Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

Floating: The New Wave of Teaching

By Elizabeth Randall — January 04, 2010 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In the summer of 2008, I accepted a teaching position at a local high school. I was in my 50s, starting the fourth year of an incongruous stint in public schools after a hiatus of over a decade. In terms of experience, I was really close to a first-year teacher. To add to the challenge, I was not “going back into the classroom.” I was floating.

When teachers “float,” they use classrooms that a home teacher vacates during breaks or lunch periods. It is, in the eyes of administrators, an ingenious utilization of space, a solution to overcrowded classes, expensive portables, and capital expenditures on new school wings or buildings.

In the lives of teachers, it is, um, challenging. No one would ask an executive to give up his office during lunch. No one would force a cubicle worker to turn over his computer during a break. Yet teachers, increasingly, have no room of their own. “Hot seating” teachers out of their classrooms during planning and lunch saves money. Floating has made a wave in education circles, enabling districts to sidestep their shortages of permanent, brick-and-mortar classroom spaces.

I wanted to teach, and I wanted to be a good sport, but I found floating difficult, especially since I was calling on decidedly rusty public school teaching skills. Floating makes everything about teaching—classroom management, technology, paperwork, organization, and physical endurance—10 times harder. Often, I found myself close to tears trying to figure out how to work the DVD player in six different classrooms, how to enforce rules with students who associated the room with its home teacher (“Ms. Norris lets us do that”), and how to simply make it, panting and sweaty, over the threshold before the tardy bell rang.

It often occurred to me how ridiculous I looked, a 54-year-old teacher with osteoporosis lugging a rolling cart through halls teeming with students, toward yet another classroom with a polite but irritated home teacher whose room layout was incompatible and unfamiliar to my teaching style.

But I plowed on, and the year finally ended on what I felt was at least a competent note. All that summer, I planned the following school year to be a real classroom teacher. I would have a library with consignment books and a reading area. I would play classical music in low dulcet tones. Aromatherapy would waft even the most delinquent student into studious submission. When floaters drifted into my room during planning, I vowed to give them space, not grief.

Alas, this school year I’m floating again. And although I feel even more displaced, having no welcoming haven, no place to lay down my books, no room to call home, I am also resigned.

Floating is not something to be endured for just a year. It is not going away. Floating teachers are not a fault in the education system; they are an organic evolution, and the wave of the future as they and their mobile carts roll into schools in the wake of a fiscal debacle. Like crabs, they scatter on the school grounds, poking into the caves of classrooms, sidling on the sidelines, searching for a site where they can stay for a time and then move on.

School budgets, notorious for categorizing, precipitated the floating trend. Take capital outlay funds, used ostensibly to pay for school construction and renovation, as well as for furniture and portable classrooms. There is a list of other potential uses for these funds, including “business communication equipment” and “technology upgrades.” Technology training and consulting, alone, enables districts to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital funds.

Then there’s my state of Florida’s Class-Size Reduction Amendment, or CSRA.

The CSRA, a variation of which has made its way into, and enriched, most state funding, has enabled districts to add an additional 7th period class to teacher schedules. As a result, schools are moving toward a “block” or “modified block” schedule, in which students meet for longer periods of time, fewer days a week, for some or all their classes.

An extra class and the block-scheduling tactics help meet class-size-reduction requirements. What it does, as well, is increase the number of teachers who float. Every school now accommodates more classes, more teachers, and, on the block schedules, longer periods for students and teachers in each classroom.

Yet some of these changes, block scheduling for example, may actually improve high school graduation rates.

Which leads me to my grudging endorsement: There are benefits to floating. Too often, teachers feel like islands entire unto themselves. Years ago, in my own ivory tower of a classroom, I often wondered—Am I doing this right? Do other teachers have this problem? Floating teachers don’t wonder, because they are not subject to the isolation that most teachers endure. I get to see firsthand what other teachers are doing and how I am keeping up or falling behind. I pick up tips and teaching strategies that I may never have thought of on my own.

A few other benefits come to mind: I am free of maintenance of the normal wear and tear on a room packed daily with teenagers. I do not call janitors, technicians, air-conditioning or heating-repair personnel. I am not responsible for leaks, cracked windows, graffiti, decrepit desks, and a lack of chairs, shelves, or storage materials.

I do not keep up bulletin boards, purchase posters, or maintain other decorative aspects of a room. Although many teachers enjoy fixing up classrooms, not having it as a responsibility gains me time I sorely need. This is especially liberating when I preside over a parent-teacher open house; the only thing I need to do is to prepare a curriculum presentation. The only thing I need to bring is a syllabus, a smile, and a good attitude.

This attitude issue keeps cropping up for floaters. Repeatedly, I read in blogs, articles, and e-mails that a good one enables a floater to have a good year. Teaching jobs are so scarce that administrators can find 10 new teachers eager to replace the frowning floater. Students don’t like teachers who are sulky, depressed, and cranky; they act out, which makes the floater even more unhappy.

I try to look at it this way: An educational institution functions best when flexibility and good will abound. There is always the possibility that a teacher bends until she breaks, but, after all, my doctor says my osteoporosis is the same—no better, no worse.

If I view floating as an opportunity to learn more about the school, my fellow faculty members, and the habits and dispositions of my students, I’m enabling a new perspective. I tell myself that the word, float, an intransitive verb meaning something that rests on the surface of a liquid without sinking, is my goal. I imagine a school as a vast body of water. I cannot sink under the additional demands required of the transitional position.

Isn’t that what education is all about? At any rate, it helps me—and I hope it will help you by the time we all have to learn how to stay afloat in public schools.

A version of this article appeared in the January 06, 2010 edition of Education Week as Floating: The New Wave of Teaching

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Assessment Webinar
The State of Assessment in K-12 Education
What is the impact of assessment on K-12 education? What does that mean for administrators, teachers and most importantly—students?
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Centering the Whole Child in School Improvement Planning and Redesign
Learn how leading with equity and empathy yield improved sense of belonging, attendance, and promotion rate to 10th grade.

Content provided by Panorama
Teaching Profession Webinar Examining the Evidence: Supports to Promote Teacher Well-Being
Rates of work dissatisfaction are on the rise among teachers. Grappling with an increased workload due to the pandemic and additional stressors have exacerbated feelings of burnout and demoralization. Given these challenges, what can the

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession What Do Teachers Think About 'Abbott Elementary'?
Teachers on social media respond to ABC's new show "Abbott Elementary," which is set in a fictional Philadelphia public school.
Hayley Hardison
1 min read
ABC's "Abbott Elementary" stars Quinta Brunson as Janine.
Quinta Brunson plays a 2nd grade teacher in a Philadelphia public school on the ABC comedy hit "Abbott Elementary." Brunson, who created the show, is the daughter of a teacher and has writers on her team who've been teachers.
Pamela Littky/ABC
Teaching Profession Q&A A Q&A With 'Abbott Elementary' Star Quinta Brunson: 'Who Are We Without Teachers?'
The creator and star of the comedy set in a Philadelphia school talks about the show's inspiration and her hope that it helps teachers.
8 min read
ABBOTT ELEMENTARY - "Student Transfer" - After a negative teacher review, Janine gets a confidence boost when a student gets transferred from Melissa's class into hers, but it turns out the student proves to be too much to handle. While trying to forge a friendship with an uninterested Gregory, it is revealed that Jacob is constantly getting roasted by his students. The two bond after Gregory unintentionally gives Jacob the idea to incorporate the roasts in an educational way on an all-new episode of "Abbott Elementary," TUESDAY, JAN. 25 (9:00-9:30 p.m. EST), on ABC.
Quinta Brunson plays a 2nd grade teacher in a Philadelphia public school on the ABC comedy hit "Abbott Elementary." Brunson, who created the show, is the daughter of a teacher and has writers on her team who've been teachers.
Gilles Mingasson/ABC
Teaching Profession Opinion Stress, Hypervigilance, and Decision Fatigue: Teaching During Omicron
We teachers can’t just “self care” our way through this new stage of the pandemic, writes classroom educator Katy Farber.
Katy Farber
4 min read
A person faces an overwhelming wave
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty Images
Teaching Profession Meet the 4 Finalists for the 2022 National Teacher of the Year
The four finalists hail from Colorado, Hawaii, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and were recognized for their dedication to student learning.
5 min read
National Teacher of The Year nominees
From left to right: Whitney Aragaki, Autumn Rivera, Kurt Russell, and Joseph Welch