As a former floating middle school teacher for many years, I know all too well the difficulties of traveling from classroom to classroom. Inevitably some supplies will be forgotten, you can’t tote your classroom library around, or the host teacher leaves their crusty plate from yesterday’s lunch on the desk.
Yes, all of these things have happened to me. But it’s not all bad. After many years of being a floating teacher, I have acquired a few tips that make traveling less stressful.
3 Tips for Success as a Floating Teacher
1. Build a relationship with the host teacher. Once you get your teaching schedule and room assignments, make a point to visit each teacher to get to know each other (if you already don’t) and negotiate how you will share the space. These following questions will foster open communication and an understanding of the shared space:
- Is there a section of the board or wall you can use for your posters and announcements?
- How does he/she prefer the desks to be left after class? I once shared a room with a high school teacher who liked all the desks in rows facing the back whiteboard, while I preferred desks in groups where everyone could see the front interactive board. My kids got a workout that year by moving desks after each class.
- Is it OK to place numbers or name tags on the desks for assigned seating?
- Can I come in early to set up? Do you mind if I pop in during your class if I left something behind?
Education Week writer Madeline Will suggests in her 2019 article, “Tips for ‘Floating’ Teachers: How to Survive Without a Classroom of Your Own,” “When [the floating teacher] 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.”
Little annoyances will happen. The students will be dismissed late, an art project might leave a bigger mess than anticipated, or the teacher might show up late, requiring another teacher to supervise. If you are the teacher who makes one of these mistakes, own it and apologize. Give yourself grace.
If the host teacher causes you an inconvenience, initiate a friendly and honest conversation about what you need to be successful in the classroom. Give them grace, too. Building this relationship requires open communication and courtesy that needs to start before the first day of school.
2. Stay organized. With crowded hallways and classes on multiple floors, I decided early not to use a cart. I carry everything I need in a multipocket tote bag. (On special days when I need bulky supplies for a lesson, I ask a few trustworthy students to pick up the needed supplies from the teacher office area.)
Here is a list of items I carry in my tote bag every day:
- Room keys.
- Laptop and charger.
- Phone and charger.
- Pens, pencils, small pencil sharpener, binder clips, rubber bands, stickers, adhesive bandages, mints, hand sanitizer, tissues, extra dry erase markers, and snacks. (The extra pockets in my tote bag surprisingly held all of this.)
- Planbook, gradebook, and a “turn in” folder for each class. (If you have 31 or fewer students in each class, these file folders are perfect for keeping papers sorted alphabetically to collect, grade, and return work without ever taking papers out of the folder.)
To be even more efficient with your supplies while on the go, create a color-coding system for each class. Elizabeth Mulvahill suggests in her 2022 WeAreTeachers article, “Teachers Share Practical Ways They Handle Not Having Their Own Classrooms,” that it helps to color-code by class. As an example, the “red” class will have a red label on the abovementioned turn-in folder, a red binder clip as a bookmark in your planbook, and red labels for assignment postings on your website and class slides.
3. Make your whiteboard announcements digital. One nice perk about not having your own classroom is not having to update a bulletin board or postings on the whiteboard. In lieu of writing on the whiteboard each morning, I create a slide for each class that would be ready to display as soon as I connect my laptop to the interactive board.
You can create slides to indicate the agenda for the class, announcement of assignments using the previously mentioned color coding system, and links to videos for the lesson if needed. Everything is ready to go at the touch of a finger. You can even post the daily slide on the class website for students who are absent.
No one ever said it was easy to travel from room to room. Be patient with yourself. You will forget things, arrive late sometimes, and maybe even show up to the wrong room occasionally.
Be open with your students about the struggles of being a floating teacher. Enlist their help running errands, keeping the room tidy, and moving desks as needed. When you see your colleagues at the end of the day updating bulletin boards, erasing whiteboards, and organizing bookshelves and bins… smile, knowing you don’t have to worry about those chores for now.