Clean out Your Classroom Fast

And Be Ready for Next Year

teacher's school supplies ready to be put away

This article is for you if your worried you’ll be the last person who is done with your classroom clean out this year. If you worry you will be so late the principal will ask you o come back and finish on Monday.

My first year of teaching, I was in survival, and when I faced the moment of room clean out, what I really wanted to do was push all the stuff into a closet and run. I made a joke about taking a flame thrower and burning it.

But I needed to sort all the stuff to be ready for the fall.

One good piece of advice about classroom clean out is to start about four weeks early by throwing away obvious garbage, putting things in sets, etc. But my first few years I didn’t do that. It seemed like the time was dragging and the end would never come. When the kids finally left, I’d done precious little preparation. I ended up calling my daughter and mom for reinforcements. Somehow we got it all put away, but not particularly well. Over the years, I’ve learned to do a better job.

This is my plan for how to clean out your classroom fast if you’re *not* one of those teachers who always has everything organized.

School District Materials First

Get everything out of the shelves, tables, walls, floor and get it to a table or group of desks in the middle of the room. Put away the stuff that belongs to the District as you find it.

Stuff that belongs to the school is kept separate because: if you unexpectedly have to change jobs over the summer, you don’t have to unpack everything to separate it out. Generally, stuff that belongs to the school has a correct way to put it away. Put that stuff up in that way.

Once you’ve got the District’s stuff off to one side, the next thing to do is to sort your own stuff out.

Four boxes: Garbage, Home, Goodwill, Stuff I’m Keeping Here

With the rest of it, as you bring each item to the central table, try to pull out the stuff that’s not staying in the room. There should be four locations to sort into. There should be a big garbage bag for things that are broken, used, or which didn’t work in the first place. You will want to get a box for the items you want to donate. Another box can be for stuff you’re going to take back home (your water bottle, your extra coffee mugs, a book you finished, anything that needs to go back to the house). And then the table is for the stuff you’re keeping at school.

Spread out all the stuff that’s staying at school on table so you can see it.

If It Belongs to You

You will quickly see once you put all the District materials on the shelves that the real problem of classroom clean out is the stuff that belongs to you. There may be some feelings involved. But try to stay calm and go forward. When everything is on the table, you can see them start to form themselves in groups. Books, writing implements, manipulatives, flashcards, unused paper.

Should it Stay or Should it Go?

Should it stay or should it go is the question. If this is not obvious as you bring items to the table, it may be helpful to handle this question once you’ve assembled all the items. For example, if you want to check all the markers to see if they work, and discard those that don’t, wait until you’ve collected and sorted all the items so you can check all the markers at once.

Are you holding on to an item because it has sentimental value? Do you feel that that’s a valid reason to hold on to it? Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. It’s okay to save a painted rock given you by a special student. However, this school year is gone regardless of whether you save all its anchor charts Some reflection questions:

  1. Does this item still work?
  2. Did I use this this year?
  3. If I did not use it this year, is there some reason to believe I will next year?
  4. Is it sentimentally valuable? Will I remember why in five years?
  5. Will it take up a lot of space or be difficult to store?
  6. Is it easy to replace if it turns out I do need it?
  7. Would it be easier to get a new one when I need such a thing next year?

When in Doubt, Throw it Out?

I’ve heard it said “when in doubt throw it out.” And I worried about that. I’m one of those who worries that the second something you threw in the trash is picked up by the garbage truck … you’ll need it. But you have to measure that danger against the corresponding danger that if you don’t throw things away next fall you’ll be buried in stuff. You have to weigh the time it will take to put stuff away correctly and maintain it.

Marie Kondo got a long way with her advice to “ask whether it sparks joy,” and if not, toss it. That’s because she knew that the joy of getting rid of the stuff was greater than any pleasure you could have from saving it. But you can go too far. As the saying goes, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Use your judgement. Tell yourself you have good judgement. It is, after all, the only judgement you have.

Categories of Stuff You May Find During Your Classroom Clean Out

Once you’ve thrown out the unneeded and unwanted, put a few things away for the Goodwill, and put the stuff that’s going back to your house aside, you have a table full of materials that you are going to pack up. This will probably include:

  • Books
  • Writing implements
  • Containers
  • Anchor and pocket charts
  • Flash cards
  • Manipulatives
  • Science materials
  • Paper files
  • Decor and bulletin board items

How Should I Store This Stuff?

If you’re going to use it next year, you need to store it in the classroom over the summer. And to make life better for yourself, you should store it

  1. Quickly
  2. Neatly
  3. In an organized fashion
  4. In a place you will be able to find it and get it out when you need it next year.

What are some storage tools I might be able to use to get my classroom clean?

Some places you might be able to store things, in no particular order are below. Many of these things will be in the classroom already. It only remains for you to fill them with the stuff. Others, you can buy, if you think of it ahead of time. If you remember, these things at least are worth collecting before school lets out.

  1. Plastic chests of drawers
  2. Card holders
  3. Book shelves
  4. Cupboards
  5. Poster and decorative border boxes
  6. Gallon ziplock bags
  7. Plastic shoe boxes
  8. Tin cans and plastic cups
  9. Cardboard boxes

How Do I Put it All Away?

This may sound hard to believe, but in my experience, once everything is pulled into a central area and you’ve put away the school curriculum items and thrown away the garbage, the rest of the stuff will begin to fit together like a Russian nesting doll.

If not, you may have been too easy on yourself in the throwing away/giving away stage.

The bins you used for various purposes during the year will hold the writing implements, the book shelves will accommodate your classroom library, and your desk organization tools will often fit into a single box. If you have paper files, they can be put in the file cabinet, or stacked on a shelf, and once they’re all together they won’t take up that much room. The anchor charts you’ve decided to save can be rolled up and rubber banded and set on a shelf. Manipulatives that belong to you can go in a plastic tub container or ziplock bag. If you like, you can put you flash card sets in a 4 x 6 photo box set like this one from Amazon, or you can just rubber band them and stack them on a shelf. Or they can be tossed in a basket.

Remember to Set Aside VCM’s (Valuable Curriculum Materials)

As you’re putting things away, you do want to flag or set in an easy to find place your VCM’s (Valuable Curriculum Materials.) These are the things that you have now but which you might not have time to dig out from the back of a book shelf or cupboard once school starts. VCMs might fall into the following categories:

  1. Beginning of the year materials, such as a welcome letter, a first day of school game, or those new “first day of school” pencils a friend gave you, which won’t really be useful if you don’t have them on Day 1.
  2. Friday Fun Activities. You can usually find some of these when you need them, but it’s best to have them all in one spot.
  3. Intervention and small group tools which you might need. This would be your phonics cards, your leveled readers, your warm up games, big cushy dice with questions about the story we just read on the faces …
  4. Centers that are ready to go now. This would be writing prompts with writing paper, those CVC wipe off cards, task cards for intermediate grades, blocks if you’re kinder — all the independent stuff you can’t find when the classroom is in full swing in October.
  5. Math manipulatives. These usually belong to the District, but I’m putting them in this category because you have to be able to access them quickly during the year while setting up math instruction. You don’t have time to look for them, if you’re not sure where they are, you won’t have time to look.

And That Should Do It!

If you’ve followed these steps, you should be finishing up your classroom clean out with a big bag of garbage, a box for Goodwill, your take home box, and the rest of the stuff should be put up in the room. You should be grabbing your bag and heading for the door, pleased that your panicked fears that you were going to have to come back before August didn’t happen.

Now it’s time to walk through those double doors at the front of the school and move forward to your other life — June, July, and the first part of August. Hopefully, you planned how to make the most of it. When you come back, your classroom is ready. And you will be too.

Unless you have to come back in July and move everything to a new job and classroom somewhere far away. But lets not think about that.

Happy summer.

Other Bloggers Weigh in on Classroom Clean Out:

Have a “back to school” areas of your cupboard or shelf where you put all the things you need for back to school days. This is from Sweet for Kindergarten blog.

Use a timeline and start early: Caffience Queen teacher has a schedule that starts four weeks before the end of school

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