As a secondary teacher, you know the routine. You head to the copy room to make a class set of handouts for the courses you teach–three sections of this, two sections of that. On your way, you wonder how long the line will be, how many copiers will be jammed, and whether or not you’ll have enough time to visit the bathroom before you can head back to your classroom.

The copy room is a big stressor for me. And when I get there, the part that I used to dread was the counting. My Struggle? Doing simple math under duress. I over count, making too many copies. Or worse, I under count, and don’t copy enough, which can bring my lesson to a halt. There were a few occasions when I tallied up my count correctly, but in a rush, I failed to notice that the copier had run out of paper with 85-90 percent of my copy job finished, then me sauntering off thinking I had everything I needed.

Maybe this isn’t your struggle, but for this English Language Arts teacher, getting the right count is a problem. But this one trick has solved that for me.

Copy Hack: Only Copy Class Sets

I teach at a school where there are more teachers than rooms, so many of us move classrooms at least once a day. Fortunately, this year I have been stationed in the same location for all five classes I teach, but I almost cracked the couple of years I had to be in two different rooms. And one of the biggest contributors to my fraying mental state was how I was handling the copies I needed to make for class.

The Process:

1. Copy in Smaller Batches. Instead of counting up your classes (32 + 28 + 33 = ??) for one copy job, just make three class sets at the number of students you have in each class. This was essential when I was working in two rooms. I would go drop off the class sets  in each room for the periods I was teaching in there rather than attempt to carry a big slowly-dwindling stack from room to room. Even without room switching, having many small stacks has provided much needed relief in ways that I could not have anticipated.

2. Stack Your Piles in the Order You Will Pass Them Out. Now that you have class sets of handouts, stack them in the order they will be passed out. I can’t even begin to tell you how much mental energy this has saved me. There have been days I would have three different handouts to pass out in a given period. I would have to spend time thinking about what was next, how many to grab to hand out. Even though it’s a small thing in the scheme of a class period, I have noticed the less thinking and decision-making I have to do about materials means I have more mental energy for the 1,001 other decisions that I will have to make during each class period.

3. Set Aside the Few Copies for Each Absent Student. Now it is easier to set aside the exact amount of copies for each student that missed the day’s lesson. I also have a spot where I leave these extra handouts, and when students return, they will pick them up. In the past, I would print excess copies and still manage to run out as the week progressed. But now I have an exact count. Sometimes students misplace their copy, and knowing that I have an exact count gives me the opportunity to have a quick accountability chat about properly storage and retrieval of materials.


The Benefits:

1. No More Math. For the ELA teacher, this is enough of a reason to pick up this practice right away. It’s less thinking in the copy room, and less thinking in the classroom. So much winning right there. Next benefit!

2. Smaller Batches Means Fewer Errors. When I used to make one big batch of copies, every once in a while I would make an error, but I wouldn’t catch it right away (i.e. forgetting to turn on the hole punch feature). Using this practice, the mistake is limited to one class set, instead of 2.5 classes worth of copies. It’s lean thinking applied to copy jobs.

3. The Lesson Sequence Is Obvious. When I have multiple handouts to distribute during a class period, then I can look at the stack and know where I am in a lesson. My lessons are sequenced with a timer, and the combination of the handouts stacked in the right order and the count down give me an indicator of when I need to move on to the next item.

4. Efficiency = Less Stress. Initially I started this practice purely out of a survival instinct, but I have noticed that it reduces stress in many ways I couldn’t have predicted. I don’t stress at the copy room any more, and period by period, I have less to worry about. One I used to copy in one big batch, I would pick up the stack while teaching and either miscount or set down the stack in a different spot than I picked it up because I was talking to the class. The next period I would have to hunt around for the stack I had misplaced, wasting more mental energy. At the end of the day, when I needed energy the most, I would be exhausted. It makes me wonder to what extent other micro inefficiencies in my past and present have led to a depleted energy reserve, and I had a shorter fuse with my students.

That’s it! I look forward to seeing you in the copy room with your small bathes, makin’ copiiiiiiiies!

Makin Copies

QUESTION: Do you have any teacher copy tricks? What are some ways you get around the copier?

Leave a comment below. 

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