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In my last post, I described the eight steps I’m taking to organize all my teaching, research, and service digital files. Today, I’m narrowing down my organization advice to teaching responsibilities. Since I began my teaching assistantship as ISU, I’ve kept a teaching journal every semester. My teaching journal isn’t for writing down my feelings about teaching, though that’s one type of writing you can do in it if you want. For me, I use a teaching journal to keep track of my classes each semester. My lesson planning, class notes, and schedule information are all written out in my journal. In today’s post, I’m describing my top five benefits of keeping a teaching journal. If you’re new to teaching or feel frazzled rather than organized when it comes to keeping your teaching responsibilities in check, this post is for you. If you just want more general teaching advice, I suggest checking out this post.

1. You can easily double-check your basic class information.

A student comes up to you and asks what percent of their grade derives from their group project. Maybe you have that memorized, but if you don’t, you can just open the first few pages of your journal and see your list of major class assignments. Another student needs to know how many times they’ve been absent. Rather than signing into your extremely slow office desktop or signing into to the campus WiFi and your LMS class website on your smartphone, just open up your journal and check the attendance sheet. Office hours, new class policies you’re trying out, information on your student’s majors and grade level. All of these types of basic info can be placed in one easy to find location. And if you’re the creative type, you can have some fun designing how you include this info in your journal.

Note: Since I used a paper notebook this semester rather than a digital one, I didn’t include my students’ last names on the attendance sheet in case I lost the notebook at some point. This has never happened, but I’m paranoid enough to take this precaution.

2. You can plan out each day/week whenever you feel inspired.

After I’ve added the basic class info into my journal, the next (and last) section of my journal is where I plan out each day’s classwork and homework. I label each day by week, day, and date. So, “Week 1, Day 1, Aug. 22.” I mostly lesson plan at home, but it’s also one of the few productive activities I can do during my office hour (I work best at home, not on campus). Rather than needing to have my laptop or iPad charged and WiFi available, I like knowing that all I need is my journal and a pen to plan out my class sessions whenever the mood strikes me. If you’re someone who likes working at a coffee shop, cafe, or park, but you don’t like lugging around a laptop, using a journal makes lesson planning on-the-go easy and inconspicuous.

3. You can look up descriptions of all your class sessions without breaking a sweat.

Labeling your lesson plans in a similar manner as I describe above is an extremely important element of a teaching journal. You never know when you, a student, or an administrator will need information pertaining to a specific date from over two weeks ago. Make your life easier and just include that information as you go, so you don’t have to start counting back when you need to find this type of information. Including class descriptions also helps me with my public speaking anxiety. The day before I teach, I make sure to list out all the announcements and activities I plan on including in class. If I have a moment when I feel flustered or scatter-brained, BAM!, my past, calm self is there to tell me what to do next. Seeing my plans written out in one place also helps me get a sense of whether I’m trying to cram too much into one class period or if my activities would make more sense if done in a different order.

Seeing my plans written out in one place also helps me get a sense of whether I’m trying to cram too much into one class period or if my activities would make more sense if done in a different order. Click To Tweet

4. You can plan for future semesters while your ideas are fresh in your mind.

As long as you keep track of your journal(s), you can always know where to go to find your teaching notes. You can use your journal not just for immediate lesson planning, but also brainstorming future assignments, resources, and activities. Sure, you can use Google Docs or Evernote to do this, but with a paper journal, you can find all this information in one place, rather than needing to search through your (hopefully organized) files. As the semesters pass, you might find yourself having to move your files because of lack of space on your devices/iCloud accounts. Rather than risk losing my journal amongst all my digital files, I just have a shelf for all my teaching journals. My current one is the one I’m most proud of, as next to each class session entry, I’m brainstorming how I’d design that class period for an online course. I haven’ taught an online course yet, but I’m writing down ideas for future opportunities while my teaching is still fresh in my mind.

Of course, if you lose your journal, you lose your wonderfully organized ideas. Unless you have one of those notebooks that sync to an app or you take pictures of each page as you go along. Using a digital notebook will decrease the risk of losing your ideas and while make for one less notebook you need to carry around. Personally, I tend to plan with pen and paper rather than with a keyboard and screen. Probably because I love buying beautiful stationery but then don’t want to “waste” using them on just any type of writing. But, I usually do keep my digital journal available on my iPad, in case I’m not carrying my paper journal when I get a new idea. 

5. You can see a visual representation of the years you taught and all you’ve accomplished.

Sure, you can look at all your digital files relating to your teaching life and think, “Wow, I’ve done a lot of work over the semesters/years.” You can also use one of the digital notebooks I created and keep all your teaching info and lesson planning in one PDF. That’s something I’m considering for future semesters, but I’m not willing to give up my current system yet. In any case, I doubt you or I will have those files easily available and organized in 10 years. I enjoy looking at my bookshelf and seeing my collection of teaching journals. The different styles and sizes and cover designs all serve as reminders of past semesters. I can browse through them and see how my system has changed. How I’ve grown as a teacher. What I still have left to accomplish. Maybe I won’t still have these journals in 10, 20, 50 years. But, perhaps I will keep them as future teaching inspiration and eventual mementos of my past as an educator. If you’re the type who likes saving mementos for future reminiscing, I think teaching journals should be high on the list of what to save.

Final Thoughts

Like I mentioned in my intro, I don’t use my journal to actually write about my feelings when teaching. I do think that can be another major benefit of keeping a teaching journal, though. As an English student, a PhD candidate, and a grad student, it’s hardly surprising that I collect  journals like other people collect quirky mugs. If you’re also stationery obsessed, I definitely think you should consider using a notebook as a teaching journal. And if you don’t have extra notebooks lying around, the Dollar Tree has plenty for $1. Invest in one for a semester. See if it’s for you. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Comment Below: Do you keep a teaching journal? If so, what benefits have you experienced that I didn’t include in this post?

If you’d like to access a convenient, 1-page PDF that lists each benefit above–along with all the other PDFs I’ve created–make sure to subscribe to my blog. You’ll receive access to all past and future PDFs, and will be sent an email each time a new post goes live.  

Are you using a teaching journal yet? Are you unsure what types of information to put in one and why you should bother having one? Here are the top five benefits of keeping a teaching journal. #teachingjournal