Every morning, French teacher Heidi Sant frantically rushes to organize her traveling classroom, attempting to stuff all the materials for her french lessons into a tiny cart. At the sound of each bell, she staggers through crowded hallways towards her next class, wondering when she’ll finally get a classroom of her own.
Unfortunately, Sant is not the only teacher facing this challenge. Oyster River’s growing student body and lack of available space have left the school’s most recently hired teachers without classrooms. Instead, four “floating teachers” must migrate between rooms assigned to other teachers, often transporting an entire day’s lesson materials on a cart or within a bag. If incoming class sizes are larger, the number of teachers sharing classrooms is only expected to escalate. While these teachers have tried to adapt to this unconventional model, most view it as unsustainable, acknowledging that there are limitations to how they teach and the connections they can make with students.
“I would change professions if I had to do this for years,” says Sant, who was unaware she wouldn’t receive a classroom when she was hired in 2020. As someone who travels to a different destination almost every period, Sant spends a lot of time preparing her cart for the school day and is constantly scrambling from room to room, making it difficult for students to find her.
“I feel like it undermines my authority as a teacher because my kids don’t see me as a permanent fixture,” says Sant. “Part of the joy of teaching is building that sense of community, and I feel like not having a classroom impacts how your students see you.”
Hazel Stasko, a sophomore in Sant’s French 3 class, recognizes that Sant’s lessons are negatively impacted when students can’t reference posters on the wall, or are missing a document that Sant hasn’t brought with her. “I think students have less respect for her […] They don’t realize how challenging it must be to use a cart as a classroom,” says Stasko.
Science teacher Sara Cathey was also a floating teacher when she was hired eight years ago and, like Sant, remembers feeling isolated from the students and staff who could never locate her. “Nobody could find me […] Now, I spend so much time in my room, and I have seven years of student artwork posted; all of my equipment is in here,” says Cathey, motioning to the student work and posters that adorn her walls and hang from her ceiling. “I have everything I need with me, and there is an absolute comfort and confidence that comes with being able to teach on the fly. When I didn’t have a classroom, I was limited with what I could do and I could not teach spontaneously.”
On top of organization struggles and chaotic transitions between classes, it is difficult for floating teachers to plan creative and engaging activities. “There are limitations to what teachers who have minimal time and materials in a classroom can do,” says Dr. Megan Thompson, a science teacher who rotates between five different classrooms.
Although Thompson wants to plan more engaging labs for her biology and NextGen students, she feels she never has enough preparation time as a floating teacher. “Sometimes you want to get there before students and get things set and ready, even if it’s just to write stuff on the board, but I can’t do that because I am running from another classroom.”
Vivian Jablonski, a math teacher who taught without a classroom her first year, sympathizes with Thompson. “All of the teachers I shared with would have been fine if I needed to move the tables for an activity, but it’s just peace of mind knowing that I could go to my classroom and make any given choice, not having to worry about making sure it lines up with everything”
Currently, the school is working to minimize the amount each floating teacher is traveling throughout the day, but some feel their schedules are still too hectic.
“It’s all about consistency,” says Cathey. “There is so much that goes on in a teacher’s day, and a lot of it is unexpected. That adds an element of stress and uncertainty that you can’t control. Your room is something you can control.”
As a former floating teacher, Dean of Staff Mark Milliken understands the difficulties of constantly moving and sharing rooms, but he believes that teachers should look at classrooms in a new light until a better solution is put in place. “It is a culture change to give up what you consider to be your own classroom. It is new for this building, and it is an adjustment, but we are trying to get teachers to view [classrooms] as more of a shared space, and that is tough.”
Sant thinks people should embrace the aspects that make a classroom personal to a teacher and the classes they teach, and that sharing classrooms takes away from this.
“Every teacher deserves their own classroom,” says Jablonski. “It needs to be a priority.”
– Abby Owens (Guest Writer)
Photo taken by Madelyn Marthouse