Hi, my name is Rebecca, and I am addicted to The Home Edit. If you spend more than 5 seconds with me, you will hear me talking about Joanna and Clea like they are my next-door neighbors.
Why do I love them so much? Because they love systems and I LOVE SYSTEMS. Even more than in my house, I LOVE having classroom systems. I think oftentimes we think systems and routines are only needed for younger students, but I completely disagree. Systems create organization, stability, and clear expectations – three things that our high school students desperately crave and most likely aren’t getting anywhere else.
In a society that is overwhelmed with anxiety, classroom systems will allow both you and your students to walk into your room and take a deep breath. I truly believe that when our students feel like they are stepping into a welcoming and peaceful space, rather than a chaotic one, they will be able to learn better.
Because I am Type A AND a One on the Enneagram, I pretty much have a system for everything. But I am not here to presume everyone has that same color-coded, alphabetized energy as I have to exude from every fiber of my being. But I DO think there are 4 crucial classroom systems that every high school science teacher needs to have to make YOUR life AND your students’ lives easier!
1. You MUST have a system for collecting work.
You never want your students to have the excuse of “I didn’t hear you ask us to turn it in” for why you didn’t get their assignment. If you don’t already, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND making a “Turn In” wall, like the one I have pictured below. Have this near your door and the front of your classroom. This allows students to drop in their assignments on their way in or out. You also want it near the front so you can easily empty it.
For example, I have a system that I start from day 1 where students must turn in any homework that I am collecting during my bell ringer. As I move around to collect bell ringers, students get one verbal warning that it is their last chance to turn anything in. Then I go, scoop up the stack, paper clip together, and add to my “need to grade” folder (more on this below). This keeps students from doing it during class and then trying to get it turned in before class is over.
It also keeps things nice and separated. If we do a lab in class that I have them turn in on their way out; I want to keep that stack separate from my stack of homework to grade. This is why I am regularly emptying my turn-in bin throughout class at different intervals. Additionally, I LOVE having a clear bin so I can visually see how full it is and how much grading I have ahead of me. Speaking of grading…
2. You MUST have a system for storing, grading, and returning work.
I will talk about grading until I am blue in the face. TEACHER FRIENDS: Stop grading ALL OF THE THINGS! I truly believe 90% of teachers collect and grade WAY more than they really need to. I URGE you to choose to grade less so that you can (1) provide better feedback when you do grade and (2) stop bringing work home.
However you choose to do things, make sure you have a system. Here are a few of my collecting, grading, and returning systems:
- When I collect bell ringers at the beginning of class, students pass them backward. This allows me to collect them in order. I set them on my front demo table and I grade them at some point during the class. This allows me to immediately see who I need to follow up with and what I need to reinforce. I then place the graded sheets in the top drawer of my demo table so I can grab them easily the next day and pass them back out when the bell rings, so they are ready and waiting for students when they walk in. I tally scores at the end of the week. You can read more about my bell ringer strategy here.
- If I ever assign homework, I almost always check it for completion. Students leave it on the corner of their lab table/desk and I come around and spot-check it during our bell ringer. Then they hang on to it.
- If I DO collect something (like a lab), I take the stack out of my Turn In bin at the end of the day and take it straight to my desk to grade. I have a really strict “never bring work home” policy. Then I place the graded assignments in a file folder in my desk for that specific class so I can remember where they are and make sure to pass them back out.
- I return quizzes to students, but never tests. The day after a test we go over it but then I collect the tests back. I keep them stored in file folders for each student (like in the crates below). Students can come by any time after school and review this with me, but I keep them until the end of the year and shred them to maintain test security. A filling cabinet is great too if you can lock it. My lock was broken so I got these crates from Walmart and was able to keep them locked up in our lab prep room.
3. You must have a system for organizing every day supplies.
High school teachers need colored pencils too! I like to have a designated space for all shared supplies. When I’ve had a big beautiful lab room, I have assigned drawers that are labeled for all supplies. When I spent a few years in a teeny tiny old computer lab turned my classroom, my supplies were organized on a bookshelf I found on the side of the road, pictured below.
I don’t want to have to spend precious class time distributing or having students ask for a pencil or a stapler. They know where they are able to grab anything they need to borrow, and we just work on the honor system to return things. I freshen up the supplies about once per quarter.
If you are a floater and teach on a cart, I would still have one small basket or crate on that cart with extra pencils, paper, and a box of tissues. These are the most often needed and it will save you a lot of headaches if you just have extras available as your students need.
4. You must have a system for organizing lab supplies.
Hopefully, you are blessed with a beautiful classroom and your own lab space. If you are, go ahead and laminate some pretty labels to tape on your plethora of drawers and cabinets for where all your different lab supplies go. I had a few glorious years in a classroom like this, and of course, I was so taken by my good fortune I never took any pictures.
But the MAJORITY of my time was, again, in my non-lab space, where I really couldn’t do many labs due to lack of running water, gas, or safety equipment. I spent a lot of time floating to other rooms when I did need to do a formal lab. I had a small storage closet where I was able to store my supplies, and I used these 99 cent plastic bins from Walmart to do that. Again, not a fancy system, but a usable one.
You don’t need to have ELABORATE systems. Honestly, the simpler the better for YOU to maintain, and your students to remember and keep up with.
If the year feels too far gone to start this, please know that IT NEVER IS TOO LATE TO IMPLEMENT A CLASSROOM SYSTEM!! Stop, reset, teach your students, and consistently remind them about expectations until they get the swing of things.
If it is the end of the year and you are reading this, I encourage you to join me in a Classroom Reset Challenge! I have 5 days worth of small challenges for you to tackle to reset your classroom systems and get organized so that you will be in tip-top shape when you return back to your room after a well-deserved break. Click here to join in the fun!!
Also, if you LOVE systems and want to learn more about how they can simplify your life as a secondary science teacher, check out Secondary Science Simplified™️ here!