Sunday, January 10, 2010

Staying Organized and Happy

I like to think of myself as a pretty organized person. I am definitely a details person - dates, times, accurate details. I feel very happy when I know that everything has its place so I can go back to it easily in a moment's notice. I've worked very hard at home to keep things organized and to help my husband, who is not a details, everything in its place person, follow some kind of order to keep our house and life organized. Things work out well when there is only one other person to keep organized.

While my need for order and details sometimes (ok, most of the time) drives my husband nuts, I am absoutely thankful for those needs in the classroom. Not only do I have to worry about myself staying organized, I have to teach 25 students how to do it and help them maintain it as well. With the start of the new year, my kids and I spend some time this past week cleaning and organizing our classroom. Here are some tips and things that I do in my classroom to help everyone stay organized. I know all these tips may not be the ideal solution for you, but I didn't think I could do some of them either when I read about them. Now I couldn't picture myself going back to the old ways.
  • Getting Rid of Your Teacher Desk
    ~ This is probably the greatest thing that I have ever done in my classroom. When I moved into my classroom, I was in love with how much space I was given to work. I didn't have the traditional desk. Being a fairly new school, we had this like work table/counter top kind of desk. I quickly learned 3 things about my desk. Number 1 - All it did was collect piles and piles of stuff - papers, books, who knows what else. Number 2 - I never had time to even sit at it during the day. Number 3 - When I actually sat down at my desk, it was usually to help someone with something.

    After realizing my desk was not serving the purpose it was made for, I tried many different things to balance "my space" with "their space". Finally, over this past summer, I thought about what I really do all day long when I do sit down - work with small groups and hold individual conferences. Then it hit me! What I really needed was a table that could allow other people to sit with me instead of a desk that only allowed one person to sit. So, out with the enormous, oblong desk and in with the kidney table!

    My "desk" that I do all my work at is a kidney table. This one thing has helped me TREMENDOUSLY. No more piles of stuff because I can't - where would I have room for my kids to work with me? When I have something that would just go in a pile, it gets dealt with right there and it goes straight to the garbage or to a drawer (more about that in a second) for later. I have lots of room now to work with students. Before, they were trying to crowd around my desk, knocking off mounds of junk on my desk. Now, when they are working with me, they sit on one of the colorful stools I have at the table. I do have a student desk in the very corner of my room that holds my laptop and room phone and I can store a few important things. I'm telling you - don't knock it until you try it. When I got rid of my desk, I was able to open up a HUGE area for large group instruction...big enough that I am looking for a small couch or loveseat to put there. Yeah, our teacher desks are that big. It was an adjustment at first, but it was the best thing for me. It does confuse other teachers when they come in and try to leave you a note on your desk, but everyone gets used to it.

  • Prioritizing What Goes in the Desk
    ~ If you didn't know, I teach third grade. Third graders are hoarders. They keep everything from scraps of paper to bottle caps to rocks to I don't even want to know.

    In our room, we have tables. My students do not have a bottomless abyss to store stuff anymore. Each of my students has a 3x12 inch basket that sits on the top of their table. This little basket REALLY cuts down on the amount of garbage they can have. At first, the rule was whatever could fit in their basket could stay at their tables. Well, you always have that one student who can find a way to cram everything but their backpack in the basket. A couple months ago, we created a list of things that were only allowed in the basket. I love this because there is nothing for them to play with at the tables. They can't hide anything like toys because I can see clearly into each basket. If I ever had to go back to regular desks, I think I would still do this. I just can't believe the amount of junk 8 year olds can accumulate. No more lost pencils, cut up crayons, or eraser collections!

    As far as their books and other larger things, they stay on a seperate bookshelf. I don't use many of the textbooks, but the two that we do use (Science and Social Studies) stay on a bookshelf in the room. I have numbered the spines so the kids can easily tell which one belongs to them. They are really good about putting them back in order. All of their other workbooks, notebooks, and binders and housed in a small magazine rack on a bookshelf. When they need something, they simply get up to get it. Once again, no mess because they are only allowed to keep certain things in them and I can easily monitor the baskets.

  • Plastic Drawers Were the Best $7.50 I Ever Spent
    ~ To help keep my things and the kids' things organized, I bought a ton of those Sterallite plastic 3 drawer containers. Here are some things that I have organized in my drawers.

    * Drawers labled Monday-Friday for my daily lesson materials
    * A couple sets labeled for individual math games and spelling activities
    * Labeled sets for papers and forms that we use frequently (reading logs, lunch count, spelling tests, speical colored paper, peer review forms, etc)
    * A set for my own use for organizing teacher stuff
    * Smaller sets that hold paper clips, rubber bands, pens, and other materials that are on the morning check in table.

    I realize that these may seem pricey, but even getting one or two sets and prioritizing their use will really help you keep important things safe and organized.

I will be taking some pictures of these ideas and some other little things I do to help to visualize how these ideas may work in your classroom. Make it your goal to be better organized for 2010!

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