If you think teachers don’t get enough respect, spare a thought for the most reviled and disrespected of them all. We’re talking about the so-called floating teacher, mobile teacher or traveling teacher, doomed to spend a year dragging a cart full of school supplies up and down the hallways. Never heard of a floater before? Floater Teacher (Have Cart Will Travel) will tell you all about it.
Teaching Without a Classroom
Several professions have their version of a floater. In law firms, it’s common to hire floater secretaries who can be dispatched to fill in if someone’s on vacation or there’s a big project coming up.
In a school, a floater is a teacher without a classroom. The mobile teacher travels from classroom to classroom with their supplies and teaching materials.
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Why Do Schools Do This?
The main reason is to save money. Cuts to education budgets, increasing numbers of students and fewer resources mean schools have to tighten their belts constantly.
In the past, floating teachers were mostly teachers of elective subjects that only a handful of students signed up for. There wasn’t a real need for a classroom if the teacher only had a few students.
Now, even teachers who teach academic subjects can find themselves behind the cart.
Who Gets Chosen to Be a Floater?
How do schools decide who gets a classroom and who doesn’t? According to the OwlCation blog, the main factors that go into this decision are:
- Number of students who typically enroll in the class. If a teacher’s subject doesn’t get high enrollment, it makes sense to lessen the impact on classes with larger enrollments.
- Status. Part-time teachers are more likely to be mobile teachers than full-time teachers.
- Seniority. A veteran teacher is unlikely to be forced into a mobile position, even if their subject matter has a small enrollment. This makes it more likely that first-year teachers get assigned to a cart.
What’s It Like to Be a Floating Teacher?
Most teachers find it very challenging to be a floater. Some of the negatives they report include:
- No room to hold supplies.
- No walls to hang posters, maps or charts.
- Ridiculous rules set by the “host” teachers.
An article about floaters in Education Week quoted now-retired Florida teacher Elizabeth Randall, who told the magazine, “The first year, I was kind of a mess. There really wasn’t much out there for floating teachers.”
An Improved Outlook
By the end her second year, Randall had improved her outlook and her strategies for being a floater teacher so much that she was able to write a guide for other teachers called The Floating Teacher: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving.
Some of Randall’s tips are:
- Get and stay on good terms with your host teachers. Respect their rules, and try to resolve differences without conflict.
- Personalize your cart. Make it as organized as possible. It’s your base of operations, so make it work for you.
- Appreciate the opportunities for collaboration.
Floating can be an irritating situation for everyone involved.
On the A to Z Teacher’s Stuff forum, one member started a discussion thread about being a traveling teacher. Comments flew in from both cart-carrying teachers and those who hosted them.
“Lots of Sucky Parts”
One teacher wrote, “I hate it. There are no advantages. There are lots of sucky parts, like carrying stuff from class to class, not being able to put posters or projects on the wall, forgetting things in another classroom, dragging lab equipment to different classrooms, dragging the skeleton to different classrooms.”
Another former floater said other teachers were the worst part of teaching without a classroom of her own.
“Some teachers were really wonderful about sharing a room,” she wrote. “Some were incredibly difficult, like the teacher who wouldn’t allow me to use the white board at all. The one who refused to leave the room, even though she was required to. The ones who accused my students of stealing, even though they were always in their seats. Having to get the principal involved over such petty cr** as being able to use the freaking board.”
Ready to Escape Your Classroom?
A teacher who hosted traveling teachers in her classroom posted about having to spend at least $100 every semester to replace items that the travelers trashed:
“I’ve had to deal with clogged sinks, paint on my tables, chewed gum everywhere, profanity carved into desks, messy floors and trash in drawers because floating teachers are not concerned about the room. It isn’t theirs so why bother?”
She added, “Floating teachers use regular teachers’ supplies as well. I’ve found that many men, in particular, are very hard on Expo markers. They’ll press so hard on the board that the nibs go flat. These are markers that I buy myself.”
It appears that the complaints go both ways.
Is There Any Upside to Being a Traveling Teacher?
Some teachers found that they adjusted well to their classroom-free status. They wouldn’t necessarily trade it for a classroom-based position, but they found that it gave them a different perspective on their work and their students.
Teacher Josh Caldwell described his year pushing a cart as mostly positive. “I’ve been a vagrant, a wanderer, a man without a country, and I’ve grown to love it,” he wrote on his Ed In the Cloud blog. “Mostly.”
Caldwell said he developed an ability to think creatively and had greater opportunities for collaboration. Other teachers have said they liked:
- Spending a lot less on classroom supplies and decorations.
- Not being assigned lunch duty, bus duty or homeroom responsibilities.
- Developing top-notch organizational skills.
Learning to be organized was the benefit most teachers stressed. An article by Helen Yoshida on the NEA blog offered organizing tips from traveling teachers.
I have, and my experience was not great.
I was a floater in a school in Virginia. My biggest problem was a “host” teacher who I felt was truly compulsive about the classroom. Little strips of tape had been put on the floor to make sure the kids put the chairs back into “formation” at the end of the period.
I literally had to use tape and pick up tiny bits of paper and lint from the floor before I could leave the room to get to my next class.
My experience also revealed that students form less-than-flattering opinions about floating teachers as well.
- Unless it’s the first period of the day, you are often late.
- If you’re using technology in the classroom, it takes time to get set up.
- The other teachers have their own rooms. Are you being punished?
I don’t think my experience is unique.
Have You Been a Cart-pushing, Mobile Teacher?
What were your experiences like? Or, if you’ve been the host teacher, did you have less-than-positive experiences with a floater?
One of my colleagues was a floater for seven years before being assigned a permanent classroom. My question at that point was, “Why?” Maybe you’re in a position of asking yourself that same question.
Whether you’re working off of a cart, or are assigned to a classroom this year, maybe you’re dreaming about how great would it be to set your own working conditions, establish real financial security for you and your family and build your own online business.
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