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I’d be the first to admit that I was lucky when it came to classroom storage. Not only did I have tons of storage space, but it came in the form of rolling cabinets. I had the flexibility to move the cabinets wherever I wanted, and since I’m the opposite of a pack-rat, I usually ended up with more storage space than I ever needed. However, managing paper in the music classroom was a whole different story. My first classroom had nothing in the way of storage for papers, so I used an advanced technique, which I’ll detail below. Prepare to be impressed.

The Pile System
Just like it sounds, I literally had students pile their papers on top of the cabinets according to their grade level and homeroom teacher. Sometimes I slapped a sticky note on top with their class name for quick reference. On really good days, I remembered to tell my students to mark their grade level and teacher’s name at the top of their paper.

Pros:

  • the papers stayed organized as long as students always followed procedures correctly
  • it was free

Cons:

  • Students don’t always follow procedures correctly
  • No-name papers caused me grief
  • The piles were quickly overcome with dust bunnies if left out for longer than a few days
  • My inner clean freak freaked out



The Cardboard Mailbox
The pile system was quickly abandoned, and I decided to purchase a cardboard mailbox with enough slots for every class. Once I got past the sticker shock (cardboard is expensive), I settled on a mailbox similar to the one below.

Pros:

  • the papers stayed organized by grade and class
  • the papers remained dust-free
  • the box was sturdy enough to hold some of my teacher binders

Cons:

  • students often put their papers in the wrong slot
  • papers still had to be passed out individually
  • expensive considering the quality
  • Mine never fell apart, but I’ve heard of this happening to other teachers

Sometime during this period, I ended up switching classrooms and was blessed with cabinets specifically made for holding papers. So, my experimentation stopped there. However, I’ve since discovered so many new methods for organizing papers, that I thought I would share some of my favorites.

File Storage Crates
These would be so easy to store and would be sturdy enough to last long after you’ve retired. Thanks to Kim from Finding Joy in 6th Grade for allowing me to feature the picture below from her blog. You can read about her process for creating these HERE

Pros:

  • you can color-code the crates by grade level or class
  • they are stackable and sturdy
  • students will be more likely to put their papers in the correct spot
  • depending on your number of classes, you may be able to have individual folders for each student, which would mean no more having to pass papers back individually

Cons:

  • if you don’t already have file folders on hand, the price of this project could add up quickly
  • it’s unlikely that you’ll have the space for each student to have their own folder, which means that you’ll likely end up having to pass papers back individually
Pocket Charts
These might work for those of you with some extra wall space and zero cabinets. 

 

Pros:

  • if you place the chart next to your door, you can easily collect papers in a folder as the students are leaving and then place the folder in its pocket before your next class enters
  • the spacing of the pockets would make it easy to locate the correct grade level/class at a glance

Cons:

  • this would be difficult to hang, especially on cement block walls
  • with one class for each pocket (approximately 25 or more papers each), it will make for a tight fit
My Preferred System
In the end, I used the specialized wooden cabinets in my new (to me) music room to collect papers. Then, when it was time to hand them back, I placed the finished papers in my blue cardboard mailbox, which I kept behind my desk. Since not everyone is lucky enough to have mailbox cabinets pre-made, I would suggest looking into a plastic mailbox like the one below. The compartments can be snapped and stacked in the configuration of your choosing. The plastic would be easy to clean and sturdy enough to last a long time. Best of all, the half-moon cutouts in the front would make grabbing stacks of paper a breeze. 

 
Pros:

  • sturdy
  • easy to clean
  • labels for each compartment
  • half-moon cutouts make it easy to grab paper quickly
  • if you keep each stack of compartments separated by grade level, your students will be less likely to put their papers in the wrong spot

Cons:

  • you’ll probably still have students who misplace their papers (it’s inevitable)
  • there’s still no way of avoiding passing out papers individually
I’d originally hoped to find a storage solution that allowed students to grab their graded papers individually, but I think the sheer number of students music teachers see every week makes it nearly impossible. I’ll never stop searching for the perfect solution, but until then, please share your paper storage methods and ideas in the comments section. I’d love to hear about them!