The answer? A heck of a lot!
I know you must think that after I got my amazing label maker that I ascended to label-maker heaven, which explains why I would have been a little more quiet these days. But, as any teacher would know, I have been a little more quiet lately because I have been super swamped, anxiously anticipating the arrival of a fresh crop of students. Well, they arrived today, and about five minutes ago I finished a mondo organizational project that I've been meaning to complete since the last day of school.
That's right, I renewed my vows with plastic sheet protectors.
Now, I know what you might be thinking: plastic sheet protectors = bad for the environment. You're probably right. But when it comes to my teaching materials, I lean toward lamination and plastic rather than making new copies of everything I need year after year. There is no perfect system, but this is about as close as I can get.
And it makes me so happy, in my nerdy, organization-obsessed kind of way.
OK, so here's exactly what I did:
1) Last year, each time I left my classroom to make copies of my materials for my students, I kept a giant file folder for each of my classes. I labeled this folder "Originals" followed by the class name. I made sure the "Originals" stayed in the exact order in which I had distributed them to students. See, I had a plan...
2) I gathered up some free, giant three-ring binders I'd corralled from various sources.
3) I bought two 200-pack non-glare sheet protectors from Office Depot. These retail for about $14.50 in the store (more expensive online), but because I signed up my credit card through a link provided by our school's finance officer, I'm able to get school-system prices for all my Office Depot purchases. This means my $14.50 each sheet protectors came in at a whopping $4.44 each. This, my friends, is my teacher bonus (and you know how much I love teacher discounts!).
4) I tried to consolidate all my physical materials for each of my classes into two binders per class. One binder simply contains my "Originals" in more user-friendly, plastic-sheet-protected format. This is a great way for me -- a totally visual organizer -- to see exactly what I did each day last year, which is totally useful as I figure out this year. I added dividers for each of the four grading periods to remind myself of when I roughly covered each topic, skill or activity.
The second binder per class I've labeled "Supplemental Materials." This is where the plastic sheet protectors really did wonders. See, as an English and journalism teacher, every week I come across several items I gather and file away as "Stuff I Might Use Sometime." OK, that's not a real file name...it's more like that-pile-in-the-corner-of-my-office-that-has-good-stuff-but-I'm-not-quite-sure-what's-in-there. So, this "Supplemental Resources" notebook contains articles, supplemental activities I've made but had to cut out some years, examples of good student work to use as models for new students...you get the idea. This notebook is also divided into the four grading quarters of the school year, with a short table of contents for each quarter so I can quickly glance at my extra materials if I'm looking for ideas.
Obviously, I have electronic files of everything I've ever made as a teacher, and I have a good system for labeling all those electronic files. But, when faced with the daunting challenge of organizing 180 days of teaching three different types of higher-level classes, flipping through my plastic-sheet-ridden notebooks will surely make my life easier.
In fact, I would say this could down right revolutionize my teaching experience.