There’s a certain kind of teacher who gets excited when they go to Staples. This is the teacher with the binder system and the folder system and the system to integrate the binders and folders. This teacher has a color-coding system that corresponds to the neon sticky notes. This type of teacher loves the minutia of teaching and the sense of accomplishment in staying on top of paperwork. If you are that teacher, this blog post is probably not for you.

But there’s another type of teacher who struggles with details and hates administrative tasks. I was this second type of teacher in my first year of teaching. I was excited by well-crafted lessons. I focused on student engagement. But paperwork? That was something that got in the way of the real work of teaching. But then I had a day when I lost a student’s assignment. She’d been learning English and she wanted to keep an essay she had written so she could type it up to email to her family back in Mexico.

I couldn’t find it.

I searched through the turn-in bin and it wasn’t there. I looked at another pile of papers that I had graded but hadn’t entered into the grade book. It wasn’t there either. In the meantime, our team leader called me to inform me that I was already four minutes late to a meeting. I realized, at that moment, that my inability to manage paperwork was actually a bigger deal than I had assumed. Eventually, I found this student’s essay in the turn-in bin. But I decided, I needed to think strategically about the entire paper trail.

The Paper Trail

So, the paper trail is the connection paperwork from the moment something is an idea of an assignment all the way to the moment a student gets the assignment back with teacher feedback. It helps to think about the entire thing from start to finish:

  1. Ideas: where do you plan to store ideas for lessons and assignments? Where will you store graphic organizers, materials, handouts, etc? If you are teaching in a project-based framework, where will you store the components of projects?
  2. Lesson plans: Where will you store your lesson plans and unit plans?
  3. Sub folder: Where will you store your updated sub folders so that if you have something prepared if you are absent?
  4. Lesson materials/assignments: Where will you keep the items that need to be photocopied? Where will you keep the items that have already been photocopied?
  5. Passing out papers: What will be your system for making sure each student gets papers?
  6. Absent students: What will you do to make sure that students who are absent get the assignments, notes, etc.? What is your process when the studnet comes back?
  7. Collecting assignments: What is your system for collecting assignments from students? How do you collect them efficiently? How will you ensure that students have their names on their papers?
  8. Storing unfinished assignments: Where do students keep the assignments they have not finished? Do they have cubbies? Do they have their own file folders? Or are they supposed to keep an organized binder?
  9. Storing collected assignments: Once students have turned in an assignment, where do you store it before you have given feedback or graded it? How do you separate out the assignments that have been graded or not graded?
  10. Inputting grades: What is your system for inputting the grades after you collect the assignment?
  11. Returning the graded assignments back students: What is your process for getting the assignments back to the students after you have graded everything?
  12. Communicating grades: What is your system so that students know what their grades are? How will you deail with missing work?

This might seem overly complicated but I found that it helps to think of a single assignment from idea through finished work with feedback and then design a system that works for you. I kept all materials and ideas on a file folder on my laptop. I then printed up the lessons and the materials one week in advance and I would get all photocopies done one week in advance (choosing the least busy time to go to the staff lounge and make copies). I then kept each day in a green hanging file folder for each day of the week.

As students walked in, they would go to their hanging file folder that I kept in bins and they would grab their graded work along with the handouts for the day. Each student had a class number (the class period and the corresponding alphabetical number) that matched where they were in the grade book. At the end of the class period, students would hand me all their work from the day. I then quickly organized the papers in numerical order. I would leave feedback and grade their papers with my gradebook open and then place each turned in assignment in hanging file folders where they would get their graded work.

My system changed when we went fully project-based and I began using student-teacher conferences to do standards-based grading. It also changed as we went one-to-one and tracked student work through Google Docs.

The Other Paperwork

Note that the following are other paperwork areas that can trip up new teachers:

  • New students: What is your “onboarding process” for new students? How do you get them up to speed when they join your class weeks after the class has already begun?
  • Permission slips: What is your system for keep track of permission slips, money, etc.?
  • Student data: You’ll likely need to keep track of student data from things like fluency tests, benchmarks, etc. How will you manage that?
  • District and school communication: What is your system for keeping up on your communication?
  • Documentation of discipline issues: How will you document discipline issues? (I personally found that Google Forms worked well because they were timestamped and then they could be turned into a spreadsheet)
  • Class newsletters: How will you organize things like class newsletters that need to go home?
  • Ridiculously important paperwork: How will you stay on top of certification paperwork, clock hours for professional development, and other paperwork that will be critical to staying certified?

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