Floating Teachers and Classroom Sharing: How to Equip Teachers for Success
Not long ago, while interviewing for a teaching position, I failed to ask a basic question:
Will I have my own classroom?
I didn’t ask because I assumed the answer was yes. In all my years of teaching, I had always had my own classroom.
But my assumption was wrong.
This article is based on my experiences as a floating teacher and is intended to highlight that there’s a need for the floating teacher and classroom sharing roles to be further defined and developed.
I‘ll explain why it’s important for administrators to establish and enforce clear guidelines and expectations for floaters and for the teachers they share classrooms with.
I’ll offer factors to be considered in deciding which teachers will float, and I’ll suggest how principals can better prepare teachers for this new wave of teaching before they’re even hired.
Have you been a floater or shared your classroom with one?
What are Floating Teachers?
Floaters teach in classrooms that are available during teachers’ planning periods and lunch breaks. They'll often use a cart or bag to transport their materials from one room to the next, and they’re usually provided with a desk as their “base” in a common area within the school.
Why Have Floaters?
Faced with limited school budgets and overcrowded schools, many districts see floating as a cost-effective alternative to constructing additional wings to their buildings or purchasing trailers (mobile classrooms). It's a way to maximize the use of already available space in their schools.
After the initial surprise of finding out (my first week on the job) that I'd be floating, it became evident that there were no school-wide standards in place for how floating and room sharing was supposed to work.
I soon discovered that Mr. B didn’t like me using his desk, and would remain seated at it for the entire ninety-minute duration of my class period. I let him know that my desk (in the copy room) was available while I taught in his room. He laughed.
Mrs. H, on the other hand, told me I was welcome to use her desk, which was completely covered with paperwork and other items, leaving no space for any of my own materials.
Mrs. K made it clear that she wanted her projector remote control kept on the ledge of her dry erase board, while Mrs. J preferred hers inside the metal wire basket attached to the board. Mr. B was very particular about his remaining on his desk.
I once left Mrs. J’s remote on the ledge of her board by mistake. She immediately sent me an email letting me know she was not happy about it.
Several host teachers came in and out of the classroom continually while I conducted my classes, often disrupting my lessons. Was that allowed?
I felt like I was treading water, trying to not step on toes and just go with the flow.
I wondered if this was why the position was called "floater."
"Just Work It Out"
As the weeks passed, I realized that despite my best intentions to accommodate to the other teachers’ habits and preferences, it was becoming increasingly difficult to do so.
Especially since I was trying to focus on teaching.
But I was the newbie in the school and felt pressured to keep my colleagues happy.
I kept trying.
When I asked my supervisor about clear guidelines regarding the floater role and room sharing, I was told that there were none officially established.
He said the school had always relied on teachers to work these kinks out among themselves.
Back to square one.
Positive Rapport Matters
Building a positive rapport with colleagues from the very first day of school is critical and can go a long way in facilitating the room sharing experience.
But it’s not enough.
Responsibility without Accountability is Toothless.— Bob Nardelli
As I thought about my supervisor’s response when I had asked about clear guidelines, it occurred to me that allowing teachers to decide among themselves how they wanted to go about sharing classrooms gave way for a bully culture to take root and fester, especially if the floater was new to the school.
My experience was that some of my coworkers were very territorial of their classrooms. I could sense resentment in some teachers as I arrived at the rooms I'd been assigned to teach in. It was as if I was inconveniencing them by taking up "their" space.
I was just trying to do my job.
My main concern was how this hostile attitude impacted my students. I didn't doubt they sensed what was going on.
We hear so many stories of bullying among students in schools. Yet a bully-free school climate begins with teachers modeling respect and kindness towards one another in their everyday interactions. Our students are watching us.
Clear Guidelines and Expectations
To ensure that floaters and host teachers respect one another’s space and needs, principals need to create and enforce clear and consistent guidelines and expectations for all those involved in room sharing – floaters and non-floaters alike.
Questions to Consider in Creating School-Wide Guidelines and Expectations for Room Sharing:
1. Will the host teacher be required to leave the classroom while the floater teaches?
2. Is it acceptable for the host teacher to re-enter the room continually throughout the class period while the floater utilizes the room?
3. Is the host teacher expected to clear off her desk for the floater? If not, will the floater have designated space in each room where she can rest her materials?
4. Will host teachers and floaters share resources, such as technology?
5. Many teachers rely on seating arrangements as an important part of behavior management. Will student desk arrangements remain in place for the duration of each semester unless otherwise agreed upon by both the host teacher and floater?
6. Will there be a common location in all shared classes for commonly used resources, such as the projector remote? For example: The remote will always be kept on the teacher desk.
7. Will floaters be required to leave each room they utilize in the same condition it was in when they entered?
8. How will administrators enforce compliance with the implemented guidelines and expectations for room sharing? Will they conduct spot observations? Will compliance with these guidelines be included in teacher evaluations?
The Floating Teacher: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving, by Elizabeth Randall
In her book, The Floating Teacher: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving, which is based on her own experiences as a floater, Elizabeth Randall offers teachers tips on how to succeed as floaters, and she offers administrators suggestions that have proven to be effective for supporting floating teachers.
Who Will Be the Floater?
Factors to be considered include:
1. Full-time versus part-time status
2. Student caseload
4. Content area taught
Will student caseload override seniority? Will part-time status override content area taught?
Administrators should use their professional judgment in making these decisions.
It’s helpful to include “floating teacher” and “classroom sharing” as part of the job description in teacher job postings, along with a brief explanation of what each of these roles entails, as some prospective candidates may be unfamiliar with this new wave of teaching.
The interview is another opportunity for administrators to offer additional clarification on what floating and room sharing involve.
It’s also important that principals communicate to candidates that there are clear guidelines and expectations in place in their school for floating and classroom sharing, and that, if hired, teachers will receive the training and materials they’ll need to help equip them for success.
This will give prospective new teachers a sense of reassurance that they’ll be supported in a role that is likely uncharted waters for them.
The teacher orientation is the ideal time to prepare floaters and teachers sharing classrooms with floaters for their new positions by introducing the school guidelines and expectations for these roles, as well as how they’ll be held accountable for them.
Distributing print-outs of this information to all teachers involved in room sharing will help equip them for success from day one!
When teachers know that their needs are respected and validated, they'll experience increased job satisfaction resulting in greater productivity which will in turn have a positive impact on student achievement. Teacher retention rates will likely improve as well.
The greatest payoff, however, will be a healthier school environment for students and staff alike.
© 2016 Geri McClymont