Figen Genco

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Dear Figen,
I am a second career teacher overwhelmed by all the paper involved! In addition to administrative school papers, there are tons of papers I use in the classroom such as current hand-outs, potential handouts, originals, documents, maps, cartoons, articles, ads, paper for parents, news clips, and homework assignments. I also have paper from in service training and continuing education. As a teacher who needs to be a role model, it makes me feel even worse when I can’t find things and when my work area is a mess. Just the other day, I had a very embarrassing situation. A very good student asked me how he could get such a low grade, and I explained him that he didn’t turn in one of his assignments. He assured me that he was the first to turn it in. I searched all day that day and the next couple days. Finally I found it. This wasn’t the first time it happened, but that did it for me. Can you recommend a method? A book? A workshop? Please help!

Heather- Trenton, NJ

Dear Heather,
Having worked as a college instructor many years myself and working with clients of teachers now, I know how much paper a teaching career can create. However; all jobs and businesses require paperwork and nowadays people also have more paper at home than ever. Regardless of what you do, the way to deal with paper is to create a practical and functioning system for incoming, outgoing and to-be-kept papers.

There are 5 categories that one must consider when creating a system: To Act, To File
To Delegate, To Read, To Toss. What we need to do is to create proper “homes” with the correct organizing tools for each of those categories. 

Examples of “Homes” For Categories:

  • To Act- tickler system, monthly and daily folders
  • To File- filing cabinet, filing system
  • To Delegate- wall pocket out box
  • To Read- magazine holders
  • To Toss- recycle or trash

A piece of paper might change its category during the process of working on it.  For example, a bill is “To Act” when it arrives, but after acting on it-paying it-, it becomes either “To File” or “To Toss”. It might even stay as “To Act” if you need to make a call to follow up on your payment. Always ask yourself what your next step is with each paper. Then you will know where you should place it.

A good filing system consists of broad main categories divided into more specific sub categories. Clear tabs with legible labels should be used for exterior folders-hanging folders. Interior folders- manila folders- should be marked with both the sub category and the main category. Assigning a different color and drawer for each type of paper will work best for you; class work, continuing education and administrative schoolwork.

The papers you use everyday should be placed in homes closer to you and the paper that you only refer time to time should be placed away from you. This rule applies to all types of organizing. The more often something is used, the closer it’s placed to you. The less often it is used, the further away it goes.

You can use two sets of mailboxes in your classroom for collecting written work, and distributing it for the students to take home. Use cardboard shoe holders with compartments. Label each compartment with the students' numbers and names. Put the boxes in different areas of the room to prevent mix-ups.

I know it sounds like a lot of work, and it is when you are setting it up. But once the system is set up, it saves you time everyday, and you have the control of your paper.

I teach courses on “Paper Management” at Bucks County Community College. You can check the continuing education department of your local college and your township to find out if they offer workshops.  Stephanie Winston’s “The Organized Executive” might be a good resource while setting up your system. You can also get help from a professional organizer. Check NAPO-National Association of Professional Organizers- website (www. to find an organizer near you. 

Figen Genco, BA.
Organizing/Feng Shui/EFT
215 354 0275

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