Controlling the Paper Beast

Dear First-Year Teacher,

Here’s a little hint that will save your sanity: You don’t have to grade all the papers that cross your desk—you don’t even have to look at many of them!

My first year in the classroom I nearly drowned in students’ papers—until I re-discovered one of humankind’s most marvelous inventions: the circular file (also known as the wastebasket or trashcan). After I started shoveling mountains of inconsequential paperwork into the trash (recycling would have been even better), I breathed a sigh of relief—and you can too. Just follow these three simple rules for controlling the Paper Beast:

Grade the most important papers—the quizzes, the tests, the essays. Record the grades, and hand the papers back to the students as soon as possible.

Glance at homework. If you assign ten problems, look at only two of them to see if the students are getting the concept or if you need to re-teach.

Get rid of the stuff that doesn’t matter—bellwork, for example, or the sheet of paper on which a loquacious student has been compelled to write one hundred times, “I will not talk in class without permission.”

Ruthlessly divest yourself of excess paper and your reward will be a clear (or nearly clear) desktop and an uncluttered mind—two requisites for keeping your sanity in the classroom.

Yours for controlling the Paper Beast,
Magical Mystical Teacher

Posted on June 19, 2009, in First-year teacher. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I am LOVING these Dear FYT posts. They are wonderfully informative, yet cause me to reminisce and reflect on mistakes from those initial years of teaching. Such practical advice you give.

    It took me 3 years to realize that the trashcan was my friend. When I was teaching and coaching cheer, I was so disorganized I couldn’t find ANYTHING! By the third year I realized that if I paperclipped/stappled a classwork together it helped me stay more organized. It made it much easier to figure out dump this/dump that. Co-Teacher uses the check mark system, basically is you get check+ you get full credit. Check-means reduced credit. She has someone else mark them and she returns them without ever logging them in the gradebook. She grades at least 30 items a term, the kids NEVER know the difference. Also, sometimes after going over something I don’t take it up. I tell them to put it in their notebook! Students hate it. . . .but what I can I say???? It was all about the experience. 😉

    MMT I think you’ll find this story funny: A few weeks ago, I found a bag in the closet I was cleaning out. It was a BAG of papers from school. It was from my 2nd or 3rd year of teaching. ( i was coaching cheer then) The bag was humongous and heavy. Papers piled up were higher than a standardized size ruler–maybe 20 inches in depth. I asked myself “why I am I saving these papers.” I began to go through them: bellwork, classwork, memos. . . busy work . .. it was horrible. Thankfully most of it was paperclipped or stappled so I didn’t have to examine each sheet individually. It was horrible. I even found the physical examination paper work of one of my cheerleaders. Then I remembered what the bag was. It was the one that I kept in the trunk of my car. We can call it the “IF I” bag. . .if I had time to grade/look at these things. The bag made me feel horrible and reminded me of those 1st years as a teacher.

    No more “IF I” bag. Hallelujah!

    • magicalmysticalteacher

      Miss Teacha! I LOVE your story about the “If I” bag! And I’m so glad you’ve been able to leave it in the past!

  2. If I may add my weakness in this paper monster…have a system for returning the papers you DO want students to have back. Those papers form piles in the back of the classroom, and not on my desk, thank goodness, but they are a source of guilt for me when the pile just gets bigger and bigger and we never have a moment to distribute them.

    Eventually they end up in the recycling bin after too many weeks have passed…maybe I should just start there to begin with?

    • happy, that is why I have student jobs! So here is how my papers get passed back: during bellwork, the class clerks pass back any papers for their class. I got one of those bins with several drawers and I put return papers in the bin. Typically, students get papers back 3 times a week. But it the class clerks responsibility to get them back. Sometimes, I put a reminder above the bellwork. I rarely have to pass ANYTHING back.

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