5 English Teacher Organization Hacks

No one is busier than an English teacher. While a social studies teacher plows through a linear content-based curriculum and a math teacher can grade a test in five minutes, we’re weaving together multiple skill strands, re-reading a novel every time we teach it, and grading essay upon essay upon essay. Throw in the fact that the onus falls on us to get students through standardized reading assessments, writing tests, the ACT, and the SAT, and what we’re left with is overwork and burn out.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are five English teacher hacks that just might save you some time along the way.

Hack #1: Stop Accepting Full Essay Drafts

The writing process should be formative, and students need constant feedback all the way through. Take up drafts one paragraph at a time so that you can turn them around in a day and get in front of problems students are having with thesis development, style, or mechanics. Read more about How to Make Writing Instruction a Peaceful Process. This post, Can an English Teacher Have a Life?, might be a game changer for you as well.

Hack #2: Keep Everything in One Binder

I once had a principal who would randomly snatch kids out of line during fire drills. She was kind of a “gotcha” person, but I understood her reasoning on this one: She wanted to bring home the importance of knowing that all students were out of the building. If she pulled one of my students and I didn’t realize it, the consequences were not pretty.

It only took one slip up on my part for me to develop the habit of carrying my class roster whenever I left my room. After my attendance book was stolen one year, that came with me too. About the fifth time I lost my digital grades to a virus or corrupted file, I went back to keeping a hard copy handy. Eventually, I just put everything in one three-ring binder and grabbed it when we had any drill or assembly.

My binder now includes my roster, my attendance records, a hard copy of my grades, my textbook and novel list, a parent contact log, lesson plans, learning style inventories, work style inventories, student information forms, sub plans, meeting notes, curriculum documents, data analysis from formative assessments, emergency procedures, and a bunch of other stuff that I don’t want stolen. I make it pretty and keep it tucked under my arm when I leave the room. Take a look at all the different versions of English teacher binders I’ve developed over the years.

Hack #3: Don’t Get Worked Up Over Your Classroom Library

All those books are not coming back, and it’s ok. I still have Mrs. Stewart’s copy of Light in August from 1985. Seriously. Some teachers use a Google Doc or QR codes to keep up with it all, but I go old school on this one with a simple box of 3×5 index cards. Every student has a card, and I use the honor system to keep up with who has what. All my novels have KRATZER written obnoxiously all over the edges, so if they’re found, I’ll get them back. If they aren’t, students have lost them in the chaos of their bedrooms. Maybe they’ll pick them up this summer when they clean their rooms. To learn more about cultivating an independent reading culture in your school, read this blog post.

Hack #4: Let Go of the Pencil Thing

Listen to Elsa. Let it go. I know that somewhere in your control-freak English teacher brain, you think it’s your job to teach responsibility. I get it. I really do. You can let that go too. Your choice to give consequences for not being prepared for class wastes SO. MUCH. TIME. I keep a tray of sharpened pencils by my door, and students can get up any time I’m not talking (unless they want the flared-nostril-stink-eye). Students never sharpen pencils during class! They just trade their dull ones for my sharp ones. I keep a steady stream of pencils, and I don’t have to hear that irritating grinding sound while I’m trying to teach. When do I do all that sharpening? I don’t. Students who don’t do homework are stuck with me at lunch or after school (I don’t give zeros for missing work; they HAVE to do it.), so they do the sharpening.

Hack #5: Stay Healthy by Separating Supplies

On the back of my classroom door, I keep a clear hanging shoe holder. Every slot is a different classroom supply (e.g., stapler, paper clips, pens, markers, tissues, rubber bands, staples, correction fluid, hold punch). This keeps students from using the things on my desk. Because I get pink eye just by being within a square mile of someone else who has it, I try really hard not to touch what they touch. I don’t get sick as much, I’m at school more, and I feel good enough to stay caught up.

Feeling overwhelmed? Veteran teacher to the rescue! Hop on Angie’s email list and get tips, tricks, freebies, and a meme or two. Check your inbox for a mini unit on descriptive writing.

descriptive writing for high school students


I’m a recovering high school English teacher and curriculum specialist with a passion for helping teachers leave school at school. I create engaging, rigorous curriculum resources for secondary ELA professionals, and I facilitate workshops to help those teachers implement the materials effectively.