What’s in Your File Cabinet?

A few months ago I talked about exploring knowledge management for teachers. Essentially, how we personally capture our resources, lessons, and reflections. I have used a variety of methods over the years, none of them too effective. The last two methods (binders and then file folders for unit master copies, readings, etc.) were completely paper-based. I also have directories/folders on my hard drive labeled by class and unit that are filled with files I have found or created over the years. When I create a test or quiz, I usually add the year, but other then that, I have years of documents all together. I occasionally add some notes or reflections to a lesson for the following year, but often times I just try and remember. As you can imagine, I have had mixed success with this.

Teaching AP World History this year has complicated my limited organizational capacity. I have bought numerous resources, but the real overload has come from files I have downloaded from other teachers with web pages (thanks by the way). PowerPoints, worksheets, DBQs, etc. Hundreds of files. Actually, probably a couple thousand. Now what?

So here’s my question to all the teachers who read this blog, how do you organize your educational resources? From books to lesson plans to worksheets to digital files? Did you purchase a program, print everything out, or use a file cabinet? How do you keep track of lessons from year-to-year, noting what went well, what didn’t? If it is complicated or simple please explain by commenting (or e-mail me at danmcdowell@cox.net).

I am writing an article with one of my former Educational Technology professors about this and want some “real life” examples beyond myself and the teachers at my school. I will also summarize the results later.

Thanks and I appreciate your help!

24 thoughts on “What’s in Your File Cabinet?”

  1. Great Question! There is no simple answer…..I have a ton of stuff scattered about in two computers (one at school and one here at home), two file cabinets, boxes, various books, three-ring binders…..Just when I seem to get some of this mess organized, something comes up and it is a mess again…..changing teaching subjects, classes within a subject (I went from teaching science to US History to World History).

    So, what do I recommend. A hell of a memory to be able to recall what you have and where it is. So far, this usually has worked for me. One thing I find useful is that after years of teaching, there is much material to pick from and use with various students, and a slew of possible extra credit, make-up or enrichment activities when you might need them.

    Yes, I tell myself that someday I will get organized. One thing I did while I had a student teacher, was to go through my US History file and clear out most of it. Some was saved for whatever future use, much of it was tossed into recycling and I have probably six to seven reems worth of “scrap” paper that I can use in the future for various assignments instead of using “new” paper…..


  2. Hey, saw your blog just wanted to say that I think education is a key to success. I put everything on a laptop that I can—

    My background is in drivers education–keep people safe.

    Anyway great blog.

    Driver Education


  3. If I had the answer to this, I’d probably spend less time at school. I will tell you, though, if I put it in a filing cabinet, it’s dead to me.

    I mostly use binders, but I’m still trying to figure out the most efficient way of organizing them. I tried to keep everything on my hard drive, but I found that I’d forget to even look for something, create it from scratch again and find it again later. I had a binder for every unit, but found that didn’t really work either. I’m going to spend at least part of my summer reorganzing, again.

    I’ve tried boxes for units, no dice. I just didn’t look in the boxes. The filing cabinet is where I put large stacks of paper when the principal is coming for an observation. It also does a great job of holding the mini-fridge. Outside of that? Useless.

    I also find that I keep a lot of garbage – things I’ve never used and most likely will never use. I’m a packrat, which is often a fatal teaching disease.


  4. I, too, have stuff in file cabinets, on computers, on CDs, on floppies I can no longer access. I also have binders filled with materials. After more than 25 years, it is everywhere! The hard part is to remember where it all is at I can use it when I would like to!

    I have started trying to eliminate paper files and have actually started getting some of my best old lessons on CD. Some of them include materials done on old ditto masters! It is a huge job, but I am determined to do it. But even as I type them up, I find it hard to actually through the old yellowed sheets away…


  5. I was hoping to see something great from your readers, but it seems we are all just gettin’ by. Like Poski3, I have files, and things on two different computers. I also have hundreds of $$ of book that I use for reference and ideas.

    The bad stuff about electronic files is that sometimes programs become outdated. For example, I have a ton of files in Word Perfect from my first few years teaching. Of course I’d had to redo any documents I use each year. Also, when I make files to upload to my students’ computers, I have to use AppleWorks. Will I always use Appleworks? Heck no! (I hope not anyway. I hate it!)

    My best bet is simply keep originals in file folders. If I do a new unit, I immediately make a folder so I can stick stuff away. If only I had them alphabetized…


  6. Everything I have is on a single computer, with files hosted on the school web server. I have no paper files. Everything is organized in electronic folders, with a folder for each class, then a folder for each unit within the class, and a folder for each discrete topic in the unit if that topic has more than one related file. It works quite well, and guarantees that I won’t lose any of it, something I easily do with paper. If I find a paper resource that is not electronic, I have my TA scan it so that I can save it as a jpg or pdf file. Beyond that, all I have is a bookshelf.


  7. I am quite possibly the most anal-retentively organized person on the planet.
    I have binders for each class I am currently teaching, and I’m working on creating binders for classes I’m teaching next year. I keep all my original notes, any websearches I’ve done, worksheets, tests and answer keys, transparencies, news articles, etc. I also have folders in a file cabinet (arranged by class) in which I keep my originals for copies.
    For larger units (Shakespeare, Oddyssey, novels etc.), I keep a separate binder just because I have so much STUFF on them.
    I also keep everything I possibly can on my computer for backup. I have everything organized by class and then by unit.

    I also will be a travelling teacher next year…meaning I will be based in our department office, then I’ll go from room-to-room. This makes it a little more difficult to stay organized. I have a tupperware for each class that holds hanging folders. I’ll create a folder for each student and keep all assignments in it. I’ll also make all the copies I need for the week and keep them in there. I’ve seen other travelling teachers use different methods, and they always seem to lose things.

    Hopefully this works for me.


  8. I store a lot of things on my old firewire enabled iPod– USB2 is too slow, Apple! Hear me???

    I also keep things in a series of binders for my AP classes, but I am always behind.

    Anyone got a magic solution?


  9. I believe I am most like the comments made by the anonymous teacher. My teammates call me the binder queen. I have done much better this year by not having duplicate files on my home and work computer. I simply make sure, at the end of the year, I burn my work HD so I have everything. I made 2 “master” notebooks (both of which are the mammoth 4 inchers) of all single sheet lessons/notes, etc. I also try to do a purge every year. The documents/lessons I haven’t used within the the two or so years – get tossed.

    Good luck! I will be interested in what everyone else has to say.


  10. You may be interested in checking out Google Notebook, which has just been launched. It’s like a cross between del.icio.us and a blog. I realise it’s not the solution you’re looking for, but it’s an interesting way to ogranise bookmarks.


  11. Add me to the binder users. I have a binder for each unit. At the beginning is the list of homework readings and personal notes I’ve taken. it is followed by all lessons in chronological order. I have the lesson (or slim outline of it) followed by all necessary materials. If part of the materials are stored somewhere else (like giant documents packets in the file cabinet), I put a post-it note indicating that. I also put post-its for reminders for the next year (ex: “too short!” or “kids loved it but needs more organization”)

    I have everything saved on a computer too but frankly that is just a back-up. I use the paper copies.


  12. I keep my lessons in folders in the cabinets by unit. Each year, I move the lessons and materials into the order I taught them that year. I’m still working on writing reflections on the lessons. One of my goals for next year is to do a better job of that.

    I also keep lessons, handouts, etc, on file on the computer. These are organized by year, grade, and unit. I have some on my computer at home and some on the school machine. At the end of each year, I backup the files on the school computer to CD and put them on my laptop at home.

    As for books and other materials that aren’t on the ‘puter or can’t fit in the file folders, I have them totally unorganized in boxes and on bookshelves.

    I try to stay organized, but as you know, it can be difficult and time consuming.


  13. I teach elementary school. I have a Literacy Block (reading, writing, spelling, and skills), but my main job is Technology.

    I am totally unorganized in Tech. I have files on several computers for that, and paper work everywhere.

    For Literacy (I have taught 2 grades) I have file cabinet drawers. For my current class, second grade, I have a drawer with hanging folders for each unit with file folders for each story. I also have files on 3 computers and the school file server, I need one central digital storage device.


  14. My organizational systems are still in progress and largely include what my co-worker recently called “vertical filing” (one thing thrown on top of another wherever there’s room), but here’s what I have and am working on:

    1) Flash driveS and other electronic storage. I have one that has everything and one where I periodically back stuff up. Plus I try to save some irretrievable things to my classroom computer and my home computer, in case a flash drive goes missing. Uploading handouts and worksheets to the class webpages is also recommended, though difficult with things xeroxed, cut, and pasted from various hardcopy sources.

    2)Hardcopy binder. I have recently begun organizing binders with one copy of everything in plastic sleeves. For my Spanish class, everything’s in one, but for English, I have unit binders. I try to organize things chronolgically and keep things I’ve used in the past in the back in case they become relevant. I also have pocket folders for copies.

    3) Unit boxes. Spanish files are still sparse enough that I keep them in a file cabinet drawer, as I do with various English-related things related to grammar and general writing to pull out on an as-needed basis.

    In English, I have small, portable file boxes to contain copies of files relevant to each unit, basically more copies of the files in the binders.

    The files in both the cabinets and the boxes are in color-coded folders: red=reading; yellow=vocabulary; green=grammar; purple=performance (plays, videos, etc.); blue=writing; orange=tests.


  15. So far nobody has mentioned saving files to one’s Web-based e-mail account. It’s a great idea that I read in our local paper a few days ago. The columnist said, “…how about just e-mailing copies to yourself and leaving them on the server? Most of the Web-based e-mail services, such as Gmail, AIM, Hotmail, Netscape and Yahoo, offer 2 gigs or more of free storage.”

    Hotmail and Yahoo will allow you to create new folders, so you can separate your files by subject. And if your computer crashes, you have backup copies readily available–from anywhere in the world!


  16. This makes interesting reading! I need some sort of life laundry to sort out my paperwork. Erratic is an understatement. I have a variety of systems on the go at once as I try to work out which is more user friendly in the limited storage space that I have. Master copies of worksheets are stored by year group and subject in ring binders. I have boxes arranged by topic for resources such as books and pamphlets. Then I have a filing cabinet stuffed full of bits and pieces that I haven’t had time to file. It makes me want to weep! I’ll be coming back to check on your results because I need help!


  17. As an aspiring teacher and “organizer”, I assumed I would use the same type of organization I’ve used in previous jobs. This means keeping everything on a computer. The main reason for doing this is so I could use Google Desktop (or a similar program) and search for everything I need. Where’s that phone number for Jack W? Search. Where’s that quote from MLK. Search.

    So I guess I find it really interesting that not even the people that do keep everything on a computer say they still use binders more often. Hmmm…


  18. Since I can’t afford high-speed on my teacher’s salary (even after 28 years!), for some reason I keep losing my dial-up connection today, so I may do this in 2 parts. Bear with me.
    Oh, boy. I console myself by saying we packrats are simply dedicated to our craft. The guy next door leaves at 3 every day and teaches the same lessons every year, except new ideas I give him. If you are caring, searching out new ideas, trying to implement new strategies (6 traits of writing, whatever) you’re just going to have a lot of stuff. Period. It’s easier to throw stuff out now that the end is in sight, but when I was younger and foresaw a lifetime of teaching ahead, I didn’t know what I would need and when. Now I know I rarely pull out anything from the 70s, but it HAS happened! This stuff is our brainchildren. I know in a year my curriculum is slated to change and I won’t use the Town Board simulation I created from scratch again (probably), but I will not throw it out.


  19. Part 2
    Every time I read tips on organizing, they recommend developing a system that works for YOU and keeping on top of clutter (although that’s not easy). I have things on computer, but units are not just paperwork; thus binders never worked for me either. I have two file cabinets: one for current units and one for miscellaneous. The file drawer for each unit holds folders for activities (including hard copies of all the things on my computer) plus all the artifacts–videos, maps, articles, Junior Scholastics, etc. There are too many Mock Trial materials for the Judicial Branch drawer (class sets of the case facts, the judge’s robe, and so on) so there are a few boxes, too. Because this file cabinet is the heart and soul, I always go to it at the beginning of a unit. I pull a folder and REALLY try to weed it as I teach, revising if possible or at least slapping stickies with reflections for next year.
    This isn’t to say I don’t have to spend time in my room during the summer to delete/throw out. I have one crate where I throw everything I don’t have time to refile and know I have to clean it out before school starts again. It’s just a fact of life for me that I have to invest that time and I don’t whine about it.
    Fortunately I have changed schools and rooms a few times and at those points was able to force myself to pare down rather than move it all. But, yes, I do still have some ditto masters in files in the misc. cabinet. When I come in during the summer, I also make myself go through that cabinet again and each time am able to round file a few items.
    Good luck with your quest. This is great and I’m so glad I came across your site.


  20. Just sent a post b/c I found your website while searching for organizing tips. Found this great forum website with a searchable database of archived posts. I’ve searched for “organizing papers” and “file” and have found tons of great ideas from other teachers much as you have here. Thought you might be interested. It is http://www.proteacher.net


  21. I’m a good combination of the ideas that others have mentioned. I’ve learned to keep everything but to carefully organize what I use and find effective. My co-teacher obsessively clips the corner of her original documents; it helps us stay on top of unique materials and organizes our copying needs.

    Do you know Mrs. Renz? She keeps a great website from her 4th grade class. Her online organization is excellent and clear.


    Her site has helped me think about how I organize my electronic materials and how I keep them with my hard copies.


  22. Here are some things that work for me in various forms:
    1. I installed the Google Desktop when it first came out.
    I then have it constantly index whatever I am working on. This allows me to do a google search on all my documents, websites and emails that I have worked on. For example if I remember a key phrase or word from a lesson it will go out and do the search on my computer…they recently added the ability to have your index search happen on multiple computers (provided you are signed into your google account) so it will do your desktop search for items you worked on at home desktop, on your laptop or your school desktop. This has been a life saver because I don’t have to be a master at orgainizing my files since the search function comes through for me.
    2. Towards the end of the school year I began been using http://www.box.net It is free, I label my folders, upload my documents, music, photos and I can access my folders from any computer that has web access. The drawback with this website is that the upload process can take a while sometimes so I only save my most important files on this one.


  23. Wow! Some great information! I happened to find your website by googling elementary teachers and filing. I read some great ideas! My research question for my Master’s project is, “How can elementary teachers be more efficient?” I know this is a general question, but I am looking for a varieity of ways to TRY and keep my head above water amongst the paperwork, lack of storage space, staff meetings, curriculum committees, hectic schedules, etc…

    Yes, I love my fourth grade teaching job, but it can be very overwhelming sometimes. If anyone has any other advice or useful teacher websites dealing with efficiency, share your knowledge, please.


  24. I am a new teacher and throughout my education years I have stocked up my supplies. But now I have nothing but clutter. I hate clutter but love everything I have accumulated. I am thinking, “If my storage is in disaray so will my classroom. I want to just throw everything away and start new and fresh. Can a teacher do that each year?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s