001 – Organizing Student Materials

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Episode Summary

As this podcast kicks off, it’s the first week of January. Lesson schedules are re-launching as students return to our studios. The start of the new semester means a lot of new materials are being organized and distributed. Let’s discuss how we can keep all our student materials orderly and easily accessible, including labeling and using two different levels and types of storage.


Items Mentioned

The Perfect Teaching Table


Related Content

File Fever: Organizing Student Files



When I think about one of the biggest organizational struggles independent music teachers deal with, one of the first things that comes to mind is physically juggling all materials.

As private music teachers, we’re not preparing the same materials and lessons for 25 students in one class, we’re looking at 25 different things for 25 different students. Granted, I’m just randomly pulling that number out of my back pocket, and we don’t necessarily have new stuff for EVERY student EVERY week, but the point is, we have a lot of different things to keep track of for a lot of different people.

In today’s episode, we’re going to talk through a few different ways we can keep all of our student materials orderly and accessible, including labeling and using two different levels and types of storage.

Welcome to the Piano Pantry Podcast were together, we live life as independent music teachers. I’m your host, Amy Chaplin. In this space we’re going to talk about all things teacher-life related from organizing our studios to getting dinner on the table and all that comes between. You’ll get loads of easily-actionable tips on organizing and managing your studio while balancing life and home.

Let’s do it!

When this episode drops, it will be the beginning of January. Hopefully you didn’t spend your holidays lesson planning but there’s a good chance you’re frantically doing so now as the new semester launches

Even if you put thought into it in December, the first week or two back to lessons are always filled with gathering materials, printing resources, and planning goals for our students for the next 18 weeks.

You might have several students starting new books whether that may be moving up in the next level of method, sightreading, or theory; maybe you have some supplemental pieces for students you downloaded and printed; perhaps you’re printing new technique achievement sheets or have a fun improvisation activity for all of your elementary-level students.

Things can pile up quickly in these planning weeks. So, where do you put it all so you can remember to give Jessica her new level 5 technique sheet and Dillon his new chord chart?

Let’s start with the materials themselves. Maybe you’ve ordered 3 copies of Faber book 2B, 2 copies of Piano Safari level 1, and 5 copies of Celebrate Theory 2. How do you remember what goes to who?


Just label it!

Any time I purchase an item for a student, I stick a post-it on it with the student’s name. That way, I can stick it in a pile if needed with items for other students and not get them confused.

Let’s take that a little further though and rewind a bit in time. If we’re talking about labeling actual books, consider writing the post-it note not just when you have the item in hand, but when you are ordering materials.

Back in December, I sat down and planned out what I would need for my students starting back in January. As I added books to my online shopping cart, I wrote a post-it note for every item including the name of the book and who it was for.

Keep in mind, this is going to be much more necessary when you have a lot of students and books. Right now, I have 12 different post-its just waiting for their book to arrive. As I was opening up one box, I remember looking at one book and going “wait, I ordered too many” but then I looked at my post-it pile and realized, “oh yeah, I forgot I wanted to start that student in this book.”

So…Label, label, label.

Next let’s talk about two different levels and types of storage. When I say level, I’m thinking along the lines of having both a long-term storage solution as well as a day-to-day storage area near the piano. Let’s talk about each one.

My long-term student file storage is in a filing cabinet in a room just next to my studio. I could still get to it during a lesson if needed but the files do not need to be easily accessible. One drawer houses all my student files. Each student has their own hanging files labeled with their name.

Long-term storage student items include books that I’ve purchased much further ahead of time than needed. For example, I may have a student in unit five of a seven-unit theory book and I went ahead and ordered their book.

Sometimes I keep books in there that students may have started with but we paused to do other things like perhaps Christmas music or maybe they’re struggling with it a book a bit and I went to supplement for a while and come back to the book. These materials do not need to be right next to the teaching space and assessable on a daily basis.

On a side note-when thinking about labeling file folders, consider using a label maker – they just make things feel so much more neat and orderly. Also, you could do them alphabetically or, the way I like to do it is by day of the week. Monday students have the little plastic label positioned clear over the the right and they are in order of when the student comes, Tuesday students, the plastic name label is in the second spot over, Wednesday students file label is right in the middle, Thursday to the right of that, then Friday students have their little tab label clear to the right. I hope this makes sense as I’m describing it verbally.

OK, so that covers long-term storage.

Next, is more every-day storage for items you need to give to students during their lesson. Sometimes I only have one item for one student and sometimes I have something for every student. It really can vary.

Where in the long-term storage, I find file folders work best, in this instance I think the type of storage you choose could vary. Some good options might be a magazine holder, or one of those desktop organizers that are tiered. You can get ones where either the materials lay on their side or ones where they stand upright if you can picture what I’m talking about. Since they’re tiered you can use one tier for each student or one tier for each day of the week.

You could also just have a smaller file box – maybe the type that has a handle on it – near the piano.

I have a what I call a teaching table next to my grand piano that I bought online probably eight years ago that I absolutely love. It’s fairly compact – around 18” square with a table top area, a small area for hanging file folders, a small open space for storage, and a little drawer. Plus, it’s on rollers to boot! I will link to a blog post in the show notes that shares photos in more detail and links to where you can find that online.

Whatever you use, just make sure it fits well into your space and also with your personal work-flow.

While organizing student materials is an ongoing thing, there are three big times per year we as teachers are going to find ourselves going through this process. Now (that is, the turn of the semester in January), the beginning of the summer, and the beginning of the school term.

During the first week of the new term – especially the beginning of the school year – I’ve been known to simply open up a folding table and lay out everyone’s materials for the week. If space for a table doesn’t allow, then embrace the stack. Do me a favor though and keep your stack orderly. That is, put the items in order for when students come (Monday student’s on top of course) and maybe even alternating the materials vertically and horizontally in the stack to you don’t accidentally miss an item for a student.

Well my teacher friends, the first episode is a wrap! I hope you found this small snippet on keeping your student materials organized to be an achievable little way to improve your studio life this week and into the future.

If so, would you consider jumping over to Apple podcast to leave a review so other teachers like you can find it? It’s your five stars that will help move it to the top.

Don’t forget to jump in to the show notes for links to items mentioned in this podcast as well as other related items.

If you’re online I would love to connect with you. You can find me a pianopantry.com/podcast, on Facebook at Piano Pantry or an Instagram at Amy Chaplin Piano.

Before we say goodbye, I thought it would fun for us to get to know each other a little more each week by sharing one silly/fun fact with you about me, your host.

I’m going to kick of the first episode with the one that’s always the first thing I pull out of my back pock. Are you ready to hear this shocking skill?

I can say the alphabet backward in less than 5 seconds.

This was the result of an hour-long bus ride as a child and a friend who practiced with me. Because I know you’re dying to hear it, here we go: Are you ready to time me?

Is there anyone else out there that can do this? If so, you can send me a voice message right here through this podcast. I would love to feature more of you with this mad skill!

Thanks so much for taking the time to be here my independent music teacher friends and I hope to see you next time. Now, go get those student materials organized!