What Are Floating Teachers?
Floating teachers teach in classrooms that are available during their colleagues’ planning times and lunch breaks. They transport their materials and resources from one classroom to the next throughout the school day.
While floaters in elementary schools usually only teach specialty classes such as a foreign language or technology, floaters in secondary schools teach core academic classes as well as some specialty classes.
With ongoing state budget cuts in public education across the United States, more and more school districts are utilizing floating teachers as a means to reduce expenses and maximize the use of available space in their schools.
Which Teachers Will Float?
The resulting dilemma many secondary school principals face is how to decide which teachers in their buildings will be the floaters.
It’s a tough decision for several reasons:
- Most teachers are used to having their own classroom and expect to have their own classroom when they're hired.
- In designating some teachers as floaters, principals feel as if they’re forced to discriminate among their teachers.
The reality is that in deciding who will be the floaters, principals are forced to discriminate among their teachers.
But they must discriminate intelligently.
Maximize Available Space in the School Building
Deciding who will be the floaters is easy if the floating teacher designations are made thoughtfully and rationally.
In determining which teachers in their buildings will float, principals need to keep in mind the underlying reason the floating teacher model was implemented in the first place: to maximize the utilization of already available space in their school buildings.
Maximum utilization of available space dictates that the teachers with the largest class sizes and overall higher caseloads will have their own classrooms, while the teachers with the smallest class sizes and overall lower caseloads will float.
Allowing maximization of available space to dictate the floating teacher designations within each building ensures minimal impact on students and teachers, and facilitates student-teacher communication.
This means that:
- Part-time teachers will be floaters. Their caseloads are guaranteed to be lower than that of full-time teachers. In addition, they are utilizing classroom space for only a portion of the school day.
- Full-time teachers of specific content areas with historically lower student enrollments will be floaters. Examples: advanced math or advanced foreign language classes.
It follows that in any given school, a classroom that seats 35 students will be assigned to the teacher with six classes of 20 to 33 students, while the teacher with five classes of 8 to 15 students will float.
There is a simple solution for the teacher who feels that his seniority entitles him to his own classroom, despite having small class sizes and a significantly lower caseload than his colleagues: Assign him larger classes and increase his student caseload.
Students First: Minimize Impact on Students
When the floating teacher has the lowest caseloads, fewer students are impacted by the floater’s limitations in regard to space and time.
Impact on Students
|Floating Teacher||Non-Floating Teacher|
How easily is the teacher able to provide help to students after class and engage in conversations with students between classes?
is generally unable to provide help to students after class or converse with students between classes because he needs to quickly vacate the classroom for the host teacher (who more than likely needs the room the next period) and arrive to his next classroom on time
is generally able to engage in conversations with students between classes as well as provide help to students after class. The only exception to this is when he needs to vacate his classroom for the host teacher, which is generally only one period per day.
How easily can the teacher accommodate students who need to make up quizzes/tests during lunch or before/after school?
more than likely does not have the space or quiet environment to accommodate for multiple students to make up quizzes/tests during lunch or before/after school – he will need to find an available classroom in the building
is able to accommodate for mulitple students to take make up quizzes/tests in his classroom during lunch or before/after school
How easily can students find their teacher throughout the school day to discuss personal or academic concerns?
more difficult to find by students who may seek him out to address personal or academic concerns, as he teaches in different classrooms throughout the day
easy to find by students who may seek him out to address personal or academic concerns, as he spends most of the day in his classroom
- students’ ability to ask questions and get help from their teacher after class
- students’ ability to connect with and engage in conversations with their teacher between classes
- students’ ability to make up quizzes or tests during lunch or before/after school
- students’ ability to find their teacher during the school day to discuss a personal or academic concern
This is critical because as educators, we are here to serve our students.
Or at least we should be.
It’s the little conversations that build the relationships and make an impact on each student.
— Robert John Meehan
Teachers Matter: Minimize Impact on Teachers
When the floating teacher has the smallest class sizes, the impact they experience as a floater is minimized.
Impact on Teachers
|Floating Teacher||Non-Floating Teacher|
How easily can the teacher access his materials and resources?
has at his fingertips only the resources and materials he is able to transport on his cart from room to room each class period
has all of his resources and materials at his fingertips (in his classroom) all class periods
Where is the teacher’s desk located?
has a desk in a highly trafficked working environment, such as the Math department office or the copy room
has a desk in his classroom
How much privacy does the teacher have to make phone calls to parents or school personnel about confidential students matters, or to meet with parents?
has little to no privacy to make phone calls to parents or school personnel about confidential student matters, or to meet with parents, as his office is located in a central and highly trafficked location
his classroom provides him the privacy to make phone calls to parents or school personnel about confidential student matters, and to meet with parents
- fewer materials and resources to transport from one classroom to the next
- fewer students who have questions or need help after class
- fewer students who need to make up tests or quizzes during lunch or before/after school
- fewer phone calls to make about confidential student matters, and fewer meetings with parents that warrant a private environment
- quicker and smoother evacuation of the host teacher’s classroom at the end of the period, which ensures an easier transition between classes
Effectively Implementing the Model
Maximizing available space in school buildings is the reason the floating teacher model was created in the first place and should be the guiding reference point in determining which teachers will float. It follows that floaters will be the teachers with the smallest class sizes and the overall lowest student caseloads. This minimizes the impact on both students and floaters, while at the same time facilitating teacher-student communication within the school.
© 2016 Geri McClymont
H.W. on November 03, 2019:
This winds up meaning that the special education teachers (with smaller class sizes) are floating teachers. This is the case in my school. It is a disgrace to our vulnerable special education students, as they get a lower quality education, and to the teachers. Veteran teachers should not be made to float classes for their entire careers (it is very stressful). Regular teachers seem to have a 1-3 year wait before they get their own classroom - this does not happen for the special education teacher. The best we can hope for is sharing a room, which is far from ideal.
Geri McClymont (author) on October 16, 2016:
Thanks for stopping by, MsDora, and I could not agree with you more. If schools have to utilize the floating teacher model, then at the very least they need to make the floating teacher designations intelligently so as to minimize the stress on both students and teachers. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 16, 2016:
Thanks for making us aware of this situation. Teaching in an ideal situation has enough challenges; imagine when complications are added. Appreciating the work teachers do, and hoping for improvement to make their jobs less stressful.
Geri McClymont (author) on October 09, 2016:
Thank you for your comment, always exploring. Yes, it is a challenging situation for all those involved. Hopefully, future funding will reduce the need for floating teachers in schools.
Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on October 09, 2016:
This is a sad situation that shouldn't exist. Education is so very important, and teachers in my time, were like family. Let's hope that funds for education will be the top priority in every school. A well researched article. Thank you....