Back to School as a Nomadic Teacher

Back to school means setting up the classroom.  Pinterest is already full of amazing ideas for desk arrangement, alternate seating options, bulletin board ideas, and themed decorations.  It’s an exciting time…

Unless you are a Nomadic Teacher (or Cart Teacher).  We’re the teachers that don’t have our “own” classroom.  Due to issues with budgets or space, we have to share classrooms.  Often, we “borrow” another teacher’s classroom during their prep period.  We don’t get to decorate.  We don’t get much or ANY say on seating arrangements, alternate or otherwise.  We may not even get a place to hang our coat and hat (or lock up our purse).

Slide1Back to school for the Nomadic teacher is less about decorating and preparing the classroom.  It’s more about defining the survival strategy and making nice with the teachers whose territory we are involuntarily invading. Some teachers are generous and understanding of the plight of the Nomadic teacher.  Others are a bit more territorial of their space.

I’ve been a Nomadic teacher my entire career.  Here are my survival strategies for back to school:


  1. Establish one or more base of operations.  This may be in the classrooms where supportive teachers allow me space to store things and work.  It may be a spot in the teacher’s lounge or even copy room. Having a place to store things means that I do not have to carry as much around, plus it helps with a sense of belonging.  Bonus if one or more of those spaces is in a classroom where I do teach.
    • Ideally, I establish a space in every room where I am teaching.  A small two-drawer file cabinet is great and relatively unobtrusive.  I prefer space that I can lock up myself– but I do not leave any sensitive material in other rooms.
  2. Plan my route and routine.  Evaluate where my classrooms are and what route(s) would be fastest or best during passing time.  Since I will be fighting my way through the crowd, I need to plan quick and effective routines for end of one class and start of the next.
    • Ending routines: I clean and pack my things early.  Ideally, I only get out what I need, keeping the rest ready to travel.  I aim to collect the last items into my mode of conveyance and be out the door with the last student.  And I’m honest with my students about that I have to be ready to go with them.
    • Slide2Beginning routine: Before moving rooms, I have my beginning routine ready to provide to students immediately upon arrival.  And my arrival may be as the bell rings, if I get caught my students, staff, or slow moving hall-traffic.  Bellwork is crucial in my survival as a Nomadic teacher– I provide the students with an activity they are expected to start upon entry (or at least by the time class starts), and while they are working, I have time to set up the remainder of our class activities.  Half-sheets of paper with assignment directions pre-made are faster to set out than writing things on the board (plus easy to give to absent students later.)
  3. Establish access to computers and printers.  This will depend on what the technology set up is.  In some cases, I may need to share the computer with the teacher whose classroom you are using– such as a desktop– and will need to establish that I will be able to log in as needed.  I prefer to use a laptop, which also ensures I have access to my own files, which, combined with printer access, means I may be able to print off another copy of an assignment or do other prep while students are working.  I also try to establish access to projectors or other media.  Knowing what’s in each room also helps with lesson planning later as I know my resources– from internet to projector to printer.  At times, I do teach things differently for the same course simply because the classrooms I am in have different access.
  4. Slide3Prepare and obtain my modes of conveyance.  I may be provided with a cart– often a two-tier cart better used for transporting audio-visual equipment than stacks of teacher supplies, but hey, at least is has wheels.  Bonus if all wheels roll smoothly and quietly.  Extra bonus if the floor is smooth and not tile-with-grout that is both dreadfully noisy but also excellent at toppling delicate stacked materials… A cart is not guaranteed, though, say, if it is reclaimed for use with audio-visual equipment.
    • I try to make the best of any available cart, includes using different totes and storage.  I’m not afraid to use rope or bungy cords to corral my stuff for travel on uneven terrain or through crowds.  Zip-ties can also be used to hold small storage onto the sides.
      • Hanging Storage File Tote for carrying assignments to classrooms where I don’t have dedicated storage space.  Work best on the bottom, especially since it gets heavy.
      • Art/ Cleaning Caddy for teacher supplies: pens, pencils, staplers, paper clips, etc.
      • Use grip shelf liner to keep stacked totes from slipping on your travels OR totes designed to fit together.
      • I like a small tote, big enough for papers on the top to toss miscellaneous things into between classes.  I can move the tote to a lower position if I need to stack additional items on the top– such as novels when we start a new one, or a box of short stories.
    • A heavy-duty, roomy back-pack or other bag works great for taking home papers to be graded.  I can collect them all day in my classes, stuffing them into the back pack, to deposit at a base of operations for grading, or even just carrying them straight home.  I also use the laptop pocket– standard on most bags these days– to carry my laptop, rather than a separate bag.
    • I am prepared to store and carry everything I will need, down to scissors and art supplies.  While other teachers may offer to share their supplies, they might one day forget to leave them unlock.  Other teachers are a bit more territorial about the supplies they have gathered for their room (and rightfully so if they purchased them), so I generally just bring my own.  A box of regular craft supplies can suffice– I’ve been known to use a copy paper box from the copy room and fill it with scissors, construction paper, a couple rulers, glue, tape, and at least several boxes of 16 count Crayola crayons.  Markers and color pencils are nice choices, if I can get my hands on them.  A set of decorative edge scissors can be fun, too.

Being a Nomadic teacher has its challenges, but with careful planning and storage, it’s manageable.  The important thing is that, while it’s not “My” classroom, I am still in A classroom with my students.  And that’s what makes it all worthwhile.


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