Tips for ‘Floating’ Teachers: How to Survive Without a Classroom of Your Own

By Madeline Will — August 08, 2019 5 min read
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It’s the start of a new school year, and teachers across the country are setting up their classrooms. But what do you do when you don’t have a classroom?

When a school building has more students than available space, teachers might be asked to divide their time between multiple classrooms (or even multiple schools). These “traveling” or “floating” teachers often have to load up their teaching supplies in a cart—an exercise in patience and organization.

Floating comes with its share of challenges: converting an entire classroom’s worth of supplies to what can fit in a cart, sharing space with another teacher, and getting to different rooms with not a lot of time between class periods. And often, teachers are asked to travel from classroom to classroom without much guidance.

“The first year, I was kind of a mess,” said Elizabeth Randall, a now-retired Florida teacher who floated for two years. “There really wasn’t much out there for floating teachers.”

She felt more confident in her second year as a traveling teacher and wrote a book for other educators called The Floating Teacher: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving.

Here are some tips on how to make the most of teaching without a classroom, from teachers who have been there:

Develop a Good Relationship With the ‘Host’ Teachers

The No. 1 piece of advice from experienced floaters—make nice with the teachers whose classrooms you’re sharing. Keep their classrooms tidy, teachers say: Those relationships can make or break your experience.

Randall said when she was on good terms with the host teachers, they would give her some shelves for her textbooks and books, and would leave space on the board for her lessons. They’d also let her come into the classroom a few minutes early to set up. But in one instance, a teacher wasn’t happy about sharing her classroom—and would often interrupt Randall’s lessons by taking phone calls in the classroom. Randall spoke to her assistant principal, who “tactfully resolved the situation.”

“It’s kind of a pain for the [host] teachers, too: They have to leave during planning,” she said. “You have to be understanding of their challenges, too.”

On Reddit, one host teacher wrote that he lost his room for both of his planning periods to a floater. The situation is frustrating for both parties, the teacher wrote, but they found some ways to make it a little easier. One workaround: The host teacher uses Google Chrome, and the floating teacher uses Firefox, “so we don’t have to spend the time logging out of and logging into everything.”

You Can Still Have a Classroom Library

If you’ve developed a large classroom library over the years, lugging all those books from room to room can be a recipe for back pain. Teacher Jenny June Lemieux asked other English teachers how they managed to travel while also maintaining a focus on independent reading. She got some creative solutions, ranging from digitizing her library to claiming some space in each classroom:

Carry the Essentials—and Only the Essentials

In a Teaching Channel video from last year, high school teacher Sarah Brown Wessling said she had to do a “lot of purging and a lot of careful thinking about what was really important to a classroom.” She filled her cart with critical items like note cards, sticky notes, pens and highlighters, and handouts for students, and scanned her entire file cabinet, so all those documents are now electronic.

Randall said she had a designated file folder for each class, which kept her organized. And she carried an extension cord to help with technology setup in each classroom.

Other must-haves from experienced floaters: binder clips, sticky labels with your name on them, and a well-organized backpack or bag.

Deck Out Your Traveling Cart

Due to the constant wear and tear, Randall said her cart was held together with duct tape: “I would be going around the corner, and a wheel would fly off.”

But some traveling teachers have found ways to personalize their carts, which can make the experience more fun for both the teacher and students. English teacher Kiersti Hunkle wrote in a blog post that a big part of her teacher identity is her pink cart—"my shadow, my personal assistant, my little fashionista.”

She has a bike bell on the handle of the cart to help prevent “running over toes” in a crowded hallway. And she wrote that she looks in the Target dollar bin to find cute decorations for every holiday, including a string of rabbits and light-up shamrocks.

Some more creative traveling carts:

And Consider the Bright Side

While it can be frustrating not to have a permanent home base, teachers say there are some benefits to traveling.

“I got to know a lot of teachers I wouldn’t have known otherwise,” Randall said. “You really get to know the faculty, the campus, and the students—you’re out a lot, the students see you. It’s a sociable thing if you make it one.”

And one teacher on Reddit put it this way: “I spent WAY less money on my classroom.”

In a 2011 blog post, teacher Josh Caldwell wrote that his year of teaching without a classroom gave him a rare opportunity to see firsthand what his colleagues were doing.

“We should all have the opportunity to teach in unfamiliar environments,” he wrote. “We should all enjoy the serendipitous collaboration that comes from having another teacher in the room. We should all step out of our comfort zones a little more often.”

Have any more tips for being a traveling teacher? Comment below!

Image via Getty

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.