Harry Wong
Jun 2017
Vol 14 No 2

The Floating Teacher – Tips for Teaching a la Cart

By Harry K. & Rosemary Wong

This month’s column won’t reveal the secrets of a master illusionist.  It’s not a recipe for a heavenly baked meringue dessert.  It’s about teachers without a classroom who roam the corridors in search of a nesting place.  If you do not have your own classroom, you know who you are.  You pass each other in the hall as you roll your carts.  You’re called floating teachers, migrant teachers, nomadic teachers, and jokingly, some of you call yourselves, “homeless teachers.”

Floating teachers are typically found in junior and senior high schools, where the school schedule is divided into periods and teachers have specific subjects to teach.

Such a teacher is Diane Blocker, who teaches at Huntsville High School in Alabama.  With a positive outlook and putting her students first, she has developed some unique procedures that help her manage her floating status.  Her experience has inspired this month’s column.

Being a floating teacher can be a positive experience.

  • You get to see the school and meet some wonderful teachers who share their rooms with you.
  • You get to see the various activities that go on in the school, and get a feel for what the students are doing outside of your classroom.
  • You get to meet many of the students who are not even in your class.

Advice to Teachers

The advice to any new or veteran teacher is simple: preparation, preparation, preparation. (See page 94, The First Days of School.)

You prepare with procedures.

It is very important that you have procedures to the hilt!  As a floating teacher, you need consistency and stability in your classroom and your life.

To be an effective floating teacher, be organized—very organized.  Teachers in their own classroom have everything at hand.  The administration, the parents, and the students will expect the same from the floating teacher.

The Facts of Floating

  1. You probably will not be able to arrange the desks as you would like, so scope out each room and prepare seating charts and seating procedures for when the students first enter the classroom.
  2. You will not be able to post a bellwork assignment beforehand, so appoint three assistants who will post the assignments for you.  If you are wondering why three assistants, it’s better than one because if your student assistant is absent, the chances are one of the two remaining assistants will be in class.  Back up is good.  Two back ups are even better!  It’s best to rotate groups of students as monitors or assistants as well so everyone feels responsible for the smooth operation of the classroom.Bellwork assignments can be on transparencies in a binder that you have been left in the room.  If the classroom does not have a transparency projector, start looking for alternatives such as a digital projector, a flip chart, a chalk board, an interactive white board or slips of papers the assistants can distribute at the door.  The best bellwork has a consistent format that does not have to be announced until it is changed every few weeks or so.  This is commonly done in primary grades where students come in and get a book to read.Just because you are a floating teacher does not let you off the hook from being an effective teacher.  All effective classrooms have three things posted when the students begin class: 1) the time schedule, 2) the bellwork assignment, and 3) the lesson objective.  Display these as soon as possible.  The students want to come and learn.  With the three items posted daily, the culture of the classroom has been set—this is a classroom for learning—everyday.  The students will know what is expected of them and what they are to learn.
  3. You won’t be able greet the students at the door, so plan a genuine greeting after the class starts working on their bellwork.  A wonderful smile, a kind compliment, a set of inviting, caring words will go far to start the class on a positive tone.

Pointers to Help You Succeed

As a floating teacher you are not alone in the world.  In many countries it is the teacher who moves from room to room.  The teacher, not the students, is in transition.  If you are one of the chosen teachers who does not have a personal room and must float from room to room, these pointers will help you succeed and enjoy teaching as a floating teacher.

Cart:  This is most important; you need a cart with good wheels.  You also need a safe place to store your cart.  The cart must be sturdy and stable, not prone to tip over.  It must be sized to easily navigate the halls and your classrooms.  The cart is your lifeline to all your materials, handouts, and files you will need.

Choosing the right cart for your needs is equally as important.  Some teachers may only need storage, whereas others might need a cart that holds materials needed for teaching and for student activities.

If you only need to carry a minimal amount of supplies with you, try using a multi- compartment shoulder bag or wheeled case or tub.

Storage bins:  These are plastic file bins with hinged lids which are made to hold the Pendaflex®-style hanging file folders.  You’ll need one or more bins.

Organize loose items, especially smaller ones, in small baskets, bags, or caddies.  Store the containers on your cart’s shelves.  Make use of color-coded, different sized, zip type bags.  They keep art supplies, math instruments and manipulatives, science equipment, and other school supplies grouped and readily available.

Folders and files:  Get a set of the hanging file folders that expand to two or three inches.  You can place manila files into the expansion folders.  The tabs on the manila files are much easier to label and re-label than to try and label the hanging folders.  To re-label, you will need a supply of file labels.

Prepare “in” and “out” files. The “in” file is for student work to be checked, recorded, or graded.  If you have to grab one folder rapidly at the end of an exhausting day, grab the “in” file because that’s the one you need to take home to check and score.

The “out” file contains work that has been checked, recorded, or graded and is to be returned to the students.

Prepare other files for handouts, forms, and other needed papers.

Tobias Larson, a teacher at Notre Dame High School in Belmont, California, says, “I was a floating teacher last year and one of the major things that made me successful was a traveling file folder.  It is a plastic 6” x 13” x 10” box that holds file folders just like a file cabinet that would travel all day with me.  In this I had an ‘in’ folder and an ‘out’ folder for every period.

“I also kept a folder for handouts for each course I taught and I had one folder for miscellaneous forms or letters that the students would hand to me.  This prevented any lost papers as they were all kept safe in the box through the day.

“I also became a master with PowerPoint and made my daily warm-up exercises in PowerPoint.  I did this to utilize the technology available in the rooms that I taught in.  Since each room had a computer projector, it was an easy way to ensure that the first five minutes of each class was ready to go regardless of the time it took me to reach each classroom.”

Toolbox:  Have a personal toolbox with compartments where you can keep small items, like clips, rubber bands, glue, tape, and tacks.  The larger compartment will hold a screw driver, pliers, hammer, stapler, scissors, duct tape, super glue, utility knife, wire cutters, flashlight, and other needed tools.  Keep cleaning materials in here too, like spray cleaner, rag, and tissue.  Don’t forget some Band-Aids®, chalk or white board markers, and that bottle of headache reliever for yourself.

Take caution to limit the access of this toolbox to you and keep it out of reach of your students.  Consider locking it as well.

Teacher:  Be sure to cultivate a good relationship with the teacher whose classroom you are using.  Ask that teacher if you can have a small space in the classroom where you can store some materials, such s the bellwork binder.

For those items that are universal, such as referral slips, attendance forms, and nurse admits, keep these in each classroom rather than carry them around.  Have as much of your supplies as you need in each room so you are traveling with very little.

Locations:  Familiarize yourself with your teaching locations.  Be aware of any building codes or procedures, like fire drill exits or evacuation routes, pertaining to each of your teaching locations.  Find out which supplies, classroom spaces (like bulletin boards), and storage locations, if any, are available for your use.

Computer:  Find out the password for the computer in the classroom.

Website:  Since you do not have your own classroom, the best way to communicate with the students and the parents is have your own Website.

Let students and colleagues know how they can communicate with you and where they can find you.

Decorate Your Cart:  In addition to having a safe storage place, put your name, boldly, on your cart and don’t be bashful.  Name your cart and attach a slogan on it.  Give your cart a personality.  Make way for The Dream Machine — Creating a Future for You!  (Sounds much more exciting than Mr. Jackson and his cart!)  Attach a bicycle bell or horn to the handle.  Decorate it for the seasons.

Smile as you traverse the halls.  You’re one of the fortunate teachers who gets to see and acknowledge the students in the halls.

Diane Blocker shares that the students in her school hang gifts of affection on her cart as she goes by!

Additional Reading

Learn from those who have rolled the halls before you.  These articles will give you additional insight into the life and times as a floating teacher.

“A la Cart” by Kimberley Carlton-Humphrey, Teacher Magazine, May 1, 2004 at

“The Pains and Pleasures of the ‘Floating Teacher’” by Leslie Bulion from Education World at

It’s All About Procedures

Organizing and managing your classroom with procedures is even more important if you are a floating teacher.  If you do not know what a procedure is, and most importantly, how to teach a procedure, please read Chapter 20 in The First Days of School as well as the myriad of past columns here on to see examples of procedures used by teachers.

Or, access  Sacha Luria of Portland, Oregon, writes,

“I would have to say that I am having my best year teaching, ever!  I am a part time fifth grade immersion teacher.  This summer I took the classroom management class, and it has totally changed the way I started out the year.  Two weeks into the school year, I really don’t have ANY management problems.  It is just amazing!”

Your professional life as a floating teacher will take an intense thought process and effort to implement.  But once it is in place, you will hardly recognize the difference between being assigned a classroom and floating and will come to enjoy the economy of professional practice you have created.  It takes no more effort, just a different sense of organization and management.

You’ll have plenty of time left in the day to go home and make that delicious Floating Island dessert and have a scoop of it as you watch your favorite magician on TV.  And if, by chance, he or she performs a levitation illusion, you can smile to yourself with pride knowing you have the magic within you to create an effective learning classroom for your students.

For a printable version of this article click here.

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This entry was posted on Friday, February 1st, 2013 and is filed under *ISSUES, February 2013, Harry Wong. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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