Saturday, August 11, 2012

I Just Got a Teaching Job- Now What?!- Organizing Your Teacher Desk

My room is sloooowly coming together. I say slowly because my plan of using all black backgrounds was foiled when I realized that I have a lot of navy stuff. Like, chairs and desks and rug are all navy.

Back to the drawing board! And my tips for new teachers.

Now let's look at setting up your teacher space. The nice thing about this post is that it can be helpful whether you're a new teacher or not, and whether you've started the new year or not. Organizing your teacher desk (or teacher area) is hugely important to your sanity.

As someone who has probably failed in every possible way at keeping my teacher desk organized, I am an expert at the pitfalls of desk organization, so hopefully I can help you avoid them.

Glass half full kind of girl, that's what I am! :)

Step 1- Desk or no desk?

If you're considering forgoing the desk, check with your principal. (Our school has no storage space right now, so losing the desk is not an option.)

No teacher desk will work for you if you never sit there during the day and you would have kept a pretty clear desk most days anyway. If that would work, you can probably use a small group table or computer station as your "teacher space" and go without the desk. This will give you more space for teaching and learning!

For me, I'm pretty sure at this point that not having a desk would just mean that my mess would take over the small group table, and I can't chance that. I do try to take up only a little corner, though, and share the front of my desk as a word work station.

Step 2- Teacher supply storage.

It's simple- The more things you have on your desk, the more cluttered it will look.

If there are some things you can keep in drawers, do it. My stapler and tape dispenser are still super easy to access in my top drawer, but they're not taking up space on my desk all day.

do suggest you have a space on your desk for students to turn in money, notes, permission slips, and other important things for the teacher. Having a special spot for these (like my basket) helps kids remember to take them out of their folders, and helps me make sure I read them. (I have to sit at my computer while I put in attendance and lunch count, so it's nice to have those right here, too.)

Normally, there is nothing inside- this is while I was still unpacking!

The top of my desk also includes a cute little frog bucket with pencils, pens, markers, highlighters, and scissors. It's my quick go-to supplies. My paper clips and binder clips have taken up a home in the drawer, but may come back out if I find it too annoying to reach in my desk for them.

Here are office supplies your desk should probably have:
  • pencils
  • pens (that you love)
  • markers (Sharpies and others)
  • highlighter
  • gluestick
  • masking tape
  • painter's tape
  • magnetic tape
  • Scotch tape
  • poster tape
  • sticky tack or Stikki Clips (LOVE these)
  • erasers
  • a manual pencil sharpener
  • paper clips
  • binder clips
  • stapler and extra staples
  • pushpins
  • rubber bands
  • safety pins
  • calculator
  • a little spare change
  • Post-It notes
  • discipline notes/ reward notes
  • index cards
  • hole punch
  • 3 hole punch
  • file folders (keep them here so it's easy to make new files as you go!)
  • blank labels
  • stamps or stickers
  • extra envelopes
  • small Ziploc bags (I like to keep a box here in addition to my Ziploc stash)
Little tackle boxes work great to keep your desk organized!

Step 3- Paper organization for teachers.

Angela Watson's book The Cornerstone has an entire chapter about the Paper Trap- and I remember, the first time I read it, being overwhelmed with how many different spaces I needed to plan. But, really, you're going to have most of this 'stuff' regardless- so you'd better have somewhere to put it.

Things to copy
Copies ready for teaching with
Things to laminate
Laminated things to cut
Things to turn in to the office
Originals to file
Papers to grade
Graded papers ready to go home
Homework turned in
Center work turned in
Other work turned in
Extra copies of forms
Make-up work

And you'll discover many more. Oh, we have a subscription to Scholastic News? That's great, but they send me a month's worth at a time, so where am I going to store these? Oh, Envision Math in 2nd grade comes with little packets instead of a textbook? I need those every day, so how am I going to keep them organized?

And then there are field trip forms, discipline forms (new and used), Scholastic book order forms, data and documentation of all kinds to keep... the list could go on forever, and it will be different in every school.

The important thing about organizing papers is that you need to try something and then be willing to change it. Let's face it- we don't just have all the time in the world to organize throughout our day. If you find yourself stacking papers on top of the little Sterilite drawers to "put away later," maybe you need to try open trays instead of drawers. If your copies are neatly organized on your desk, but you have to keep crossing to the back of the room all day to get them, maybe it's time to move that organization to where you teach.

It's a good idea to have a folder for each individual student. I label these by number so I'm not relabeling every year. This is where I keep any notes from that parent, any special documentation to keep on that student, any IEPs, ILPs, or RTI plans, and anything else specific to that student.

Beyond that, your folders should reflect what you need. Think about all the things that will be coming in and going out, and have a definite "inbox" for things you haven't had time to sort yet. (Because when you stop by your mailbox before picking kids up from music, you probably won't have time to sort the mail just then.) But here's the hard part- you have keep yourself accountable for that "inbox" and cleaning it out at a certain time (like right after dismissal). The good news is that routines get easier with time! :)

When you are thinking about your organizational system, efficiency is the key. The perfect place will be:
- Easy to remember
- Easy and quick to access
- Quick to organize (maybe not initially, but day to day or week to week)
- In a convenient area of the room
- Enclosed by some kind of boundary (random piles on your desk get cluttered fast!)
- Probably labeled

When you are looking for containers, check out the dollar store, but don't be afraid to look at places like IKEA or the Container Store or the actual not-Dollar-Spot part of Target. If you pick out something you just *love*- you're a lot more likely to actually use it. Plus, if it's on your desk, you will spend a lot of time there. (After school, if you're anything like me, but a lot of time nonetheless.) It's worth it to find something (or spray paint it) in a color you just love!

I also love a file folder sorter like this. At one point last year, I got flowers and stuck this under my desk for the time being- and guess what? Still worked to keep it near my feet. If you're struggling for desk space, don't be afraid to stick one of these guys on the floor.

If you do use something like this, you might consider one like this Lakeshore one that a binder can fit under (love!), and definitely stick some blank file folders in the back for the beginning of the year. (Having file folders *right here* will help you get something new organized quickly, instead of saying "Oh, I'll make a folder for that later.")

Sure you will.

In all that free time we have at the beginning of the year :)

If you ever find yourself saying "I'll do it later" a few times,  it probably means your system is not efficient enough. Unless you're the type of person who actually does do it later, in which case... why are you reading this? Teach me your secrets!

Step 4- Think about what can go in your teacher binder.


 I've talked before about how much I love my teacher binder. I'm a little obsessed because it makes me feel organized (and that never happens!)

Bonus of the teacher binder? A less cluttered desk.

I stopped using a desk calendar because it would get covered with papers (and become worthless) or I would go to a meeting and forget to come back and write down dates (which made it even more worthless). I love having my calendar portable enough to come home with me when I plan, to go to meetings with me, and also be at my fingertips in the classroom.

If you have papers that you need to reference constantly at your desk but also want access to in other places, consider putting them in your binder! Keeping a copy of my kids' weekly newsletter in the back is one of those things that took me way too long to figure out, but it is always easy to find and doesn't take up desk space!

Hopefully, that gives you at least a start so that your desk doesn't look like this!

*Actual photo of my desk at one point last year
*Yes, it's a little embarrassing, but I am trying to keep it real here!

Just remember... if something isn't working for you, change it! Even if it looks cute, or it works for your BFF, or you spent hours putting it together.

I would love to see photos of your teacher desk organization!

P.S. I get to bring my husband back home today!!! :) Yes, he knows that he may not get to see me too much for the next few days- school starts Wednesday!


  1. My desk AND rainbow table are already full of papers and school began only three days ago! Thanks for your tips!
    Teaching in the Valley

  2. I'm not a new teacher but I still enjoyed this post. I was in 2nd for the last few years and spent time organizing rose papers. They came in boxes of 20 and we each had 30 kids so we had to go through it all! I had crates with file folders and sorted them by unit. When you mention the paper trap, it made me smile. I now have a set of cubbies that I use to store a lot of my things and it made my life easier. I have a picture of part of my desk at

    Surfing to Success

  3. Hee hee, I'm so happy. I'm one of those people who has a nice big stack of papers in my "deal with it later" section of my desk baskets, and then another (overstuffed) file in my cabinet labeled "to file", so I was really excited to see the idea of keeping a few extra folders on hand so I can deal with things right away instead of waiting until my weekly -> monthly -> pushed back another month cuz I didn't have time to file stuff day.


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