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Officiency in the Media

Get Teachers Organized

A look at how our industry is helping teachers with their ever-increasing workload.

by Tina Manzer

Education Dealer
Education Dealer Magazine, www.fwpi.com
July 2005

The urgent need for teachers to get more things done in the same amount of time has driven them into our stores crying, “Help me!” Retailers have responded by seeking out products that are ready-to-go, versatile and customizable. Manufacturers and publishers who have tracked this trend are modifying their current product offerings and creating innovative new ones.

What exactly are teachers looking for? What’s available to meet their needs? How can we serve them better in the future? To find out, we turned to our readers. Their insight and product suggestions helped us to identify trends within the current “be organized/save time” wave. Here are some of the categories that they brought to our attention.

The “ready-to-go” concept

Learning centers

It’s not so new in the school supply industry (think preprinted classroom décor, stickers and die-cut letters) but more and more products are being revamped and streamlined so that they’re ready to go when the teacher opens the package.

“We have Instant Learning Center books. Teachers just tear out the cards and throw them in a bin, envelope or baggie,” said Tania Pickrell from Creative Teaching Press. “They used to be black and white, and teachers had to color them, cut them out, and copy them onto heavier paper. They don’t have time for that. The new books are already colored and perforated, they’re durable so the cards don’t have to be laminated, and they don’t need to be photocopied onto heavier stock.”

“Teachers have been scooping up any learning center books in color,” confirmed Stacey Pennington from Resource Island in Cleona, Pennsylvania. “Evan-Moor’s Language Arts and Math Center books have been the most popular in our store.”

Classroom décor
“The focus on convenience has increased in direct proportion to teachers’ workloads,” noted Amy LasCola, vice president of marketing for Teacher Created Resources. She pointed out that decorative products are among the most helpful and easy-to-use classroom products today. She listed some reasons why.

  1. “Today’s larger selection allows teachers to buy exactly what they want, without having to alter the products to suit their needs.

  2. “Coordinated products help a teacher create a unified theme throughout the classroom, again without any alterations needed.

  3. “Two-sided decorations can be used on windows or as mobiles. Teachers are no longer limited to walls and bulletin boards.”

Stacey Pennington told us about a new product in her store, dry-erase sheets and 12-inch rolls. “Lots of teachers were requesting them because they can put them up on any kind of wall and instantly create a message center or bulletin board.”

Pamela Koutsaftis from Carson-Dellosa provided more examples. “Our new chalkboard bulletin board set lets teachers actually write on it with regular chalk. When they want to change the message, they can just wipe it off with a tissue. One of our best-selling bulletin board sets, CD3265 Graphic Organizers, is popular because of all its fill-in features.”

From a practical standpoint, the “stuff” teachers use to hang their decorations have evolved into clever solutions for sticky problems. Stacy Pennington told us: “Magnetic Ceiling Hooks from Colorado Bootstrap are huge sellers. Teachers use an ordinary yardstick to place them on the grid of the ceilings in their classrooms. We found these last year and the teachers went nuts over them.”

“Adhesive tapes have replaced putty. Magic Mount by Miller Studio is great and teachers are telling us how well Mavalus Tape works for cinder block walls,” said Kay Everman from the Education Station in Slidell, Louisiana.

Planning tools

Plan and record books

Based on the feedback we received, teachers rely most heavily on plan and record books to make sure that they are efficiently progressing from Point A to Point B throughout the school year.

“Where should I start?” asked Sue Runyon, owner of The Teacher’s Corner in St. Augustine, Florida, when I asked her what she sells to make teachers’ lives easier. “The beginning of the year is a good place, I guess, when plan books are major sellers. First of all, they’re mandatory and teachers want a good one because their principals check them. Many schools provide a basic plan book, but each teacher is looking for the one that will work the best for his or her organization style. We carry eight different plan books, the ones that are requested by teachers most often. The top two are from Instructional Fair and Frank Schaffer, followed by others from Modern and Ward Brothers.

Male teachers seem to prefer their plan and record books together in one convenient package, said Sue, so that there is less for them to carry around. Female teachers seem to prefer their books separate, “and they work very hard to make them just as perfect and complete as possible,” she said.

In California, Curriculum and Project Planners from Incentive Publications are often ordered by school districts in multiples for their teachers, said Ruth Capriotti. “They’re not new but are gaining popularity. Bloom’s/Williams’ Taxonomies are followed to help teachers create lesson plans that integrate learning styles, thinking skills and instructions for multiple intelligences.”

“Be an efficient teacher” books
“More and more teachers are asking me about organization,” said Vicki Geske from the teach me shop in Great Falls, Montana. “They’re not looking for classroom management or classroom organization, but specific ways to handle all the paperwork being required of them now. I have yet to see an idea book or teacher helper with this kind of information. Classroom management books sometimes touch on it, but not enough to make a teacher feel that he or she has to have that book.”

Ruth Capriotti recommended Incentive Publication’s Learning to Learn. “It’s a popular resource for improving organizational and management skills, power reading, and memory skills,” she said. “For new teachers, I would recommend Harry Wong’s The First Days of School, How to Organize Your Classroom from Teacher Created Resources, and Classroom Organization & Management from Steck-Vaughn.

E-Z Grader and other time savers

Demand is high for any resource that helps with grading, report cards and progress reports. The E-Z Grader, especially for middle/secondary teachers, was listed by retailers as a must-have. Then, to help streamline parent communications including written messages on report cards, there are Teacher Messages for Home in Spanish and English from Fearon, Comments for Report Cards and Notes Home from Carson-Dellosa, and the carbonless Notes Home from Harding House.

“Manage the students” items

Resources to keep them busy

Is the centers concept becoming popular (again) because it reinforces topics covered in the classroom, or because with centers, students work independently so that teachers have time to do other things? “Both,” say our retailers who all reported brisk sales in learning center materials. (Don’t forget that we mentioned them earlier because they’ve become “ready-to-use.”)

“Besides center books, especially the ‘Take It To Your Seat’ series from Evan-Moor, other resources designed to keep kids busy at different times during the school day have been selling well,” said Ruth Capriotti. “Books for creating file folder games from Carson-Dellosa are good. They allow students to work independently or with small groups while the teacher is busy with others. What Are the Other Kids Doing While You Teach Small Groups? from CTP is also good. Incentive’s Five-Minute Warmups, J. Weston Walch’s Daily Warm-Ups, McDonald’s Bright Ideas and Know-It-Alls are all great for getting students started while the day’s activities get organized, and also serve as fill-in activities when work is finished early.”

“Whole-group communication”
Vicki Geske from the teach me shop told us that overhead timers are big in her area. “The teachers say that the students focus better if they can see the time remaining on a task.”

“The Yacker Tracker makes classroom management easier,” said Kay Everman, the Education Station. “It’s a little pricey, but if we have it out and are demo-ing it, it does sell. It gauges the noise level of a room. When the light turns yellow or red, the kids know when to quiet down. There’s no need for a whistle or to flick the lights on and off.”

She added: “Keeping control of the students and classroom discipline are very difficult for some teachers. They may use pocket charts and change the color of the cards, but that’s more about assessing individual students, rather than the whole class.”

“Pocket charts help with classroom organization and group activities, and are at the top of the list of handiest items for teachers,” said Ruth Capriotti. “Our teachers seem to want a variety of sizes and price ranges. Though several colors are now available, the standard blue is still the most popular.”

Paper flow
Some organizational problems, like sorting and filing mounds of paper, are not easily solved with traditional teacher resource products. For advice and product recommendations, we turned to professional organizer K.J. McCorry, author of the new book Organize Your Work Day In No Time. K.J. specializes in office process simplification and time management.

“Let’s talk paper and paper flow,” she began. “First, I think teachers need what I call an ‘active’ filing system for the papers they have to grade or otherwise deal with and give back to the students. It’s a lot of paper back and forth. To organize the flow, I would recommend stackable trays they can keep on their desks. Not the kind that look plastic-y and black; I think teachers want something ‘softer.’ Nice wire ones would work well, or maybe a different-colored tray for each class or subject. Teachers are very visual, so the colors would help them to identify the class or the subject, however they chose to organize them. Seeing material in the tray would remind them to take action. When you put things away out of sight, it’s more difficult.

“Another option would be hanging files in some kind of portable crate,” she continued. “Again, the files could be colored, or the teachers could label each file using whatever topic or category they wanted. The crate needs to be at least a foot long – anything smaller would fill up too quickly.

“Putting things away is important,” K.J. said. “When I say ‘putting away,’ I mean having a designated home for every piece of paper that comes in. I make a distinction between the ‘active’ papers that I talked about before, and the reference things that need to be saved and filed. Standard filing cabinets are sufficient for that.

“But what makes it all work efficiently is effective labeling,” she concluded. “If teacher stores are not selling label makers right now, I think they’re missing an important category. Not only do labels make things look pretty, they have a huge recall factor. If you see a label very clearly and the words are large, it’s easy to remember and you have more to go on. Paperwork becomes easier to find and easier to file. Manila folders labeled with large, bold, typewritten labels are so helpful – your mind works quicker when it sees words. I love the Brothers’ label makers, the 1750 or 1900 series. Dymo makes good label makers that are hand-held. They also have a product that connects to the computer so the teacher could type it in and the computer printer spits it out.”

How teachers became overwhelmed with paperwork
Even before NCLB was enacted in 2002, teachers were bogged down by administrative paperwork. An article in the Association of American Educators’ newsletter four years ago described teachers “at the breaking point.” The article referred to the results of a survey conducted the year before by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution. Over 3,000 public school teachers were polled. The busiest teachers were specialists: gifted and talented, alternative education and special education teachers who were required to regularly complete “non-instructive” tasks. Responding to directives from school administrators, parent conferencing, justification of student discipline, development of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and a host of others were on the long list of tasks needed to be completed on a regular basis. One respondent said, “I now spend more time pushing papers, rather than grading papers, and that is not why I wanted to be a teacher.”

NCLB has increased the paperwork burden with its testing, alternate testing for special ed students, “Step Alignment Tools,” notifications about “highly qualified” teachers versus “non-highly qualified,” lists of goals and objectives, and IEPs and IFSPs.

Understanding the paperwork plight of special education teachers in particular, federal and state lawmakers have been working to cut down on the redundancy of forms, lists and communications that teachers are required to complete. Laws, including the Teacher Paperwork Reduction Act of 2002, have been enacted to “correct the problem of burdensome paperwork,” although many educators question its effectiveness and remain confused about how it impacts what they do.

New NCLB guidelines may help

While the No Child Left Behind Act is here to stay, recent changes in the law may help alleviate teacher and administrative paperwork, at least for the states and local districts that can demonstrate overall progress in student test scores. If a school can show that:
• achievement gaps are being closed,
• students are assessed regularly,
• information to parents is easily accessible and options are offered, and
• the quality of teachers is being improved,
the Department of Education may consider making certain factors more flexible. They include mandates for graduation and drop-out rates, availability of alternate teaching certification programs, and “school improvement processes that integrate approaches to serve the needs of all students, including those who receive special education and those who are limited-English proficient.”
Handiest Items for Teachers by Category
Here is a comprehensive list of the suggestions we received from our readers.

• Full-year calendar, Frank Schaffer
• Full-year calendar with cling-on numbers, TREND Centers/Keep Kids Busy
• Take It to Your Seat, Evan-Moor
• Literacy Centers/Reading and Writing Centers, Copernicus Educational Products
• Colorful File Folder Games, Carson-Dellosa
• Daily Language Review Books/Daily Math Practice, Evan-Moor
• What Are the Other Kids Doing While You Teach Small Groups?, Creative Teaching Press
• Five-Minute Warmups, Incentive Publications
• Daily Warm-Ups, J. Weston Walch
• Bright Ideas Calendars, McDonald Publishing
• Know-It-Alls series, McDonald Publishing
• Language Skills Puzzles, Didax Educational Resources
• What Shall I Do Now, Teacher?, Remedia Publications
• Word Sorting, Picture Sorting (books), Creative Teaching Press
• Books for Creating File Folder Games, Carson-Dellosa

• Lined charts, Creative Teaching Press• Ruled charts and paper, Frog Street Press
• Rules charts, Carson-Dellosa, TREND Classroom

• Laminators
• Safe and Easy Paper Cutter, Educational Insights
• Yacker Tracker, Creative Toys USA
• Teach Timers, Stokes Publishing
• Label Makers, Brother, Dymo Classroom Must-Haves
• Adhesive dry-erase sheets
• Pocket Charts Flags to label or divide lesson plan books, 3M
• E-Z Grader
• Goo Gone
• Erasers, KleenSlate
• Metal chalk holders in colors, Chenille Kraft
• Teacher’s Pocket Pal, Educational Insights
• Staple removers Décor
• Any ready-made decorations and bulletin board sets
• Chalkboard bulletin board set, Carson-Dellosa
• Graphic Organizers Bulletin Board Set, Carson-Dellosa
• Two-sided decorations, Teacher Created Resources Glue/Tape/Magnets/Mounts
• Double-sided poster tape
• Fun Tac/Sticky Tac
• Magnet Men
• Magnetic Ceiling Hooks, Colorado Bootstrap
• Mavalous Tape for brick and cinderblock
• Magic Mounts, Miller Studio
• Quick Grip Clips

Plan and Record books
• A variety! (Frank Schaffer, Hubbard, Instructional Fair, Mailbox, Modern, Teacher Created Resources, Ward Brothers)
• Three-line Gradebooks, Whaley
• Curriculum and Project Planners, Incentive Publications Resource Books
• Classroom Organization and Management, Steck-Vaughn
• The First Days of School: How To Be an Effective Teacher, by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary Wong
• Fred Jones Tools for Teaching, by Frederic H. Jones and Brian Jones
• Learning to Learn, Incentive Publications Rewards
• Character Counts Pencils, Atlas
• Seasonal Pencils, J.R. Moon
• Treasure Box, Creative Teaching Press

• Lesson Planner 2.0, GradeKeeper, Crossword Deluxe, Wordsearch Deluxe, School Fonts I, Letters and Forms, Teacher Created Resources

• Boxes for bulletin board sets, sentence strips, charts and trimmers, TREND and Pacon
• Bulletin Board Storage Bag, Carson-Dellosa
• Clear plastic bins with a labelTeacher/Parent Correspondence
• Notes Home, Harding House
• Teacher Messages for Home, English/Spanish (book), Fearon Teaching Aids (McGraw-Hill)
• Comments for Report Cards and Notes Home (book), Carson-Dellosa