Here are some ideas and encouragement for traveling teachers.
If you are a traveling teacher, you understand stress and pressure like no one else. Teaching is one of the most stressful jobs out there, and teaching in more than one location just heightens the difficulty of the job. It may not be an ideal situation, but there are tricks and tools you can use to make it a little easier.
Tip 1: Pick a “Home Base”
Humans naturally need a place that feels their own. When you are a traveling teacher, you must choose somewhere to keep your things and treat as your home base. This place should be somewhere you don’t have to share, even if it’s only a shelf in a closet. Even better if you get a whole desk or classroom all to yourself. Your home base is where you will keep your main teaching materials, make and receive phone calls, keep that extra sweater or pair of shoes, and attend staff meetings. It’s important that you feel included as a staff member in one of your buildings. Include yourself by assuming that staff messages, meetings, and initiatives at your home base all apply to you. Ask for your own phone. Or, ask the other teacher in the room if you can have that extension for receiving voice mails and placing calls. You need to have one phone number where people can leave a message and know you will receive it.
Tip 2: Know Your Rights
I am extremely grateful to live in a district with a strong teacher’s union. They promise traveling teachers a minimum of 30 minutes travel time. There have been occasions where a teacher was only given 25 minutes of travel time, and the local union reps worked with that teacher and the administrators to fix the problem. I also get reimbursed for the mileage I am required to drive between buildings. It is important that we know and defend our rights, because over-working and over-stressing yourself on an already stressful job helps no one.
Tip 3: Have a Travel Bag
When I asked other teachers for their advice for this article, the most frequent suggestion I heard was to have a dedicated travel bag. This bag carries all the things you have to have with you at all times, such as your laptop, charging cables, seating charts, mileage reimbursement forms, etc.
Pamela B. from Minnesota suggested using a sturdy backpack with padded straps to ease the pressure on your back and shoulders. She also showed me a great idea: wrap all those little cables and cords in twist ties, cable wraps, or ponytail elastics, and store them all in one little pouch (photo above). Your charging cables, earbuds, and adapters stay organized and you always know where they are. Extra benefit: you always have an extra ponytail elastic in case of a bad hair day. 🙂
Top: “Fold-n-File” by Thirty-One. Bottom: “Zip-Top Organizing Utility Tote” by Thirty-One (with Fold-n-File inside)
Kelly K. from Wisconsin said she can’t live without her organizational bag from Thirty-One. She uses the “Fold-n-File” insert to hold all of her hanging files and file folders. It has sturdy walls and handles. It even has pockets on the outside for her markers and calculator. That fits inside her “Zip-Top Organizing Utility Tote” which can zip closed to protect files from rain and snow, has shoulder straps, and has extra pockets around the outside for pencil pouches, tuning forks, and spare recorder.
You will read below that I use digital seating charts. However, that doesn’t help when you have a substitute. I print off a full set of seating charts for all of my classes, from both schools, and have a copy at both schools. (Yes, I print seating charts for one school and keep them at the other school.) This way, there will always be an extra set available whether a substitute brings or doesn’t bring them when traveling between schools.
My final piece of advice for your travel bag is to update your mileage reimbursement form EVERY time you travel. I put it in the front of my travel folder, even in front of my seating charts, so I am guaranteed to see it. I make sure to fill it out before I go home for the day. It never fails: every time I try to remember mileage I didn’t write down, I remember it wrong. WRITE IT DOWN.
Tip 5: Digitize
Being “transportable” is SO EASY with digital lessons. I unplug my laptop at one school, slide it in my bag, and open it up at the next school. My lesson plans, seating charts, behavior management, recordings, and lesson files are all there on the screen.
I use what’s called “extended display” (a setting on my computer), so what the students see is different than what I see. I can have my lesson plan on the computer screen and the visuals or behavior management system projected for the class (see photo above). The only things I carry with me, then, are the items that one school owns and the other doesn’t. So far this year, I’ve only had to carry a train whistle and some beanie babies. THAT’S IT.
Here’s my setup:
Computer: Apple MacBook Pro
Interactive White Board: SMART Board
Lesson plans: Planbook.com
Seating charts: SMART Notebook file
Behavior management: “Scoreboard” SMART Notebook file
Visuals/Manipulatives: self-created SMART Notebook or Powerpoint files
Sheet music/notation: Noteflight.com
I hope these tips have given you some ideas for ways to become more organized or just given you encouragement that you are on the right track. What is your best organizational strategy? Comment below!