.
Leave room in an accessible cabinet for student supplies (DAY SIX).
You may need to finish this task up on DAY TWO, especially if you have a lot of files in drawers. You can finish that filing up on DAY TWO as part of working on your teacher desk.
Good Job! Mission Accomplished!
DAY TWO – MAKE THE DESK WORK FOR YOU
If you weren’t able to finish up your re-filing on DAY ONE, start with finishing that…don’t over think things, just get it done.
Next, if you did not have helpers do this for you on DAY ONE, empty everything out of your teacher desk (onto tables/desks pulled close by) to get started.
Follow this order to get through organizing teacher supplies fast. I’m basing these suggestions on the types of supplies I kept in my teacher desk—adapt as needed:
- Remove and file any papers/folders that should be filed in filing cabinets…get them out of the way.
- Separate into small bins that will fit back into your desk:
- Mailing/larger size envelopes
- Thank you cards/post cards/for student/ parent correspondance
- Sticky notes and note pads for teacher use
- Student reward stickers, etc.
- Scissors/small tools/tacks/adhesive strips/wall brackets
- (for older students) small supply of sanitary napkins (so girls don’t have to go to the office)/ hair rubberbands
- First aid kit items
- White board markers/ Sharpies/ chalk (teacher use only…those to be shared with students go elsewhere)
During the school year, your desk should be off limit to students (not that you could ever keep medication or other items in your desk, unless it is kept locked)…don’t let students get into your desk and don’t make exceptions to this rule!
If there’s any way you can lock your desk when you have a substitute during the school year, I would do so. In fact, I always strived leave nothing on my desk top when I went home at night. That way, if you ‘re having a sub the next day, leave out only what they will need: pencil/pen, sub plans, emergencey procedures info, a few sticky notes, etc.
Organize your supplies and keep them organized!
Congrats…as of the end of today, your drawers, cupboards, and desk are organzied!
You may or may not want to recruit a helper or two for DAY THREE (walls and bulletin boards).
Go home and relax!
Good Job! Mission Accomplished!
DAY THREE – PREPARE YOUR WALLS FOR TEACHABLE MOMENTS
Here’s hoping that your walls and bulletin boards were all cleared at the end of last school year, otherwise, take a few minutes to strip everything down first thing…
If you are lucky enough to be starting with a clean slate, then let’s get started!
First, the bulletin boards. Today’s goal is to get up the backing and the borders. If you don’t have the materials to get started, then take a quick field trip to the office supply or fabric store and get what you need for bulletin board backings.
Many schools order wide paper on large rolls for teachers to share for decorating their classrooms…if this is the case at your school, count your blessings!
If not, my suggestion is to use fabric rather than paper to back your bulletin boards. Fabric will not show holes if when you re-do your displays (holes left from staples, push-pins, or tacks). Fabric is also slower to fade and will remain fresh-looking longer than most paper.
Cotton or cotton blends work best, just be cognizant of the width of the fabric. Most cotton fabrics are 45 inches wide. Plan to run the fabric in vertical strips across the bulletin board, attaching with staples.
If you watch fabric sales/clearances throughout the year, you’re bound to be able to purchase fabric backing at low cost. Do keep in mind, that if you choose a cotton flannel for backing, you can adhere felt pieces (letters, cut outs, etc.) without having to tack/staple/pin.
Once the backing is up, put the borders up, if you need them. You will probably need borders if you backed your boards with paper. However, if you used fabric, the edges will be much neater and you may not even need borders to make your boards look neat.
Next, look at the rest of the walls in your room. Where will you hang classroom posters and teaching charts? Make those plans today.
If you have windows in your classroom, most likely your school provides blinds. I always liked to put up curtains as well, for extra insulation from weather and to help darken the room to make projected images easier to see.
Actual curtains can be expensive. Here are some more affordable options:
- Shower curtains
- Tablecloths (just fold over one side and sew…staple if you’re not someone who can sew…to make the pocket for the rod).
- Curtains/drapes from thrift stores
As you look around your classroom when you’re done today, you’ll be glad to see that your drawers, cabinets, and teacher desk are all clean and organized. Your walls are ready for displays you will be putting up later with backing and borders ready to go.
The only thing you will still have out, waiting for organization, are student supplies. (Hang in there; you’ll get to those on DAY EIGHT.)
Do try to recruit at least one, if not several, helpers for days FOUR and FIVE.
Good Job! Mission Accomplished!
DAYS FOUR and FIVE – PREPARE YOUR CLASSROOM LIBRARY FOR WIDE READING
Depending upon the size of your classroom library, this may only take one day. I had a sizable classroom library, in my middle school classroom, and I wanted to make it as user-friendly for my students as possible. My students did a great deal of independent reading.
Begin by pulling all the books off the shelves, organizing them on your tables/desks by genre. I organized into the following genres:
- Realistic Fiction
- Historical Fiction
- Speculative/Science Fiction
These made sense in my middle school classroom, but you may decide on other catagoires. Within each category, I tried to feature groups of books (usually in bins on the shelves rather than directly shelfed), usually chosen because they were series books or books all by the same author. Note: I kept reference books such as dictionaries, on carts in my classroom, not as part of my classroom library.
Since our school gave NWEA MAP tests as a measure of student progress each year, and my students understood Lexiles, I chose to label my books with Lexile numbers. You will have to decide what type of labeling will be most helpful to your students. (Note: poetry books are not Lexiled.)
I used a two-level labeling system. First, using Avery Removable Color-Coding Labels #6721, I assigned Lexile ranges a color-coded sticker…
Lexile up to 700 = green
Lexile 701-900 = pink (most of my books fell into this range, and the package of stickers has more pink than any other color)
Lexile 901-1100 = orange
Lexile above 1100 yellow (these will probably be mostly non-fiction books)
You will have to decide how you will need to divide your stickers up between the ranges of whatever leveling approach you choose to use. The colors will be a helpful visual cue for students as they search for books!
Once the bookshelves are all cleaned, it’s time to split your helpers up and work on getting those books labeled and reshelved.
I found it best when people worked in pairs. Helper one would look up the Lexile of the book on the website and helper two would write the actual Lexile number on the colored sticker for the range of Lexiles that that book fell into.
For example, the book THE GIVER would have its 760 Lexile written on a pink sticker (since its range fell between 701 & 900) and the sticker would be adhered to the spine of the book.
As your helpers look up and label, they can hand the books to you (or shelve them themselves) to be put on the shelves according to genre. No need to categorize them any further, really. That used to drive a colleague of mine (a math teacher ) bonkers, but trying to keep the books any more organized than that will prove to be an impossible task. Just keep them organized by genre, by the color of the sticker if you want, even, but don’t try to keep them in perfect order by Lexile number! Remember, there won’t be Lexile numbers for poetry books, so just re-shelve them after the shelves have been cleaned.
I did not MAKE my students stick to Lexile numbers as a way to choose their books. The labels, though, were a nice frame of reference when choosing books and when encouraging kids to read more difficult texts.
I did not use any type of check out system, though I know now there are apps that allow you to scan bar codes and keep track of classroom libraries. Leave a comment if you are familiar with these—it may be helpful to someone who is looking for help with this aspect of mananging their books in their classroom.
As I said, this may take you two days, or it may only take one. But, now you’re ready to move on!
Good Job! Mission Accomplished!
DAY SIX – SYSTEMATIZE STUDENT SUPPLIES
Student supplies should have been taken out of cupboards and drawers and left on tables/desks on DAY ONE of this journey. Today, you’ll organize those supplies for use. This is a good day to get rid of those broken crayons and dried out markers!
I had tables in my classroom. Since I taught in an urban district where students seldom brought their own supplies, I provided (with some degree of re-imbursement) most of the supplies for class.
Using DOLLAR STORE organizers, I had basic supplies available on student tables on-going. Supplies that we did not use every day were kept in a cupboard in small orgainzer bins to be brought out and placed on the tables when needed. For instance, students did not have need for crayons every day—and I certainly did not want them to have crayons, glue sticks, etc. to mess around with when they were not necessary!
Decide on what your students need to have access to every day and leave those supplies out. Have occasionally needed supplies in other bins that can be stacked on top of each other in a cabinet. Not having everything out all the time will prevent unnecessary use and make your students more appreaciative of those supplies when they are brought out.
Some supplies, like highlighters or white board markers, can be kept in one organizer bin together and simply passed out when needed. Assigning students to help with distribution and collection of these supplies will save the teacher lots of time cleaning up after classes!
Besides office-type supplies, other student supplies to be organized today are reference books in the classroom, text books, and paper items.
I usually left dictionaries out on all student tables all the time because I wanted the students to be using them consistently, but I did use library–type wheel carts for thesaurus, encyclopedia, and text book storage. They could easily be wheeled to a place of convenience when needed then wheeled out of the way and stored when not in use.
As for paper items, I love this organizer (click link). One like it helped me keep piles of papers organized and readily available for students to help themselves to.
I labeled shelves for, to name just a few:
- notebook paper
- writing rubrics (we had three writing rubrics–narrative, informational, and argument writing–I printed a class set, each type on a different color paper–and laminated them so they could be used over and over). I made paper copies for scoring that I attached to the actual compositions. These rubrics were for student use during writing and revision.
- graphic organizers
- reading logs
- scrap paper for start-ups and other activities
- extra copies of start-up sheets/openers from the week–one shelf for each grade 6,7,8–the extras went into the recycle at the end of the week
- calligraphy master sheets (my students learned some calligraphy…their name, for writing titles, etc.)
- extra homework sheets
- word work sheets (roots, prefixes, suffixes)
- cursive practice sheets (I made sure my 6th graders learned enough cursive to be able to write their own names, at least, and read my writing)
- 1/2 sheets of construction paper
- special writing paper
Have a designated place in a cupboard, preferably near student supplies, for larger paper such as construction paper and large newsprint.
WOW! That was a lot of supplies!
Good Job! Mission Accomplished!
I realize this is just the beginning of getting your classroom ready for your students’ first day! But now that everything is organized, you can get down to the business of planning for your students!