In 2012, I moved to Spain and started teaching English as a second language. In early 2013, I opened a small language school, where I continue to be the only teacher/administrator/secretary/etc. I love my job and what I do (and most of all, being my own boss), but it does take a lot of planning.
This post would be overwhelming were I to include everything in one go (it’s pretty long as is!). So, today, I’d like to introduce you to my A5 Filofax Original in nude, which is my main business planner. (In my next post, I’ll share my Plum Paper Teacher’s Planner and how I do my actual lesson planning.)
I bought this binder last year when I realized I needed something to keep my business more organized (okay, let’s be honest – I bought it because I had seen a bunch on YouTube, and was hankering after an A5 size to try out anyway. The business was just an excuse 😉 ). It proved to be an excellent purchase and a helpful tool in keeping lots of things under control.
My dashboard is a calendar page from an old wall calendar, cut down to size and reinforced with washi tape. I taped on my logo as well as the official registration number for the exams we offer. This has turned out to be handier than I expected, as I can easily confirm the number just be flipping to my dashboard. On the back of the dashboard, I have some sticky notes for quick access, as well as a reminder of which section is which.
My first section is for exam information. In Spain, it’s increasingly necessary for students to complete English exams to finish their university studies, study abroad, work as any sort of civil servant, etc. Most of my teaching thus revolves around these exams, and while I have most of the requirements memorized, I still need to reference them every once in a while – or, show a student what their exam entails. The beauty of the A5 size (when one lives in Europe, at least) is that it is a dream to print. I printed all the exam information sheets in booklet format, folded in half, cut, punched, and voila. I also keep some note paper in this section to write down articles that I come across on exam topics, ideas for classes, authentic materials, etc. Last year, I also started keeping printouts of the students enrolled for each exam session. I formerly kept this only digitally, but have found that it’s quite useful to be able to refer back quickly when I can’t remember who took what exam when. I think this is pertinent for any sort of non-confidential business information – sometimes it’s easier to just have it printed in front of you, not lost someplace on your computer.
My next section is for the summer months. I usually have interns working for me in the summer, and there’s a lot of organizing to be done starting, well, right about now. First off here, I have a running to-do list for things solely related to the summer courses and the interns (the photo shows last year’s list, hence why everything is already checked off!). I also have a post-it with prices of my intensive courses here just to remind myself, as they’re different from the rest of the year! I keep a general chart of hours each intern has completed, as well as an individual with our initial contact, follow ups, notes and thoughts, and weekly hours. This is really helpful when I need to turn in documentation to their universities, or write any sort of recommendation letter. In this section, I also keep a list of people who express interest in the summer courses (and I’ve started to do the same for other times of the year). Since I typically get more people signing up in the months before summer than usual, I like to write them all down in one place. That way no one slips my mind when I start to do the scheduling and the follow-ups with those who have contacted me, then faded away!
Behind my third tab, I keep a monthly calendar (and another dashboard that I made but ended up not using, but that I like too much to leave out of my planner!). The calendar is a download from Philofaxy. This is just for reference – I don’t write much of anything down here, except exam dates. Last year, I used the week-on-one-page diary that came with the Filofax to note down how many people had called/stopped by each day, any emails or phone calls I had sent, etc. I fell out of the habit of doing so pretty quickly though, and honestly had never really consulted it, anyway. Now, I write down any important happenings directly into my lesson planner, which is open in front of me all day, every day.
My next section is the resources area. Here, I have a bit of everything (and a lot of post it notes!). You’ll notice from the photos that I also have some personal sized pages in here – notes that I take sometimes in my personal Filofax when I’m on the go. It’s easier to just fold up the bottom corner and put the whole page in the binder than re-copy everything! There are training notes from some different online resources I use, a quick grammar reference, list of irregular verbs, games and conversation questions (to use as icebreakers or in review sessions), and most importantly, answer keys:
My students have to complete a lot of practice exams, and I like to complete them myself as well to have a clear idea of what I’m asking them to do. As I was completing some last year, I discovered a fair number of errors in the official answer keys. While I communicated this to the respective people and was told that it would be changed, to this day I’m still wary about official answer keys. So, in this section, I keep post-its with my answers so I can quickly correct student work. Why post-its? Because it’s less bulk than writing each answer key on a separate page, but still lets me quickly and easily see which answer key corresponds to which exam.
The fifth section is my finance and contacts section. Each month, I keep a list of the various business expenses, when they were paid, and how (again, while I eventually make this digital at the end of the month, I find it more comfortable and quicker to do it on paper first). I also tick off if I have scanned the invoice onto my computer, as I turn in all my bills in PDF format to my accountant every three months. I’ve also kept some contacts pages in here, which have proven more helpful than expected. I’ve divided them into categories – materials (books), materials (general), exams, services, etc. I keep names, email addresses, phone numbers, websites, and important registration numbers or client numbers in here to have them at hand for paying bills, writing emails, or (most importantly) ordering more ink for my printer.
Finally, I keep a notes section. I use this for quick ideas, and also to write rough lists of names of people interested in certain exam dates, or other such things. Again, it’s really useful to have this all in one place and easily accessible! To stock this with paper, I bought a simple A5 notebook with perforated pages, and I punch and add pages as needed. The pages have some extra holes, as you can see, but it’s quick and easy (and cheap!). I also use this paper to print on sometimes instead of cutting an A4 sheet in half.
In my top-loading envelope I keep some (unused) stickers and notes from students that make me smile (great for those tough days!). The only part of my Filofax that I don’t really use has proven to be the jotter pad in the back. Somehow I never seem to have reason to use it – and since I never open it, I’m always half afraid to write something down there, knowing it’ll probably be lost forever…or at least until I open it again five months later… Instead, I just have a nice quote card taped over it to make me smile when I see it.
So that’s all for this binder! Apart from being useful, I absolutely love this binder itself – the leather-y smell, floppy feel, beautiful color…it was definitely a good purchase! 😉 I’ll be back next week with more information about my actual lesson planning!
PS – For those of you who’ve made it this far, here are the PDFs of the hour tracker and the finance sheet, if you want to give them a try yourself. 🙂