Keeping a classroom organized is important because it helps teachers spend more time teaching and less time looking for materials during classroom activities. Organizing a classroom might take a weekend, but the results will be worth it. A word of advice: bring a friend or loved one to get the job done twice as fast.
What You Have
The first step is to look at what you have in your classroom. Figure out if you have things you don’t need, and get rid of them if you do. Of course, you’ve also got to figure out which materials you need to access easily on a daily basis, such as important student records, lesson plans, and materials like paper and pencils. Look around your room and think of where these things could be placed to make them the most accessible. Put them there.
You might run into the problem of not having enough room. Important storage materials might also be absent, such as bookshelves and storage bins. This problem has an easy remedy: as a fellow teacher! Other teachers might have things they’re not using and would be willing to share with you.
Another option is to ask the parents of your students for storage materials. Many of them would be more than happy to contribute. Some parents might even build you bookshelves, which has been known to happen.
Tricks of Trade
The number one organization trick for teachers is this: have the students clean up after themselves. The important thing is to get students into a routine. If you put the time in at the beginning of the year to get students used to the routines, classroom management and classroom organization will come more easily throughout the year. This can seem like a waste of time with all the curriculum you have to cover, but it’s worth it.
According to The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher by Harry and Rosemary Wong, having students put their materials away or clean up after doing a project are examples of procedures. Procedures are different from rules because the teacher does not issue any kind of discipline when procedures are not followed.
The way to teach a procedure is simple, but effective. Teach the procedure at the beginning of the year, as soon as it is needed. According to Harry and Rosemary Wong, you should tell the students what the procedure is and why they are learning it, show students the procedure yourself, and rehearse the procedure.
So, if you are having students use markers for the first time, you should explain to students that there is a procedure in your place for putting away materials. You might say something like, “In our class, we have some procedures so that we can spend more of our time learning together. When we use markers, we put the caps back on them, put them back in their boxes, and put the boxes back on the shelf where we got them.”
Then, you would demonstrate it for the students and have them practice. When students do this procedure the right way, you should encourage them and give them feedback. Give students constructive feedback when they follow the procedure incorrectly, as well, but be supportive. For example, if a student puts the cap back on the wrong side of the marker, you might say, “I really appreciate that you put the cap back on the marker, but you need to put it on the opposite side. Here, let me show you.”
Having the appropriate storage materials and procedures in your classroom will go a long way. The final thing to remember is to keep stick with it. It’s easy to let the classroom fall into disarray when you’re busy planning lessons and grading students’ work. Try to set aside a few hours each month just to organize your classroom. You and your students deserve it.