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As the school year winds down and the familiar milestones pass by — testing, concerts, report cards, parties — a final challenge looms: packing up your classroom. Though you may feel like you’re running on empty, come fall you’ll be glad if you take a few days now to do it right.
We’ve interviewed some supersavvy teachers and culled their best strategies for a smooth transition. So whether you need to move out of your room before summer break or simply prepare for the custodian’s heavy-duty cleaning, these tips will help you do so quickly and efficiently. And there will be further payoff in the fall, when you’ll enjoy a low-stress start to the school year.
Much as you might like to, don’t start packing until the last day of classes. “You don’t want to be ripping down bulletin boards while your students are in class — you want to send the message that they are the priority throughout the school year,” says Melanie Unger, author of Organized Teacher, Happy Classroom and a fifth-grade teacher in Columbus, Ohio. But you can get ready for the move by using prep periods and after-school time over the final few weeks of the term to straighten your shelves and drawers, organize your library by author and genre, clear out any junk from drawers and closets, and pack away materials you know you won’t need for the rest of the school year.
Identifying what goes where right on the boxes will make unpacking a breeze. “The more specific, the better,” says Unger. Rather than just listing the contents, “give the location, such as ‘top right-hand shelf next to the window.’ ” Number each box, along with the total number of boxes — for example, “3 of 6” — for a head count. Charity Preston, founder of The Organized Classroom blog, recommends you start packing one section of the room and continue in a clockwise direction. Make sure your name and room number are on the boxes, as well as on your desk and chair and any other furniture — to discourage sticky fingers over the summer.
Teaching begets hoarding. But will you really ever use those baskets or toilet paper tubes or that mimeograph paper from the seventies? “If I haven’t used it for two years, I put it in the teachers’ lounge with a sign: ‘Free to a good home,’ ” says Patti Hocker, a first-grade teacher in Lewes, Delaware. Unger uses the acronym ROLL to make decisions about what to keep and what to pitch. R is for repeat (Do you really need more than one?); O is for outdated (Do you use it regularly?); L is for level (Do the materials match the grade level you are teaching?); and L is for love it (Do you really appreciate the item?).
A tip from Preston: During the year, as you use games and manipulatives and replace them on your shelves, flip them around so they’re facing backward. At the end of the year, if an item hasn’t been flipped, you know you haven’t used it and can get rid of it.
Assign students simple end-of-year tasks (check district policy first, to make sure that’s okay). They can tidy up recess games, weed out depleted markers, wipe down desks. Take advantage of parent volunteers, too. “When parents ask, nab ’em or they’re not likely to ask again,” says Jenifer Boatwright, a third-grade teacher in Hesperia, California.
Recycling paper is key to lightening your moving load. To keep paper from piling up during the school year, use the “two-inch rule” — file or toss paper when the pile gets bigger than two inches. Preston scans all her handouts onto her computer and tosses extra copies in the recycling bin.
This is the first box you’ll open when you come back in the fall. Stock it with scissors, stapler, paper clips, pen and paper, thumbtacks, and other essentials. Mark it "Desk" and tuck it away in a spot where you won’t forget it, says Nancy Flynn of the blog Teaching My Friends and a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher in New Jersey.
Make a classroom shopping list so you know what to pick up over the summer. Even better — keep a running list tacked up in your supply cabinet and take that with you at school’s end, suggests Flynn. You’ll be prepared to jump on the back-to-school sales. Scour eBay for discounted school supplies and books, says Boatwright. Just append “lot” to your searches, such as “pencil box lot,” to find great prices for items you buy in bulk.
You’ll want to let the custodians know how to replace the furniture in your room after cleaning. You can take a photo or make a sketch on chart paper. “One thing you don’t want to have to do is rearrange the furniture when you get back,” says Hocker. “It’s backbreaking and you have a million other things to do.” Attach a nice note to the custodians thanking them for their efforts.
Take home only what you can fit in one container. “Otherwise, you’ll take way too much,” says Boatwright. “Try to think about prepping for the first month only, not the whole year, or you’ll feel overwhelmed.”
Even though the custodian will wax the floors, you’ll want to clean tables and wipe down chairs, shelves, manipulatives, and so on. “Then, when you come in after the summer, everything is nice and fresh and you can unpack without thinking about cleaning,” says Jennifer Solis, a first-grade teacher in Hesperia, California.