Tip 2: How to Organize, for the Disorganized

I am not an organized person naturally. I know where things were, but the clutter to other people was atrocious. And sometimes, when I was not thinking about it, I have left a necessary pile at home. I no longer do that.

I have figured out a few vital points for how to avoid disorganization and maximize organization easily.

Don’t accept late papers.

This comes out of the horrific experience of not having said I would not accept late papers. I had one student turn in every writing assignment, including five essays and two research papers, the week of finals. The papers were horrible, but I had no recourse but to grade them. I wasted a lot of time and, hopefully, the student wasted even more. So learn from my mistake.

But it also keeps you from having a paper come in one day late, another two days late, another a week late, and another two weeks late. You may not remember exactly what you accepted or how you counted something by the time you have finished all the grading.

I think this is a great tip, but I can’t do it myself. 😉

Instead, what I do is I accept papers one class period late only.

I also define ahead of time how many points off that will be. If it is a MWF class and a paper is due on Monday and you turn it in Wednesday, it is ten points off. But if it is due on Friday and you turn it in Monday, you get twenty points off because you had extra time to work on it. The same holds for a Tuesday/Thursday class. If it is due on Tuesday and you turn it in Thursday, you lose ten points. If it is due Thursday and you turn it in Tuesday, you lose twenty points.

So, really this first point should be: Don’t accept papers more than one day late and make sure you know ahead of time how the grading will change due to lateness.

But if you can do the whole “No late papers,” it will be even easier and more organized.

If you do accept late papers, make sure you write “Late” in pen on the top of the paper when you receive it.

This helps you know, when you get home and are grading, that you didn’t misfile the paper, but it was late.

It also helps when the students say “Why did I lose ten points?” and you don’t remember it was late.

Have expandable file folders for each class you teach.

These are most useful if they are color coded.

As an adjunct at multiple schools I use one color for freshman comp at school 1 and another color for the same class at school 2. Then I have a different folder for composition and literature at each school.

If I were at one school and I taught four of the same course, I might change colors for MWF and TTH. That way I would know which classes I had to grab for any given day.

I also tag the file folders with name tags, identifying which class they are for. That way if I have two green folders, because I have two freshman comp courses at CC1, I know which class is which, without having to open them.

Keep all the stuff for each class together.

I keep all the student papers (and the class syllabus and roll) in these folders- including papers to be graded, papers to be returned, and papers of students who did not show up for class that day. I only take them out to grade or pass back. This cuts down on loss. Also, when a student says, “I gave them to you” I can hand them the folder and ask them to find the papers. (Usually they aren’t there, because I don’t lose them anymore using this system.)

Create student email/phone lists.

Buy a package, or two, of multicolored index cards.

Use a different color for each class. (Which should explain why you might need one or two packages. It depends on how many colors you need.)

Pass them out to students on the first day of class and ask for their name, an email they use, and a phone number you can reach them at.

I usually ask the students for two other pieces of information. (Why are you in college? What do you want to get out of this class? Or how does this class help you meet your goals for life?) It gives me an indication of their handwriting and their writing ability.

Then I put rubber bands around each set and keep them together.

If I need to contact a student, I don’t have to rely on them having given the registrar updated information.

Create a filing system for each type of class you teach.

I have taken folders (manilla or colored) and created and organized my lessons. I use a single folder for a single introduction or essay, depending on what I am doing.

For instance, for my writing class, I have a compare/contrast folder, a definition/illustration folder, a teacher introduction folder, etc. For my early British lit course, I have a Beowulf folder, a Julian of Norwich folder, a history timeline folder, etc. For my comp and lit class, I have a folder for short story introduction, for different short stories, for literary analysis, etc.

I include within the file folders any notes, ideas, suggestions, and print outs of websites I use, just in case the website goes away. That has happened before.

What this filing system allows me to do is grab the folder with the lesson I am presenting and examine it, beef it up, or weed out, and take it to class to present. I don’t have to (any longer) worry if I am going to be able to find my biography of Lewis Carroll notes or my history of fairy tales. I know I will because they are in the file folders.

If I run across a great idea, or a handout, for a topic I don’t teach, I still make a folder for it and put it with the relevant class. This means that later, if I end up teaching, for example, “Hills like White Elephants,” that I already have the beginning of a lesson. It also means that I haven’t run out of ideas of ways to change up my classes if they are getting stale.

If you are totally disorganized, start with one of these ideas and implement it.

Assuming school has already started, I would begin with announcing the new late paper policy, if that is possible.

Then I would get expandable file folders.

As I went through the semester, I would start creating my filing system. I wouldn’t worry about getting it all done to start with, but just putting each lesson in a folder when I got done with it.

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