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The Pains and Pleasures of the 'Floating' Teacher

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Curriculum CenterRemember that old saying "If life hands you lemons ... "? "Floating teachers" -- teachers who work from carts, not classrooms-- make their own brand of lemonade! Today, five floaters talk about the pains and the perks of teaching from a cart. They prove that you can't sink a good floater! Included: A link to a comprehensive, reproducible guide to " la cart" teaching for teachers and administrators.

Teaching from a cart has its share of difficulties, but many teachers also discover unexpected rewards. "As a new teacher, floating gave me a chance to get to know the culture of my school very well and very quickly," Beverly Maddox, who teaches at Henderson Middle School, in Little Rock, Arkansas, told Education World.

THE FLOATING ADVANTAGE

Ten Tips for Traveling Teachers

The teachers who contributed to this Education World story share ten tips to help teachers manage life on the road. * Be organized.

* Preset materials in each room.

* Design a great cart.

* Allow time for setup and cleanup.

* Streamline activities.

* Learn host teachers' routines.

* Use overheads and the Internet.

* Delegate setup and cleanup tasks to student helpers.

* Carve out a quiet, student-accessible home base.

* Stay positive.

"The teachers who remained in their rooms until I arrived energized me with their warmth and affection for students and for teaching," Maddox said. "The open friendliness they modeled was adopted by my students and helped me to quickly establish rapport."

Another surprise benefit was the increased opportunity to work with colleagues. Mary Catherine Reljac, a music teacher at Moss Side Middle School, in Pennsylvania, floated during a school renovation project. "I really liked being able to visit each classroom and see what the students were learning in their other subject areas," Reljac told Education World. "Instead of being isolated in the specialty wing, I was able to talk with other teachers all the time. We gained a better understanding of our respective curricula, which has helped us collaborate in more effective ways."

Dick Fuller, from Renfroe Middle School in Decatur, Georgia, seconded Reljac's opinion. "What I miss most about floating is the energy of the other faculty members. I enjoyed the camaraderie and impromptu team teaching with teachers from different disciplines," Fuller said.

Floating has some concrete, practical advantages, pointed out Sybil Humphries, a teacher evaluator who works with first-year teachers in Pickens County schools, in South Carolina. "Floaters do not have to decorate a room before school begins," Humphries told Education World. "Floaters also don't have a homeroom. That can really mean a lot when crunch time comes!"

READY, SET, GO!

Experienced floaters agree that the key to success is organization, planning, and preparation. The first step, well worth time and attention, is to create a functional mobile home, tailored to the teacher's discipline, personality, and style.

"Use a cart with sides on it so things don't fall off," advised eighth-grade teacher Maddox. "A luggage cart with one of those plastic file crates tied on can even be bounced up and down stairs."

"Find a good bag to carry your materials in," music teacher Reljac told Education World. "I used an old curriculum package bag that had many slots to separate items. Everything went into a file folder and was well marked so I could easily find it and replace it where it belonged. I wore a pen around my neck so I wouldn't lose it!

"Plan activities that are portable and realistic," Reljac continued. "I would check each room and preset as many materials as possible. The extra time spent before school helped ease my frayed nerves during the day. I also wrote detailed substitute plans and included a map of the school."

Experienced floaters learn to travel light, using transparencies, chart paper, or a dry-erase board instead of reams of handouts and the host teachers' blackboards. Some ask for a bulletin board or white board in a corner of the host classroom or use hallway space. Many create storage nooks under stairwells, in supply closets, or in the room of a particularly understanding colleague. "Use the Internet for materials you cannot cart around," teacher-evaluator Humphries advised.

"I traveled with a two-folder system for each class, an in folder and an out folder," Cindy Warm, a former floating English teacher at Middletown (Connecticut) High School, told Education World. "I also asked for space in each room-- a box or file drawer -- for student folders and copies of work sheets. That way, students were able to pick up missed work and turn in assignments. I made sure my schedule was posted so that students and teachers could track me down."

"One difficulty is not having materials on hand if a 'teachable moment' pops up," Beverly Maddox told Education World. "As an English teacher, I made sure to have several books of favorite poems, short stories, essays, and other things I could find quickly and read aloud to underscore a moment."

TIME IS NOT ON YOUR SIDE

"Be time conscious," advised middle school teacher Dick Fuller. "For me, that was a hard lesson. You have the same two to three minutes to change classrooms as the students do. You need time to set up and then to put things away so you can move.

"It is imperative to learn the idiosyncrasies of the host teachers," Fuller noted. "People like their window shades at a certain level, chairs in a certain way-- make sure you clean up the way that is expected."

"Find a kid or two in each class you can count on to help you into and out of the room -- meet you on the way and take the cart, open the door, pass out and take up materials, etc." Maddox added. "I always had my journal prompt on a transparency as well as my daily oral language, so I could slap them up quickly."

"Always have a 'bell-ringer' activity ready the day before," agreed evaluator Humphries.

A+ FOR ATTITUDE

"Stay positive," advised Humphries. "With a positive attitude, you will have a good experience as a floating teacher." Humphries created A Guide to Successful Teaching 'A La Cart' for floaters, host teachers, and administrators. "I tell my teachers to make copies of the guide and give one to each of the teachers whose rooms they use so they will understand better how to be a teaching partner with the floater," Humphries told Education World. "I also send a copy of the guide to each principal, assistant principal, and curriculum coordinator."

"I believe it is a total effort," added Humphries. "The floating teacher cannot do it alone."

"Joke about your cart-- call it your 'RV,' " Beverly Maddox suggested. "Put a bell or bicycle horn on it and use it in the halls! Floating can force you to be a better teacher if you let it. You will also develop what my Great Aunt Chat called 'legs like a government mule'!"

Leslie Bulion
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

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