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Staying Organized, Balanced, and Happy

Some of my important organizing tools

With my son in kindergarten and my husband working full-time while taking two evening courses and completing an internship, I have no choice but to step it up on the organization scale. My top goal is to be happy and be a good mother, and I've been happy with the results so far. This might be one of the longest posts I've had (classroom, self, and home), but I believe this is the most important factor to me feeling successful in the teaching world.

Part I: An Organized Classroom

A warmer winter day in our room

View a 40 second video of our classroom here- Download classroom_tour.AVI

Working Without a Desk

I teach in a small portable with a student desk as my teacher desk. While moving out the clunky desk helped create some room for two couches and six large bookshelves, it didn't create storage places for the usual desk "junk" found on and in a teacher's desk. That means my teacher materials are out with the community supplies. Next to the pencil sharpener you can find the stapler, index cards, paper-clips, and tape. If a student needs these materials, they simply use it. I go to the same place. For materials that are not used frequently, such as the large hole puncher, I place it in a cabinet by the door. So far, its worked for me and the students do a better job of making sure there are staples in the stapler better than me.

Another adjustment to not having a real teacher desk is having portable filing totes and bags. I have three. One is used to place completed grades in. It is larger and holds 25 files with each student's name on it. This includes a no-name file. Another is shown below and holds 10-12 files. It is fashionable and has pockets inside to hold some paper-clips, an Easy Grader, and a few pens. The last one is my educational "purse" which is used to sort papers at the end of the day (red purse in the main photo). This can include the attendance sheet, items to copy or turn in, and my planner, to name a few. I go through it daily in the early morning and afternoon and use it to take items home, if needed. It's my favorite tool and works better than a regular tote bag because you could place a laptop inside and still zip the top to create a nice, clean trip on the go.

Before and After School Help

Many of my students have taken it upon themselves to find our classroom early. I don't mind at all, but you can bet that I put them to work. For example, one of my students comes in between 7:15-7:20. She does everything from putting grades in the file, drawing pictures for our word wall, vacuuming, sharpening pencils, and organizing the classroom library.

I am also blessed to have a few students who stay after school to clean until I leave. One lives nearby so there is no rush for her. Another student stays until 3:45 twice a week. We hit the cleaning route quickly and work hard so that come 3:30 or 3:45, we are all ready to walk out the door. While I focus on organizing paperwork, my little helpers clean desks, boards, and get items from the ground. One of my students even leaves notes on other students' desks reminding them to clean their desk. Our janitor does not sweep, vacuum, or mop, so we've made it work.

Taking Pride in Our Room

I am not afraid to say that I consider the cleanliness of the classroom a top priority in the classroom. I think our room is beautiful and unique. I take great pride in how our room looks and model that for my students. I let them know that when it looks good, I look forward to coming into the classroom each day. And appearance counts. When I was setting up the classroom, I took pictures of each section of the classroom. I then looked at those photos and determined which sections looked messy or cluttered. For me, I have one section that bothered me. It's the bookshelf that holds the textbooks. Because of this reflection, I attached Velcro to the top ridge of the bookshelf and covered it with nice cloth. Visually, it makes a difference and keeps everything crisp and clean. My exception is the closet. It's covered by curtains for a reason! And an idea I haven't needed to use, but have thought about would include printing those photos to help guide your students to your standards of a clean section of the room. You can simply request that the sections look like the printed photo posted in that area.

Part II: An Organized Self

A file tote that holds 12 or so files- on the go

Pictured: A file tote found at Target. Made by Real Simple.

It's Not All About Organizers and Planners

I think it's possible to be organized without the heavy reliance of an organizer or planner. I simply have a duplicate copy of my school provided organizer and live off of post-it notes (one planner stays by the computer for the frequent email dates sent). With an early arrival time in the morning, I just use my post-it note messages to myself to move forward. What I like about post-it notes is that I can jot my notes down during my two most frequent times of thought. While driving and before going to sleep. This means I keep a pencil and post-it notes by my bed and on the side car pocket at all times. If it's written down, I do something about it the next morning. Even if that means placing a note in the school planner. My husband does the same thing and often writes notes about doing things for Eli or myself. It puts things in perspective and makes my note of "Enter benchmark scores" seem trivial.

Early Morning Routine

From my classroom schedule to my cleaning schedule at home, my free spirit has to force myself to stick to a routine. It's not exactly natural, but I am much more productive working under these confines. For me this means an earlier bedtime of 9 pm and a schedule that starts at 5 am. Everything from cleaning the house, grading 1-3 assignments before school, and printing out school resources before school begins at 8:00 am works for me and allows me to not take work home in the evening. I often create a list of things to do on a post-it note in the evening, but the actual work is completed in the morning. As a result, my evenings are pretty laid back and unstressful.

Grades at School

Formally, I was completing grades during my planning time and part of lunch. I ate in my room, turned the TV on and graded all at once. I can't explain why this was a relaxing event for me, but it was. Currently, I have a student teacher with me and realize planning and lunch time need to be geared towards talk and collaboration with this future teacher to our profession.

I now reserve grading to before school and organize which assignments will be formally graded at the start of the week. I use a simple sheet of typing paper and figure out which two assignments from each subject will count towards report card grades. I keep this sheet paper clipped in my grading book, and it prevents me from coming up short at the end of the week for any subjects. I try my very, very best to not take work home to grade. A benefit of grading in the morning is that low grades are fresh on my mind. Recently I have started pulling individual students to the carpet after unpacking to go over missed concepts and skills. I can also inform students quickly of missing or incomplete work as well.

Using Extra Time Wisely

School breaks usually follow a pattern for me. The first few days are spent on detailed cleaning and closet organization. After that, I usually move to larger school projects. This year, that includes upcoming Scholastic articles, lesson/unit plans, posts, and projects.  During the last break I created lesson plans for the next six weeks in each subject, wrote an article for Scholastic, and spent the remaining time playing games like Battleship and Clue with my family. I even lounged around and did absolutely nothing for a few days. The balance of time spent cleaning, planning, and playing is something I look forward to.

Part III: An Organized Home

My simple living room

Because teaching often blurs the line between work and family time, I think it is important to discuss some of my at home strategies to keeping it all together.

Throw it Away

My mother jokes that she won't be leaving me anything in her will because I will either sell it or throw it away. It is true. I am a minimalist at home and that makes cleaning up our home an easy task. Although my husband is an avid, dedicated recycler I have been known for just grabbing a trash bag and throwing things out in secrecy. Everything has a place, because there are not many "things" to be placed somewhere.

The Cleaning Deal

My son and I are in charge of everything outside the kitchen and the bedroom's restroom counter. This means, get this, my husband cooks and cleans the kitchen while keeping his "products" off the bathroom counter (ex- shaver, lotion, etc.). With simple decorations and my throw it out philosophy, cleaning daily takes no more than 15 minutes. For the base-board type cleaning, I spend about an hour on Saturday morning with my dear friend, the steam cleaner. I'm either addicted to it or easily amused.

A Financially Simple Life

My family sits down together to write and print out a monthly budget. Every single penny has a job and is planned out before the month begins. If you are familiar with our local financial guru, Dave Ramsey, we follow his hard work guidelines. I listen to his radio show, read his books, and even listened to him in person in his hometown. His financial suggestions just make sense to me. If you haven't listened to him before, my favorite saying from him is "Live like no other so you can live like no other". When we first switched over to a strict monthly financial diet three months ago I was near miserable. Lots of calls were made for things to be cancelled (including TV and home phone) and eating out was cut out completely. But when you eliminate the extras in life, you magically grow time for your family at home. We are eating healthier, have more family time, and are saving thousands (yes thousands-40% of our income) each month to be debt free. To date, we are free of credit cards and soon to be free of car payments. Our student loans will take two more years of work, but it's a great feeling having a plan. To me, it makes a difference in and out of the classroom and keeps me motivated.

Everything Goes Out of the Car, Every Day

Formally, my Beetle was nothing short of a trash can. With an extensive cleaning during the holiday break I vowed to keep it clean. Now my personal rule is simple. Everything goes out of the car every day. With the elimination of eating on the run, I don't have to worry about those random french fries under the car seat anymore. I have passed the three week mark with 100% success. This is new territory for me.

When Life Happens

Of course, life happens. I am currently sick as a dog. I spent most of Friday on the couch and feeling grateful that school was cancelled due to the extreme low temperatures. Whatever needs getting done will have to wait. And unless it revolves around my husband or my son, I don't care. It will still be waiting for me after I feel better. One of those things happens to be entering benchmark scores onto the computer. I'll get around to it later.

My son's bedroom...clean and simple

My son, Eli, helps keep things clean in his room and folds clothes with me.

Vist Dave Ramsey's site

Financial stickers available at Dave Ramsey's site.

My partners in crime

My partners in crime...

In our classroom

Have any organization tips that really help? Please feel free to share here!

To learn more about our classroom, visit us here.


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Thanks for the update. I actually went to Staples and saw the pricetag. I just couldn't do it. Out of my budget. I'll check out the sale price shortly. :)


Victoria Megginson

If you haven't found an Apprentice organizer yet, I noticed that they are on sale at the Staples web site.




Dave Ramsey actually talks about that being a problem sometimes...one spouse ends up hating this "Dave" guy. I just wish he was the financial spokesperson on Oprah instead of that female (can't think of her name). More people should know about him!



My husband and I love love LOVE Dave Ramsey (actually my husband more than me!) He always says, "Well...Dave says..." Thanks for spreading the word about such a great program!

Angela Bunyi


Dave Ramsey has a great book called Financial Peace is just fantastic. Total Money Makeover is more developed. Go get Financial Peace today. It is totally worth it!



Just wondering if you suggest a book from Dale Ramsey? I NEED to create a budget!!!


Angela Bunyi

* I wrote my tech. guru about the font size problem. Hopefully that will be fixed shortly. Eek!*

Yeah, I feel like we go way back now. :) You actually posted a comment way back in August, so it really means something that you have "stuck it" through with me. I thank you for continuing to post on here.

Also, it seems like we are very much alike. You don't have a traditional teacher desk and I dislike filing cabinets as well. My filing cabinet is in the closet and is filled 100% with guided reading books. I have $100.00 left in my school account. I am going to look into your Apprentice organizer. I honestly remember picking that up earlier in the year but put it down for something else (can't remember what).


Laura Sims

Hi Angela,

First, you need to know that YOU ROCK! I'm so impressed with your blog, website, and the awesome stuff you're obviously doing in your classroom! I started reading your blog at the beginning of the school year while I was out on maternity leave and still am a faithful follower.

Your post this week on organization really hit home with me. That has been my struggle this year. I stayed home with my baby for the first 9 weeks of school, and though I set my classroom up in August (with my one-month-old in tow) and had an amazing substitute, I still walked into a classroom that I felt was far from "mine." So much of my time since I returned has been spent on figuring what didn't "feel right" and how I could possibly change it, and organization has fallen by the wayside! I think I'll try your idea of having students who arrive early to school help me clean and organize things in our room. (The first task for Monday morning will be to rearrange the desks!) Your idea to get a lot of grading done in the morning also makes sense to me, too!

Organizational ideas that have worked for me:
1) I use a small table instead of a traditional teacher desk, so I don't have any drawers to put small stuff in like paper clips and rubberbands. Instead I bought 2 small multi-drawer organizers from the hardware section of Wal-Mart. Each one has a couple medium-size drawers and several small ones. They work great, and since I've labeled each drawer, just looking at them makes me FEEL more organized!
2) I hate using a filing cabinet for files because it feels like every drawer so easily becomes just a sea of paper! Instead I hole-punch lesson plan ideas for my units and keep them in 3-ring binders instead. Any papers/information that I use constantly (test scores, benchmark tests, Special Ed. info) I keep in a pocket of a skinny red vertical pocket chart that I hang on the wall. ("The Space Place" from Educational Insights)
3) My most recent find: "The Desk Apprentice" rotating desk-top organizer from Staples. It has room in the main center section to either hang files or stand books up vertically. I keep the teacher resource books that I use daily in that section. Around the outside, it has skinny sections for legal pads, clipboards, file folders, EZ Grader, etc. On each corner is a small compartment for school supplies. I have one for the TV and interactive whiteboard remotes, one for pencils/pens, one for the scissors and stapler, and one for highlighters/permanent markers. I've even labeled each compartment so I'll put stuff back where it goes!

Have a great weekend!
4th grade in SC

Millionaire Maker

nice post

Comments are closed. Please see Classroom Solutions, our new blog for the 2009-2010 school year. And stay tuned for Teaching Matters with Angela Bunyi and Beth Newingham.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Inside Angela's 4th Grade Classroom are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.