28 June 2016

Tips and Tricks for Mobile Teachers

I teach part-time, which I absolutely LOVE and am not looking to change that fact anytime soon!  However, there are a few downsides to teaching part-time...the most obvious being less $$$.  The other downside is that, in most cases, part-time teachers in middle or high school have to share rooms with other teachers during their planning times.  

I know there are a bunch of us who are struggling with not having our own space.  It can be challenging to be a mobile teacher, but I'll let you in on a secret that I've learned...it can also be awesome!  Here are my tips and tricks for teaching in more than one classroom.

1. Let it go!

Just as Anna and Elsa told us in "Frozen", as a mobile teacher you need to let a lot of things go.  This was the hardest part of mobile teaching for me at first!  I'm a CONTROL FREAK.  Seriously.  Ask anyone I know.  I like things my way.  Plus, as a former elementary teacher, I like my classroom to look good...you know borders, bulletin boards, matchy-matchy, labels, etc.  Most middle school teachers don't bother with that stuff (at least to my extent).  I had to let my control go.  I couldn't expect my partner teachers to jazz up their rooms to make me happier.  I couldn't take over.  I had to let go of the factors that I couldn't control.  It was tough at first, but I got used to it with time and patience.  I found things I could control, like my own procedures, and I asked my partner teachers if I could use a small section of their room to house my classroom necessities such as my turn in bin and extra work bin.  Instead of erasing all of their whiteboard, I found a portable whiteboard to use for my "I can..." statements and assignment book notes, and only used the center of the board where I needed to project lessons:

I trained my students where in the room to find things pertinent to my ELA class...they learned to ignore the social studies or math stuff.  I learned to move my teaching partners' piles to one side because they allowed me to use their desk and other supplies that I didn't have to cart around.  My partner teachers and I figured it out.  We all had to let go of something.  They lost their room during their planning hour; I lost a room of my own.  We all gained something, though, too.  We became friends, I became more laid back, and they became more organized too!

2. Organize what and where you can!

As an admitted control freak, I took control where and when I could.  The first thing I did was create a mobile "office".  I used this book cart and transformed it into a mobile supply unit.  First, I made it MINE.  I put pictures of my kids on it and stuck a few Michigan State bumper stickers and magnets on the sides...just like I would've done on my desk or a bulletin board in my own classroom. Next, I made space on the cart for the giant ELA anthologies we use...man are they heavy to push around!  (Make sure your cart has good wheels and steering!) Then, on the backside -I wish I had a picture of that too :( -I used clear bins to organize whiteboard markers, colored pencils, lined paper for writing, post its, etc...anything my students or I may need.  On top of the cart, I kept a supply caddy of glue and scissors for our Interactive Notebooks, and my pink basket.  The pink basket is where I'd put all of the day's copies or any other materials I may need for the day.  I ALWAYS stored my own Interactive Notebook in the basket, too, so I'd always have my master version with me in case a student was absent and needed to copy from it.  
My teacher bag didn't live on the cart...I just put it there for the picture...but it was the second thing I made sure to organize!  In it, I kept different color file folders for each hour, my laptop, student bathroom/locker/media center passes, my own writing utensils, and student treats (pencils, candy, etc.).  In the file folders, I kept student information such as class lists, seating charts, grading sheets, work to be graded, and health alerts.  This bag went to and from each class with me, as well as to and from home each day.  By keeping all of my records in the bag, I always had what I needed.  I protected this bag like I do my purse and wallet!

3. Find SOMEWHERE to call your own!

This isn't always possible, but I was lucky enough to share one of my rooms with a teacher who didn't use much of his storage closet.  He let me set up the walk-in closet as my "office".  I set up a table to use as a desk, brought in my filing cabinet and some book shelves, and a few boxes of random stuff that my husband didn't want in our basement.  This space saved my sanity!  I could copy things ahead of time and use stackable sorters to lay out each week.  Then, each day I just had to grab what I needed from the "Monday" or "Thursday" box and pop it in my pink basket on my cart (which I also parked in there).  I could come in early or stay late and sit at a desk to plan or grade papers, even if he was teaching because the closet had a door.  It was SO much better than trying to plan or grade papers in the teachers' lounge or media center where you are constantly interrupted.  It was also much better than lugging tons of paper and binders to and from school if you have to plan and grade at home.  Be creative, ask around at school if there is an unused closet or office that you can call your own.  My closet was tiny, but it was MINE, and for that I am grateful! 

Don't you just love the novel, Tangerine by Edward Bloor?

4. Be flexible!

This is the biggest tip of all.  As a part-time mobile teacher, you won't be able to do it all.  You won't be able to do it all your way. You won't be able to do it all in your time.  You need to be accepting of the fact that situations may change throughout the year.  Something will come up and your partner teacher will NEED their classroom during their planning hour to sort fundraising supplies or something, and you will need to relocate to the media center for the day.  There will be a schedule change due to testing or an assembly, and you will need to relocate or come in during a different hour for a day.  Don't let changes upset your flow...prepare for flexibility.  That's why I kept everything on a cart or in my bag.  As long as I had those two things, I could literally teach anywhere at any time!

Also, don't be afraid to ask others for their flexibility!  I talked with my principals at the beginning of the year about my planning time.  I asked if I could do most of my planning and grading at home, since I wasn't sure how using the closet was going to work out.  They were fine with that, as long as I got my job done.  Many weeks, I'd spend a few hours at school making copies and planning on one day, then just come in to school during my actual class periods.  Other times, I'd come in during my students' lunch period to meet with students who needed extra help or to make up a test, but then I'd leave to run errands and come back just in time for my classes.  My actual time in the building was fluid.  It worked for me, and most importantly, it worked for my students.  

Now...here's the secret I've learned!

I admit I was freaked out about sharing classrooms at first.  I cried.  I whined to anyone who would listen.  I thought about just going full-time.  But then, I learned the secret.  The secret is that it actually FEELS GOOD to let go!  I didn't spend hours making my bulletin boards look perfect...that time was spent instead with my kids or doing something else non-work related.  I didn't have to spend time cleaning up or re-setting desks at the end of each day...I just walked out of the building!  I didn't  couldn't worry about everything looking perfect...the classrooms I used didn't belong to me.  I cannot tell you how much stress and time letting those things go took off my shoulders.  Mobile teaching allows you to focus more on GOOD TEACHING and less on mundane housekeeping tasks.  And really, isn't that the only thing that matters?  

Good luck my mobile teaching friends!  If you've got other tips and tricks, I'd love to hear them!  Please comment below!  

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