The internet is chalked full of tips for how to organize a classroom, from how to organize a kindergarten to a science classroom, but what if you don’t have a dedicated classroom? At many schools, the middle and high school teachers move rooms just as the students do. If you are unlucky enough to teach at multiple schools, you might even have to move buildings throughout the day.
There are ups and downs to being a traveling teacher. The good news is that you won’t be able to pack a classroom full of stuff that takes time and effort to organize. The bad news is that you won’t be able to pack a classroom full of stuff so you will have to be smarter and more organized to make it work.
Option #1 - Try the Traveling Cart Method
With a good, sturdy cart and some stellar organization skills, you can make a portable supply station that rolls with you from class to class. The biggest challenge to this method is finding a good cart that does not cost a small fortune.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A CART
It doesn’t matter if you use an old library cart or a kitchen cart from the bulk supply club. The only thing that matters is how useful it is. Look for an easily maneuverable cart, with big wheels that turn easily. With the amount of time that you will spend moving this cart from one room to another, it is worthwhile to splurge for something with nice, big wheels.
It doesn’t matter how tall the cart is, but you will be pushing it down the hallways in between classes so it would be nice to be able to see over top. It is more important that the cart is able to easily fit through doorways. The minimum width for a doorway in a commercial or public building such as a school is 32 inches. Most are between 32 and 36 inches, but the only way to know for sure is to measure. Start your search by looking at carts that are no more than 30” wide.
WHERE TO LOOK FOR A CART
Free is always best. Before you go looking to spend cash on a cart, see what is available for free. Check with other teachers at your school, the library, the computer science department, or department chair to see if anyone has a free cart available.
Take to your local Facebook sale pages, Craigslist, or local classifieds and let the community know what you are looking for. There is a pretty good chance that someone is willing to get rid of a cart that will fit your needs for little or no money.
If you have exhausted all of your options, it might be time to buy something. A good cart can be a pretty big expense, but remember that you will not be spending money on decorations or storage for an entire classroom.
If you are shopping locally, a warehouse club store is going to be your best option. Also, check local office supply stores and restaurant supply stores. For online searches, search for terms like ‘industrial cart’, ‘utility cart’, or ‘serving cart’.
If you are a substitute teacher and never know exactly where you will be teaching, we love the Zuca as a solution; and so do the kids! This is not a cheap option, but easily allows you to pack and roll your teaching materials wherever you need to go.
WHAT TO STOCK ON YOUR CART
Make space for essentials like pens, pencils, dry erase markers and a stapler. There is no need to reinvent the wheel here, a desktop office supply organizer will work just fine on your cart.
Use an expanding file or letter sorter for photocopies for each class. There should be at least one space per class so you can store copies of worksheets where they can be easily retrieved as needed.
Use a similar system to collect graded work for each class. You do not want to risk leaving papers behind in a classroom or misplacing them on your cart. Dedicating a spot on the cart for student papers is the best way to keep track.
Use a file box to store teacher plans, teacher texts, and other teacher-only materials. Or, use a color-coded bin system to include both lesson materials and teacher materials for each class.
Option #2 - Use Carrying Bins and an Office in a Box
If you are not a fan of hauling a cart of supplies around the building. Or, if you have to move between buildings and it just is not practical. There is a scaled-down option for you. Chances are that even if your school cannot provide you with a dedicated classroom, they can provide you with a dedicated office space. We will call this space your home office (hopefully it is located at school and not at your actual home)!
The upside of this option is that there is no bulky cart to maneuver around crowded hallways. The downside is that you will have to return to your home office in between every class to swap bins for the next class.
CREATE AN OFFICE IN A BOX
On the go organization is particularly important for Substitute Teachers. A stash of essential supplies carried in one 9 x 12 hard plastic case can be easily carried around. Outfit your office in a box with an ‘if lost please return to’ message and a shallow desk drawer organizer for supplies. Fill your office in a box with basic office supplies like pens, pencils, Expo markers, and a stapler.
USE COLOR-CODED BINS TO PREP, STORE, AND TRANSPORT CLASS MATERIALSIn addition to the ‘office in a box’, you can keep a color-coded bin system in your home office to store teacher materials and lesson materials for each class. In between classes, return to your home office to swap your class bins out. The bin system will help you get organized for lectures ahead of time.
The downside to the office in a box system is that you will not have a place to store a lot of paperwork. You can use a poly envelope to keep photocopies in the appropriate class bin. And a second poly envelope for graded work to be returned to students.
Option #3 - Go Digital and Carry Limited Supplies
The most obvious solution to making your classroom completely portable is to embrace technology and teach in the digital world. Lesson plans, lecture materials, teacher notes, attendance sheets, and more can all be handled digitally.
The accessibility of technology, including tablets and laptops that can be brought right into the classroom for student use, means that assignments can even be completed and turned in digitally. No more photocopies or stacks of graded papers to return. In fact, with a 100% digital system, there will be no more paper at all.
For the few supplies that you will still need to carry like dry erase markers or a stapler, choose a bag, briefcase or box that you love.
A traveling teacher arrangement may not be the deal that you were hoping for. But it doesn’t have to be a headache either. With a plan and a little organization, teaching on the go can be just as easy as having a dedicated classroom.
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