The Life of a Traveling Teacher with Nellie Mitchell

Just like so many of you, this year I am faced with the unexpected challenge of becoming a traveling teacher. I had so many questions about this change, but had no idea where to get the answers I needed. Enter the very talented and, might I add, well-traveled art teacher, Nellie Mitchell.

Nellie is from Missouri and after eight (EIGHT!) years of traveling, just got her very own room.

Her blogging home can be found at thislittleclassofmine.weebly.com but today she joins us on AOE to offer some fabulous advice for all the traveling teachers out there. (Be sure to read to the end for Nellie’s Top 10 Tips for Traveling Art Teachers!)
 

AOE’s Exclusive Interview with Nellie Mitchell

 
Traveling Teacher Nellie Mitchell

photo credit Whitney Scott Photography

 

How do you stay organized while traveling?

Staying organized while traveling is essential. One thing that helped me was to keep a small notebook calendar in my school bag. That way, I could keep track of multiple buildings’ schedules, special events and a short version of my lesson plans all in one place. It helped me keep track of events and reminded me of what I needed to prep in advance. I wrote short blurbs about my lesson plans with notes specific to each, such as “Fish Printing – DON’T FORGET THE BRAYERS.” By keeping everything in a planning calendar, I could organize lessons over the course of several months, a whole quarter, or even a whole semester. Planning helps with organization because you can anticipate what you will need.
 

What was the most unexpected challenge that you faced as a traveling teacher?

The biggest challenge for me was the fact that I was always slightly out of the loop with the day-to-day happenings and special events at each school. Due to the nature of my schedule, I couldn’t be at every single staff meeting at every single school, and therefore, ended up missing information. It was hard to be part of every single thing. For some, this could be an easy way to fly under the radar, but for me, it was somewhat alienating. For example, I really wanted to be part of the teacher appreciation luncheons, but missed them at both schools because they were held on days that I was out of the building. Being a traveling teacher means that you don’t always have the opportunity to network and socialize with the other teachers, which can be lonely.
 

What was the most satisfying thing about being a traveling teacher?

The most satisfying thing about being a traveling teacher was the opportunity to sharpen and hone my organization skills. I never knew I could start the day at a high school teaching art appreciation at 7:30, head to either a Kindergarten center or an elementary school for the remainder of the day, turn in my copy request to the right secretary, do lunch duty, enter grades in to multiple systems, hang art displays in multiple buildings, set up and prep materials for lessons to be taught in one room 3 days later, put everything out of the way so that it wasn’t obstructing another art teacher, all while meeting the expectations of multiple principals, meetings, and everything in between. With all of that going on, you sort of feel like a superstar when you don’t forget your phone at home.
 

How do you connect with the staff at multiple schools?

Connecting with other staff members can be tricky. My morning duty interfered with socializing in the morning and it was impossible to eat lunch with others if our schedules didn’t line up. One way I tried to connect was to immerse myself in the social committee at one of my buildings. I volunteered to help plan events like baby showers and birthday lunches. Being in charge of those events helped place me in a proactive position to implement a positive attitude towards the specials teachers, like myself, who were in and out of the building throughout the week. While it was more work and one more thing to juggle, it was worth it. The position helped me build relationships with classroom teachers and gave them a chance to get to know me – I’m a person, not just the art teacher.
 

How do you handle each administration’s classroom expectations when they change from one school to the next?

Honestly, everything a principal expects isn’t going to be clearly outlined in the staff handbook. One principal might value relationships with students, while another might be really critical of hallway procedures. When you aren’t part of the building-level meetings for each building you work in, you don’t have access to this information. The best thing you can do is to get chummy with someone in the building who can give you the inside scoop. Also, don’t be afraid to find out your principal’s favorite Sonic or coffee drink…and surprise him or her with one!

Thanks so much, Nellie, for sharing your insight with us! Read on to see Nellie’s Top Tips for Traveling Teachers. 
 

Nellie’s Top 10 Tips for Traveling Art Teachers

 

1. Refine and sharpen the things that are within your control.

As often as possible be prompt or early. Your administrators don’t know that you are the first one in the building most days or the last one to leave at your other schools, but they will definitely notice when you are late on their watch.

2. Watch out for spelling and grammar errors on displays and bulletin boards.

Your displays are a placeholder for YOU when you are out of the building. Sure, you are expected to put up 4 or 5 displays between all of your buildings, so often you are doing it in a rush as you travel from one place to another. It might be the only thing people see for 3 or 4 days. An error, like transposing the letters in the title MOSAICS on a bulletin board will definitely be noticed by administrators. Double and triple check any notes you send home to parents for typos and misspelled words. You don’t want to receive a copy of a letter that you distributed to an entire grade in your box with red pen marking your errors.

3. Get doubles of resources and materials if possible.

If you have two libraries, get a copy of the book you are reading from both schools so that if you do leave a copy behind, you will have a backup in your car. Try to have a set of items you use a lot, like foam daubers or brayers, at both schools so that you don’t have to take paint-soaked items in your car. From experience, I can say that usually ends in disaster.

4. Create a pouch or tub for each unit.

Create large pouches using poster board and staples for your bigger units. Keep visuals, posters, copies, pre-cut paper, books, artifacts and anything else you need in the pouches and take them with you from building to building. Alternatively, a friend of mine uses a clear plastic tub to transport her supplies so that she can easily see if she is missing any essential materials.

5. Keep a running list of supplies to order.

In your lesson plan book, jot down anything that you consume or almost run out of, so that you can remember to order it the next year. For example if you get low on googly-eyes in October, you probably won’t remember to order them in April. Write items down as soon as you think of them!

6. Take the initiative to build relationships with colleagues.

If a coach or counselor or librarian travels to the same buildings as you do, make friends with them. Put their numbers in your phone, because you might be texting them to bring those paint brushes you left soaking in a sink at your other school. Also, make a friend across the hall (or make friends with the late-night janitor). If you leave your glue gun plugged in, you can always have them run over and pull the plug, which will save you a trip back to that school later.

7. Be a team player.

It is hard juggling multiple special events for different schools, but at least try to participate in the dress up days. Other teachers will notice when you opt out, and it sends the message that you aren’t part of the team.

8. Be flexible.

You are going to forget stuff. You are going to lose that one tiny reminder note that you scrawled the pronunciation for gyotaku on, the very day that you have to say it 1,000 times while printmaking with your 4th graders. Traveling forces you to look at the big picture, but also forces you to focus on tiny details. Know that sometimes you just have to make changes on the fly or alter your script in order to adapt, and that’s OK.

9. Learn the dress code.

Different administrators have different expectations for jeans, capris, leggings, etc. Make sure you check the staff handbook for each and every school you work in and know which policies are in writing, so you can justify your fashion choices if someone is critical.

10. Have a sense of humor.

Once, I was transporting paint jars from one school to the other, tripped over my own two feet, and paint splattered all over my shirt. I had to borrow a shirt from the office for the rest of the day. I hung my paint splattered one in the teacher’s lounge with a note: “I ain’t gonna paint no more!”[/box]
 
 

Traveling teachers, tell us- what did we miss? What is your most helpful tip for traveling?

What have you found to be the pros and cons of teaching at more than one building? 

 
 
 

Jennifer Borel

Jennifer is an middle school art teacher in Kansas who is passionate about creating an organized, well-managed environment where students feel comfortable to learn and explore.

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  • Vicky Siegel

    Great article! I have been fortunate the last 2 years to be in ONE building but have traveled for 20 of my 23 years! It is such a time saver being in one art room. The biggest thing is writing lots of notes to yourself as reminders! And…checking supplies at one school before you leave- so you can bring them over (or send them over thru intradistrict services if you have that). The pros are getting to know more staff and students and understanding the culture at each school. Plus the teachers and students LOVE to see you! You don’t even get to say HI to students in the hallway throughout the week if you are not there, and teachers love that they have prep time when they see you! We all know the cons. One was only have 15 minutes to close down a room, get to my car, travel to the next school, find a parking spot, get to the art room (and it was never how I left it) and start to teach as the kids are waiting for you in the hall! And if it snows and you have to wipe off your vehicle…oh man, those poor teachers miss out on a couple minutes of prep time!! And some literally leave you with their class as you have to set down your bucket, take off your jacket, turn on the lights and the computer and projector, etc. You know how it is! But we love what we do and are always just exhausted at the end of the day! :) Another tricky part is when each school has different discipline plans- but that’s a whole other topic!!

    • https://www.theartofed.com/ Jennifer Borel

      There are so many different things that can play out when you are a traveling teacher! But I am so excited for you to be in one room! Thanks for sharing all that with us.

    • kg

      I have had the EXACT same issues for years with 15 minutes in between the last class at one school and the first class at another- crazy! The thing that gets to me the most though is that I just can’t have much of a relationship with my students when I have 1,400 of them and only see them twice per month. It’s difficult to remember their names and even harder to feel a real connection with them.

  • Sarah Shu

    This article covered so many truths to being a traveling teacher! One tip I would add is to use Google Drive, or something similar for presentations, documents you need, etc. That way, you can’t accidentally leave them at the other school. I also group my items by grade level on my Pinterest page so I can quickly pull up images and videos I want to use in a lesson.

    • https://www.theartofed.com/ Jennifer Borel

      Yes, it is SO important to have a digital backup of your lessons and PowerPoints. I use One Drive, but really anything would work. Another excellent tip!

  • Sarah Shu

    This year, I started leaving out a small sign (“There will be an art class in this room at 1:50pm today”) at my one school for the travel day where I roll in and have to immediately start teaching. In the past, others would use the art room for testing, indoor recess, meetings — not realizing I was going to soon arrive and need the room for a class. It seems to help quite a bit. :)

    • https://www.theartofed.com/ Jennifer Borel

      That is a fabulous idea! I love the little sign as a reminder. Perfect tip!

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  • Julia Tesh

    Thanks so much for this great article!!! Very, very helpful. I am spending a lot of time soaking in all of the advice I can find and taking notes left and right. I recently graduated and will begin my first public school teaching experience as a traveling art teacher for 5 different elementary schools- 1 school per weekday. I am ready for the challenge and growth!