Clearing the Clutter & Calming the Chaos

It has been a long couple of weeks – lots of activity at school, the craziness that Halloween always seems to bring out, the rival football game, yearbook deadlines for seniors, progress reports, work for my M.Ed. class, and the typical mom-wife stuff… the list goes on and on. In spite of all of that, I have been busily tackling my classroom clutter this past week, and I feel like I am making substantial progress. As I previously said, I have quite a range of organizational supplies – that isn’t the problem, or at least not all of it. To get some ideas on how to approach this mess (quite literally), I reached out on social media. I was intrigued by the responses:

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I would love to hire my friend to come and get my life in order for me… but that might kind of defeat the purpose of my learning to do this for myself (though I plan to have her come get my husband’s office together!). That said, I might change my mind and ask if I can hire her to teach me how to do it.

Can I? Can I, please, have someone like Patty come help me?!

Also, it never even crossed my mind that earlier grades invite parent volunteers – why don’t we do that at the high school level? I would love to have someone come and make photocopies for me, create absence sheets, and file them and graded work. If anyone might be interested in volunteering, I would love to have parents in my classroom!

My favorite “solution”

And while there is a part of me that really would love to just torch all of my paper-stuff that clutters up my room, I know that isn’t really the answer. However, I do need to streamline, digitize, and have better set routines for myself in terms of paper handling. As a result, I am now making a digital copy that is emailed to me as a PDF every time I head to the copy machine, and then sorting that into the appropriate Google Drive folder once I am in my classroom. Next Friday, with a day off and a babysitter lined up, I am planning to spend the day purging my three 3-drawer file cabinets and making my digital copies of the things I need to keep. This will be my first step in using the KonMari method in my classroom. Although paper is not the typical beginning, I have no emotional tie to these, and I think I will feel very pleased by accomplishing this. That will then serve as additional motivation moving forward.

In addition to reaching out online, I have been asking my coworkers for their best organizational strategies. Several of them looked at me rather incredulously, as if to say, “Why are you asking me?!Some actually did verbalize that question. My response: every teacher has strategies that help them to maintain their sanity – what are yours?

So far, I have acquired a handful of strategies that I have put into place.

Ms. Taylor has Do Now and Do This Week files that face her at her computer. This idea totally works for me.  Anything in the Do Now folder must be handled that day, even if it means taking it home. In that folder, I am putting my reminders to call parents – and those are reminders I need because what happens early in the day seems less pressing by the time the bell rings at the end of the day… and I tend to forget because there are simply too many things going on. I have been much better already at making these calls, contacting four parents this week and adding them to my Communication Log. However, I am also adding anything else that must be dealt with immediately: progress checks, yearbook deposits, and lists of photos to upload to YearbookAvenue. The other Do This Week folder sits on the desk throughout the week, collecting tasks that are handled after the Do Now folder is empty; however, unless it is already empty when I head for home on Friday, it will travel home on the weekend and all the tasks that were left pending during the week will be completed. When I have all of my tasks in one spot and the location reminds me physically of their presence, I feel motivated to tackle them. I don’t like things looming – I am not a procrastinator, which is also why I am a bit of a workaholic – so I want to keep those folders as empty as possible. This suggestion prevents me from wasting time trying to remember what needs to be done and when, and this helps me to be more present on the task at hand during the school day: teaching.

Taylor also recommends having a set of desk supplies for my own desk and one in a specified location for students: two sets of scissors, two tape dispensers, two staplers, two hole punches, two boxes of Kleenex. She swears it saves her sanity to not have students in her space. This is something I am going to try, because it works so wonderfully for her. I don’t spend a lot of time at my desk, so I really don’t mind kids over there. In fact, my yearbook editor who calls me Momma might sit at my desk more than I do. However, Taylor doesn’t sit at her desk that much either and just loves having her space to herself. While this suggestion doesn’t make me go “Ooooh! I need to do that!” like her first suggestion, I can see how it might be nice. I am still having my editor at my desk, though; she isn’t my daughter by blood, but she sure is in every way that counts.

Another one of my teacher friends, Mr. Nocito, has a portable file box that travels with him between school and home, keeping his grading orderly. This is also a method that works for me far better than my previous system. Before, I would just carry all the work home in my “Turn In” box. Sometimes it was overflowing. At others, my clumsiness would kick in and all of the papers would be scattered across the path as I stumbled (and cursed). I honestly cannot count the number of times I sent papers flying across my car when I did a hard stop. Each time, I would swear that I was not going to bring home papers like that again… to only repeat the same process the next time I got in the car. The file box, though, is contained. That alone helps. Even better, I actually put all the papers sorted by period and in numerical order into the box (gasp! What a novel concept, right?). At the moment, I place work immediately collected into their file in the tub, put it in numerical order during lunch or my prep, and it then goes into the file box. This is a huge improvement. Not only does it keep crazy piles of paper out of sight, but it definitely makes it easier to transport. Two thumbs up for this suggestion!blog-3

I also received a wonderful message from my professor about another student in the class who has KonMari-ed her room. I have sent that student a message in the hopes of getting some tips on tackling my classroom space. The KonMari Method worked great for me at home – other than for the fact that my husband and sons are adamantly not buying into it – but my space at school has different dynamics, and I would love to get some pointers from someone who has already gone through the process.

All in all, things are going well. I was worried that I would get overwhelmed with the influx of a thousand or so additional pieces of information/paper this week – the yearbook deadline where seniors turn in their senior portrait, senior quote, and a baby photo tends to be… chaotic. This year was different. My desk remains unscathed. All quotes are already alphabetized and ready for entry into the book. The baby photos are alphabetized, photocopied and labeled, and ready to send in to Jostens. Best yet: the senior portraits are already processed and on the yearbook pages! This has never happened so smoothly! Though I am sure there will be times when I do get overwhelmed, I am starting to wonder why it has taken me almost two decades of teaching to get my organizational act together!

This is my desk on Friday afternoon, with a comparison shot of the day I started to de-clutter. At that time, I was prepping for a unit on Macbeth, checking in books, and sorting paperwork (while drinking a cup of cold coffee). I am getting better now at handling one task at a time to minimize mess. My “To Do” folders are on my desk, though partially obscured by a sweet note from a student to “Mama Bear Noceti” as a reminder that she thinks I am awesome. :oD It had been a rough day, and the note went a long way to making it wonderful instead. (I also apologize for the weird light — I tend to work with only minimal lights on, and I was tired  when I was through with Friday… despite drinking yet another cup of cold coffee. Some things remain unchanged.

So, as I said before, I firmly believe that all teachers – but people, in general, too! – have certain strategies that keep them sane. I really want to know yours! Please share them with me – I am so very excited to learn new things!

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