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Friendship for Floating Teachers

Former "floater" Jodi McKay knows the challenges experienced by teachers who have no classrooms to call their own. To support those educators, she has created an online forum that allows floating teachers to share their stories, advice, and more. "Included: An expert shares the unexpected benefits of "floating."

A "Silver Lining" for Floaters

"Floating" between classrooms and carting around materials might not be a perfect teaching situation, but Jodi McKay says there are benefits.
"I met teachers from all over the school and was able to watch some really talented teachers in action, something teachers rarely get to do," she explained. "I got to know my students better because I saw them in the hallways, where they were interacting with their peers."
In addition, McKay persuaded school's administration to excuse her from a morning duty post, and she wasn't required to clean a classroom every day. And," she added, "I didn't have bulletin boards to maintain!"

In her first year teaching, because her school was pressed for space, Jodi McKay was assigned to a room that had been the old science closet. She quickly discovered that thirty desks, thirty sweaty seventh grade kids, and one brand new teacher didn't fit into a "closet," so she spent the rest of the year "floating" among other teachers' classrooms during those teachers planning periods.

"Its hard enough to be a first-year teacher, let alone a first-year teacher without a classroom," McKay observed. College definitely doesn't prepare you for that! It challenged me in a lot of ways. Classroom management skills are really put to the test in that situation, and as a new teacher, I didn't have experience to fall back on. Luckily, I was assigned to borrow rooms from a great group of teachers. I watched them and learned so much."

McKay now feels that floating in her first year ultimately made her a better teacher, but at the time, she had no training, resources, or assistance. She was on her own, learning how to survive from one day to the next. Because traveling between classrooms isn't usually a desirable option, the situation most often is experienced by the newest teachers, those who lack seniority -- and the experience to make it work.

"From my perspective, the biggest challenge floaters face is organization, especially for those who have never taught before," McKay told Education World. "There are so many variables in teaching, even in the best circumstances. You can teach the same lesson to three different classes and the outcome is different each time because the kids are different. When you add the challenge of teaching in three separate classrooms, it gets a little unpredictable!"

As a floating teacher, McKay found that good organizational skills were key. She kept with her at all times a file box containing weekly lesson plans, seating charts, extra activities, worksheets, and more. Flexibility is another skill that is virtually forced on a floating teacher, and McKay says she also quickly developed effective classroom management skills.

Probably the best resources for floating teachers are other educators working in the same situation. Typically, however, there are very few floating teachers in a given building. For McKay, who was the only floater in her school, connecting with more experienced floating teachers seemed impossible.

McKay recognized, however, that many other educators must share her story. For the benefit of those who still are floating, McKay established an online network of support called the Floating Teacher Think Tank. Its designed as a virtual classroom, in which floaters come together to share ideas and mentor one another to enhance job performance and overall satisfaction. She also is unveiling a monthly email newsletter specifically for floating teachers, entitled "Sink or Swim."

"Its important to reach out to other floaters," she advised. "Most non-educators don't even know what a floating teacher is and very few resources exist for them. Floating teachers face challenges you can only understand if youve floated yourself. Talking to experienced floaters before you hit the hallways opens your eyes to the unique challenges you will face while floating. Veteran floaters can provide realistic suggestions and prepare new floaters for the unknown. Why reinvent the wheel?"

During her tenure as a floating teacher, McKay developed a cart to carry her teaching materials and supplies from classroom to classroom. After the birth of her first child, she formed BradyQuin LLC, a business dedicated to helping floating teachers thrive -- not just survive. Now, shes partnered with another company near her home in Charlotte, North Carolina, to create a mobile workstation for floating teachers based on her cart's design. Called the Teacher Trolley, the cart contains patented features that make it a complete classroom on wheels. The art/science version, for example, has a sink with running water, a heat- and chemical-resistant work surface, and a retractable dry erase board. All-terrain wheels help floaters navigate the cart over different surfaces and through crowded hallways.

"Im working with several school systems to pilot a professional development series for floaters as well," McKay shared. "As schools become more and more overcrowded, floating teachers are an inevitable outcome. Yet our schools do very little to prepare floaters for the reality of teaching from multiple classrooms. If prepared properly, floating teachers offer a cost effective way of maximizing the existing space in our schools."