Most of us became teachers for reasons like wanting to share a love of learning, not because we loved paperwork. Yet it seems the average teacher is inundated with growing piles of papers and files. Even organized piles can leave you feeling frustrated as you try to determine what to tackle with your very limited time. So what can you do alleviate this problem? One might be tempted to utilize that just emptied scholastic box! Unfortunately, for the responsible teacher, out of sight does not equal out of mind. A better course of action is to prioritize those piles so that you can start eliminating them.
One reason this seemingly simply task becomes overwhelming is that it is a job that is never truly finished. There is always another paper to grade, form to fill out, or record to update. Some people will tell you to choose the tasks that will take the least time first. That way you can feel accomplished, completing several things in a short amount of time. The problem with this is then you never get to the more time consuming ones. Others will tell you to pick the most difficult task first. However, that may not be the thing of greatest importance. There isn’t any one system that is best 100% of the time; but I think that you need to commit to a plan and then deviate only when the situation requires.
Priority #1 is always the kids!Just like they are in every other aspect of your day, the needs of your students come first. If you have any paperwork that has to do with the safety or welfare of a child, it should be taken care of that day if at all possible. Parent correspondence should also be answered daily. If it is something that requires a lengthy response, request a scheduled conference with parent.
Priority #2 is time sensitive.Keep a file for these items only and place them in the folder in order with the earliest due date on top. Jot down on your calendar two days prior to the due date the name of the item. Hopefully you’ll complete it sooner and cross it off; but if not, you’ll have a reminder to finish it before it is due.
Priority #3 is lesson planning.This is obviously important for meeting objectives and student success, but as most of us have learned is also a major piece to effective classroom management. Having all the components of your lesson organized so that you’re not running off to make copies at the last minute or loosing students focus while you search for your notes on an experiment you’re about to perform will save you time and possibly your sanity!
Priority #4 is partners in education.This might involve communication or paperwork connected to administration, volunteers, librarian, campus specialist, diagnosticians, etc. If you don’t foresee being able to get to something in a timely manner, take a moment to send them an email to let them know when you anticipate completion.
Priority #5 is grading.Although this falls lower on the list it is important not to let this pile grow too large as it can become quite overwhelming and leave you in a panic as the grading period draws near. Rather than try to grade a paper here and there, set aside a couple blocks of uninterrupted time each week to focus on grading. Grading a set of like papers continuously is more time efficient than stopping and starting several times to try to fit them in between things.
Priority #6 is filing.If you have the opportunity to utilize a volunteer for non-confidential paper filing, take it! Otherwise, like grading, set a specific amount of time each week to devote to this job. This pile is probably the biggest culprit of clutter in the classroom.
Taking the time to prioritize those mounds of paperwork will allow you to eliminate the dilemma of what to do next while moving you to a proactive state, which in the long run will save you time and lower your stress level. Clearing your desk also means clearing your mind so that you can better enjoy your time away from school.