There are myriad reasons why educators end up teaching on a cart. In middle school and high school, teachers and students move around a lot in different learning environments, but even in elementary school, teachers are sometimes asked to become mobile. As a school librarian covering weekly special classes for students, this happens quite frequently throughout my school year. Honestly, I feel lucky that this is a sporadic event. With drastic budget cuts and the constant struggle to meet the needs of students with shrinking budgets, many librarians and other school staff are homeless and spend all their time travelling.
While it’s clear to most that a library is the most productive place to teach book handling skills, conduct book studies, explore Makerspace materials, discuss digital citizenship, and generally meet the standards set by school librarians, it is possible to operate it on the road. Below, I’ve put together some tips that have helped me successfully teach on a cart. Whether I was moved by state testing, professional development, or some other disruption, these insights allowed me to support my students and be flexible for whatever reason.
Have a cart, will travel
Even if teaching outside of the library is just an occasional thing, having a dedicated vehicle for all your materials can take a lot of the stress out of this nomadic situation. Of course, if the lifespan of your cart is consistent, the details of how you move become even more important. In the past, whenever I needed to travel, I emptied a huge cart (think: the one that housed the TVs and laserdisc players) that served as storage. This meant that while being moved, I also returned to a huge mess. I’ve also used empty book trucks for travel – it’s a bit more manageable as far as steering goes. However, if we’re being honest, I never have all my books on the shelves, so emptying a truckload of books always leads to disorganization.
My final solution to this problem is a small, dedicated crafting cart. These three-level carts are everywhere and you can find them for organizational inspiration all over the internet. The high sides on each level means I can easily fit tons of books, papers and gear. The dollar store sells small cups that clip onto the sides, creating instant pen holders and cell phone holders. I even decorated a little with reading-themed magnets. Having an easily accessible and rather cute trolley avoids having to leave the library.
Take it outside
Typically, when I’m not leading classes at the library, I have to meet with them in their classrooms. In primary school, students spent most of the day in this room. I really hate removing any of the chance to change scenery. For this reason, I have become very crafty in finding places around the school to hold lessons.
My first thought is always, “Can this happen outside? There are of course mitigating factors. Is the weather pleasant? Is the area we meet accessible to all students? What is your contingency plan in case of rain? If you can answer all of these questions, it’s definitely worth teaching in the fresh air. I’ve been very lucky with a fenced yard in front of our school with a covered walkway that we can squeeze through in a heartbeat. I’ve also taught on auditorium stages, in empty computer labs, and even in our school’s spacious lobby. Sometimes a little different can even be fun.
I know you always do. I have found that certain types of lessons work best while traveling, and circumstances can change all the time. Every fall I get moved through a series of standardized tests, and I had an amazing lesson I had to go to – it involved emojis and a book response and worked across the board. It was gold. Except this fall, COVID mitigation rules had removed all meeting mats from every classroom. The reading aloud and group discussion portion of this lesson was much less engaging when students had to stay at their desks.
I was able to pivot, and having students associate emoticons with their feelings about the book worked just as well in small groups, which could happen without students needing to congregate in class. I’ve also found that Mock Caldecott and Geisel votes work well as traveling classes – students can preview books by rotating them in groups and easily vote on the favorite as an exit ticket as I progress. This fits nicely with the time in January when I’m usually started. Although it requires a bit more planning and help from students as I transitioned, I even carried large bins of building materials (LEGO, IO blocks, Magnatiles) so students could have a Makerspace session . This is especially useful if I see courses more than once while I’m moved – you can only read and respond a certain number of times in a row.
Say you’re sorry
This one is simple but impactful. Whenever our routine gets disrupted and students miss a chance to get to the library, I start class with basic excuses. I tell them I’m sorry we can’t meet in the library, acknowledge that it can be difficult to have specials in the classroom, and thank them for welcoming me into their space. I can’t change the situation, but treating my students with respect is free, requires no planning, and goes a long way.
Hope you found something above that can let you live your best teaching on a wagon life! If you’re looking for more ideas as a school librarian, try Playing in the Elementary School Library.