The first step to enjoy teaching is to organize your classroom. Without rules, routines, and general order, a teacher becomes overwhelmed, frantic, and unhappy. It’s time to stop treading water. You can gain control of your classroom, students, and stuff.
Ms. Sneed’s First Days of Teaching
When Ms. Sneed began teaching, she wasn’t sure where to start. Fortunately, her fourth-grade teammates came to the rescue. “Let’s get you organized,” her mentor, Mrs. Brown, said. “We’ll work on five categories: classroom management, students, teaching stuff, parent stuff, and professional stuff. For each of those, I’ll provide ideas to get you started.”
Organize Classroom Management
“Okay,” said Mrs. Brown, “first things first. Before the school year even begins, you need to get a grip on classroom management. I suggest these strategies:
- Determine what you want and how you’ll get it.
- Set clear expectations for discipline.
- Establish authority.
- Plan routines for each activity, from listening to lunch count, working collaboratively to walking in the hall.
- Build a community of learners.
This way, you’ll have a structure that allows you to maintain comfortable control.”
Organize Students and Their Stuff
Mrs. Brown continued: “Students can really clutter your classroom. With just a few strategies, you can reduce the chaos. Then you’ll begin to feel like you’re in charge.
- At the beginning of the year, strategically arrange your seating chart to match your teaching style, as well as individual student needs.
- Determine and clearly communicate where you’d like students to put each assignment, how you’ll be returning their work, which papers should go home, and how they can keep it organized.
- Consider where students will store their supplies, and make it work for you. (For example, if students play with their rulers during instruction, collect and keep them until needed.)
When the kids enter the classroom on the first day, you’ll already have a plan for all of this. We’ll work together to determine classroom management procedures, as well as how you’ll organize students and their stuff, before school begins.”
Organize Teaching Stuff
After the school year was underway, Mrs. Brown was ready to talk about organizing teaching stuff – and there certainly was a lot of it. “If you want to feel calmer and happier, organize your teaching materials. You need to decide how you will file unit plans, lesson plans, worksheets, and activities. Whether you use a traditional file cabinet, binders, or digital files, categorize everything logically. You need to be able to find what you’re looking for, and your classroom should not be overrun by teaching materials.”
Ms. Sneed got busy on this. As Mrs. Brown told her, “It’s easier to have a plan ahead of time than to organize everything later.”
Organize Parent Stuff
As Meet the Teacher Night approached, Mrs. Brown talked to Ms. Sneed about organizing parent stuff. “When you keep good records for each student, you’ll have plenty of information for meetings and conferences. At the beginning of the year, set up files that will help you:
- Establish a simple system for communicating with parents, such as creating an email group, website, or newsletter.
- Log and file all parent contacts, communication, and conferences.
- Use checklists to monitor ups and downs of student behavior.
- When students are floundering, establish a three-way contract between the student, parent, and teacher.”
Mrs. Brown helped her mentee create a set of materials for Meet the Teacher Night. First, they typed a letter that introduced the new teacher. Second, they worked on a page that explained student expectations and how Ms. Sneed would communicate with parents. Finally, they made sign-up sheets for parents to provide contact information.
Although Ms. Sneed felt prepared for Meet the Teacher Night, she wasn’t sure how she would keep track of everything. “Here are some file folders,” Mrs. Brown said. “You’ll have one for each student. Every time you receive communication from the parent, throw it in the file. If the parent emails you, print it out and throw it in. It’s important to have thorough records. They will help protect you in case of a parent problem.
“Whenever the child encounters a significant problem, record it and put it in the folder,” continued Mrs. Brown. “And write how you handled it. In addition, add papers that show student accomplishments. This way, you will have materials to show during parent-teacher conferences.”
Organize Professional Stuff
During the next staff meeting, the principal explained the process for teacher evaluation. In addition to formal observations and walk-throughs, teachers would need to provide evidence of good teaching.
“Don’t worry,” whispered Mrs. Brown from across the table. “I’ll help you with this too.”
At their next mentor meeting, Ms. Sneed began to organize her professional materials.
“In addition to preparing for your evaluation, keeping your professional stuff organized will help you prepare to renew your license – or in the event of a job change, Mrs. Brown said. She showed Ms. Sneed how to continually collect evidence of accomplished teaching, keep a running list of all staff development, and file her credentials in a safe spot.
One More Word on Organization
“I’ve found that the best way to keep my head above water is to make lists, prioritize, and plow through,” continued Mrs. Brown. “When each school day is done, I straighten my desk to give myself a clean start the next morning.
“Teaching is like laundry: it just keeps coming. We may never be totally on top of it, but we can be in charge of it and get the job done.”
Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.