TCHERS' VOICE / Class Culture

Being Effective Without a Classroom

I often get emails from our members with very thoughtful questions. And then I think exactly what I hear myself saying in class, "if you're asking the question, then there are others who must be wondering too." Such was the day I read this question from teacher, Jill S.

An Inquiry

Good evening, Sarah.

I have been following you on Teaching Channel and am so delighted that I have found you! I am also a floater teacher. I change classes with the students. In my opinion, it is hard to have proper classroom procedures without a classroom. Classroom management is harder since I do walk in the door at the same time as my students. There is not really a "spot" where the students can turn in their work, get supplies etc. In addition, it is hard for me to do strategic teaching since I am unable to set up the classroom in a manner that suits me. … My question to you is how can I be effective without the bells and whistles my co-workers have? I feel as though I have been set up for failure. I would love to hear any ideas and suggestions that you can pass on to me in terms of strategic teaching!

My Response

As someone who was a traveling teacher early in my career, I know exactly what you're talking about. There are a lot of things that are tough to create when that happens, but here are a few ideas that worked for me.

I got a cart from the library. One of those big ones we used to put overhead projectors on. Then, I always had materials with me, student papers with me, supplies, etc. Not as ideal as a classroom, but I liked it better than hauling things in bags from one room to the next.

I asked each teacher for a space in the room that could be for our class. Maybe it was a bulletin board, a section of the white board, a wall space for student work. Just something that would help my students see this as their room too, not just one we were all visiting.

Today, I think you could utilize technology to think about classroom environment. If you have a class website or an Edmodo page, you could post assignments there, as well as student work, or notes from class. It's a nice way to think about curating your class even though you don't have the advantage of an actual classroom. In some ways, you'll be a pioneer as you figure out now what others will need to figure out later as we continue to use technology to shape what learning environments look like.

Just remember that you are your greatest bell and whistle! But if you need a little reminder, have the kids decorate your cart one day. It will make all of you happy and instead of despising that thing on wheels your principal will see how you take your learning environment wherever you go! (If you do this, be sure to send me a picture!)

Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa. She is the 2010 National Teacher of the Year and is the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. Connect with Sarah on Twitter - @SarahWessling.

I would like to add on to what Sarah wrote. I am a traveling teacher as well and have been since I got this elementary Spanish job 4 years ago. I have a cart too, and I must say it helps keep me organized. Though I teach in 20+ classrooms each week (43 per year with the semester system), I have my mini-classroom with me wherever I go. My raffle ticket reward system lives on the bottom shelf of the cart in a silver box. We have a routine with filling out raffle tickets and depositing them into the correct class envelope established just like any normal classroom teacher would. I can't really take over 43 classrooms (and some barely provide me space to use the marker board) the way Sarah does just for the sheer number of rooms there are to arrange and provide materials for, but still I have made each classroom feel like my own. When I am in there, I am the teacher, it is my space, and I will move students arounds and I see fit. Like Sarah said, I am the greatest bell & whistle! Do I still wish I had my own classroom? You bet your bottom dollar! I think I could improve my Spanish instruction even more by having vocabulary words on the walls and posters with class routines. However, I'm doing the best with what I have. As my whole school has noticed in these 4 years, I've still improved the whole program with my enthusiasm and vigor. Don't let yourself get disheartened! You can overcome the obstacles!
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Please give me more information about your raffle system. I teach every child in my build (math intervention) and I am in need of an effective incentive system. Thanks.
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Classroom Dojo is an app that allows you to set up a behavior management system. You can us you IPad or android to project your class while in the borrowed classroom. Each child has an avatar. You can reward them based on your agreed management system. This would eliminate having to keep up with tickets or marbles. This app also allows you to send reports to parents about student's classroom behavior choices. Our elementary teachers love it. The students have responded well too.
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Dear all, thank you for allowing me to share.I am blessed to have my own classroom but I do not always have the luxury of time to personalize it as much as I like to. But I use the Edmodo platform to host our own group. I post videos, songs, PowerPoint slides, assignments and our class pictures of course. It helps us connect and catch up with each other. My Primary 2 kids (Grade 2) always ask me to post stuff on Edmodo. So you might consider Edmodo to build your virtual classroom of sorts. Hope this sharing helps! Emily, Singapore
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