Jodi McKay was a homeless teacher.
Like many schools, Coulwood Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina, was overcrowded, and McKay became a “floater” there: a teacher without a permanent room. That meant she had to lug around everything she needed to teach social studies—books, a CD player, art supplies, maps, pens, pencils, and the rest—in a duffel bag or on a metal audiovisual cart as she dashed from room to room. It was, as she recalls, “very frustrating and inefficient.”
She trolled the Internet, but was surprised to discover there was nothing on the market specifically designed for teachers who have to constantly schlep all their stuff around. Exasperated, she sat down in the school cafeteria one day, grabbed a napkin, and sketched the design for an ideal mobile office: a cart that would keep a peripatetic teacher’s sundry essentials organized and readily accessible.
McKay left Coulwood after five years of nomadism to have her first child in 2002, but the design she dashed off has now become a reality: The Teacher Trolley, as the 36-year-old dubbed it, is being manufactured in a Chinese factory—American manufacturing was prohibitively expensive—and McKay plans to test-market the product in September.
“I sure wish it had been available when I was a floating teacher,” says Suzanne Black, a PE and remedial literacy teacher who was roomless for many years at Coulwood. When she tried to transport her materials between classrooms, she remembers, “It was nothing for things to go flying off by the wind or hit a bump in the sidewalk.”
Priced at $900, the Teacher Trolley (www.teachertrolley.com) will have a desktop work surface, all-terrain wheels, a retractable dry-erase board, two hanging file drawers, multiple storage bins, and locking drawers. McKay has also developed a science-lab version of the trolley with a sink and running water.
She’s certainly done her math homework. According to the latest projections from the National Center for Education Statistics, overall school enrollment will set new records every year until at least 2014. And she’s targeting her pitch at 10 school districts that have between 40,000 and 75,000 students and have grown at least 80 percent over the past 10 years.
Given the challenges of building classrooms to serve all those new students and the expense of prefabricated trailers, McKay thinks she’s got an affordable alternative.
“Classrooms are sitting empty at schools all over the U.S. every day while teachers are on their planning period,” says McKay. “It doesn’t make sense. But I think we have the potential to realign the way schools look at [using] their facilities and make it more effective and efficient for everyone.”
For all the trolley’s apparent utility, however, it remains to be seen if it will float financially. McKay has so far sunk more than a quarter million dollars in loans and venture capital into the idea. She has three marketing and sales employees—like her, all are stay-at-home parents—but she has yet to sell a cart.
A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 2007 edition of Teacher as Schlepping and Learning