Ten years ago, I struggled with being the teacher with a cart full of files and no classroom of my own. It was cumbersome, difficult to organize, and just plain disheartening. For teachers, one of the artifacts of education is having a classroom. I had to share with another teacher, but it was definitely her classroom. Instead of worrying about having to travel, think about being mobile, in more than one sense of the word.
According to U.S. News & World Report, there are fewer resources for K-12 education than prior to the recession. With this sobering statistic, it stands to reason that more and more teachers will have to travel from classroom to classroom with their students. I didn’t teach in the age of mobile tech, which made it more difficult to be the mobile teacher I wanted to be instead of just “the teacher with the cart.”
Today, teachers who work with limited resources still have a lot at their disposal along with old-fashioned know-how that can help them be well-oiled machines as well as their carts.
If you are a teacher without a classroom, you have to think like you have a mobile office. By the time I’d taught as a traveling teacher for a whole year, I had basically ditched my desk in the shared classroom. It was impersonal and uninviting. Instead, I took my cart and threatened to spray paint it hot pink. As an alternative to losing my job over a metal cart, I used colorful desk accessories and boxes that expressed my personality.
A bright orange crate for carrying files? Old-school, to say the least, but it certainly projected my character. If you prefer paper over other media, I recommend that you put as much personality in those files. Jeremy Cusick, a sciences teacher from Michigan uses colorful office supplies that help him stay organized as well as show a little flair.
If you want to organize yourself digitally, which will help you get rid of a lot of the stuff that belongs on that cart, start thinking like an entrepreneur. Start by using apps common among teams for collaboration, like Google Drive or Dropbox. My personal favorite is Evernote. I have used it for a long time, and it has come in handy as I went back to school more than a year ago. I use Google Drive as well, but mostly for storing documents. Evernote is my workhorse app. You can organize Evernote nearly anyway you wish. One caveat if you’ve never used it before is that it’s smoother to use if you spend some time designing your notebook hierarchy before you start adding information to it.
I left the classroom altogether just as cellphones, not smartphones, were become ubiquitous among students. Today, teachers stress about how to keep their students from texting and Facebooking during class. By the beginning of this school year, there will be 10 billion mobile internet devices in the world. Why not use those in the hands of your students’ to your advantage?
Return to that list of collaborative apps. If your students would typically be handing in a lot of small written assignments, like in my traveling English classroom, ask them to write and share their answers in a Google Doc. You can review their work without ever having to organize the handing in of stacks of short essays.
Set up classroom Dropboxes for larger assignments, and your students can send you their homework from their phones, tablets, or home. To go truly mobile for your classroom assignments, take a cue from higher education and set up an online classroom. There are many great apps for setting up online classrooms and activities. Use one like Blackboard to start discussions with your students, alert them of homework since you don’t have a permanent place to post assignments, and even create other homework assignments like blogs.
Ten years ago when I started teaching, I used technology like blogging to both make my classroom just a little bit different than everyone else’s and make my paper load lighter. The latter was necessary as my students had access to computers, but I had no permanent home. Today, using technology in the classroom is much easier. For traveling teachers, it’s a necessity. Use a little trial and error to find the combination of basic apps and advanced services that will work for you.