Music on a Cart

Top Organizing Tip I'd Tell My First-Year-Teacher Self

August 24, 2017 4:45 PM By Danielle
The biggest organizing strategy I wish I had done when I first started teaching music. |

One interesting thing about having a dedicated music classroom is that it becomes quite easy to accumulate stuff. With ample shelf space and filing cabinets plentiful, it’s easy to stock up and to put things out of sight and out of mind. This was definitely the case for me when I started my teaching career in a music classroom. Once I was placed on a cart, I had to eventually address the issue of accumulated items and the value of keeping them from year to year. I say eventually because trying to survive my first year (and every year thereafter) teaching music from a cart took the majority of my energy and thinking space. Organization was the last thing on my mind so I simply placed all my music classroom items in any nook and cranny around the school that I could find. As it became apparent that the possibility of regaining a music classroom was a far off hope, I had to address the scattered clutter.

Time to address the clutter!

And address the clutter, I did. However, there was one problem: the speed of my occasional purging wasn’t matching the speed in which I gained MORE materials. New curricula, new conference freebies, new music teaching resources...I relished pouring over new learning materials and the latest releases. While there’s nothing wrong with that (we as teachers should always be learning and growing), I had to ask myself if it was reeeeally necessary to keep every single paper from every single conference session I attended. I mean, honestly, my 4th graders were not going to be singing SATB choral literature so why was I hanging on to it for the mere fact that it was free? And all those extra copies of various worksheets for my students, did I really need to hold onto those, too? It all kept piling up and the overflow was making its way to my house for storage! This paper pile madness had to stop!

Stop the madness! Here's my top organizing tip for first year music teachers. |

So finally I became determined to get a hold of ALL that I’ve accumulated and finally set out to organize it once and for all. I began with easy things, such as curriculum resources and music that I use most often, categorized it, and sorted all of it out at school. As I mentioned in my previous post, I found it helpful to place all of my music magazine resources into categorized binders for ease in mobility since my prep space changes from year to year. After organizing all of that, it was time to tackle the bigger mountain before me:


The mountain of copies, handouts, worksheets, and paperwork that overflowed at school and, in turn, overflowed at my home. With determination, I set up a workspace in my house and before leaving at the end of the school year, I brought home several boxes of all the additional papers and lesson materials that I accumulated and would sort through over the summer.

One of FOUR boxes of papers I brought home the last day of school!

I spent a solid two weeks (non-stop, morning to night) sorting, purging, and organizing this 10+ years of stuff. As I kept sorting, I couldn’t help but think, “Man, if only I had thought to organize myself from the get-go, it would’ve been SO much easier to stay on top of things.” And so, if I were to go back in time, the advice I would tell my “first year teacher” self is this:

Here are the main categories I ended up dividing the bulk of my paperwork into:

  • Classroom lesson activities
  • Worksheet master copies
  • Professional documents
  • Conference materials
  • Concert programs
  • Pictures

From there, utilize binders with dividers to further sort the above categories into more specific units:

Classroom Lesson Activities

These aren't necessarily my daily lesson plans (those are digitally saved), but rather supplemental lesson activities, song sheets, and other lesson resources that I use regularly. These are sorted by grade level and within those grade levels, grouped by season (fall, winter, spring/summer).

Worksheet Master Copies

Keep ONE master copy of student worksheets and handouts you like and use during the year. These can also be divided by grade level, then further subdivided by unit, month, or season. DON'T HOLD ON TO ANY EXTRA COPIES! Make copies of worksheets according to current class lists and then make only 5 or so extras in case a new student comes mid-year or if a student's copy gets destroyed by accident somehow. At the end of the school year, any remaining copies go straight into the recycling bin.

Professional Documents

Teaching certificates, evaluations, SGOs/SLOs/PLOs, PD certificates all organized by academic year.

Conference Materials

Please, don't be like me and keep every handout, freebie octavo, worksheet, and brochure you've ever received from all the conferences you attend over the years. TOO MUCH!! After arriving home from a conference or workshop, take a moment to sit down and go through your bag of goodies and only keep what you find valuable to your teaching. File it and trash the rest. I sorted mine into categories such as “Piano, Singing, Rhythm, Special Needs, Orff, Movement” and so on. If you aren't sure about something, hold on to it for one year. But JUST ONE. After that, purge. 

Concert Programs

Keep one program copy of each concert you conduct and use binder dividers to group them by school year. If you don’t print programs for your concerts, then simply make a master list of the concert name, grade, date, and song selections as a reference and file it. Or, if you prefer, those concert lists could be kept digitally.


This includes school portrait and faculty group pictures, pictures of yourself with students, pictures or articles from media (newspapers, online write-ups), and maybe even picture documentation of special classroom projects you've done. Again, utilize binder dividers or 3-hole punched folders to organize these by academic year. 

Ahhh! Nice and neat and ORGANIZED! :)

Now that everything is neatly organized, I can quickly find the references, resources, and papers that I need. A kindergarten concert program from it! That really good conference session on folk dancing a few years back, I can find that handout in less than a minute! Going forward into my teaching career, I vow to stay on top of the paperwork and not let all my hours of organizing this summer go in vain. How? Well, at the end of each month I’ll spend about 20 or so minutes sorting, filing, and/or purging papers accumulated that month and in the days after I return from a conference, I’ll only keep and promptly file the most relevant resources.

Rescuing myself from clutter, one paper at a time!

How about you? Do you have bookshelves full of papers and materials that you haven’t looked at in a while? Do you have an organizing system that you follow? Do you just shove everything into a nice, large storage closet, shut the door, and ignore? Please share your experience of tackling (or not tackling) accumulation in the comments below!

Encouraging you to rock as you roll,

Interested in more helpful elementary music teaching resources? Check out the Cart Closet! |
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