Teachers on carts
Beth Benjamin knew when she hired on as a science teacher at Hudson Middle School she would be teaching from a cart. She joins over a dozen teachers that roll their "classroom" materials from house to house in the Hudson Middle School.
Watching them pack up to five carts and themselves into the elevator is like watching a Chinese fire drill except it is much calmer. It is a matter of efficiency so they can get to their next class on time.
Benjamin teaches sixth- and seventh-grade science, three sections of each in six different classrooms on two different floors. The students also travel out of their home houses to her.
The Hudson Middle School was designed using the house concept. Simplified, it is a step between grade school and high school. Students are assigned a house where they have their lockers and their core classes are taught. Each house has four classrooms, a common area, a teacher's office and storage facilities. Students moved within the house to each of the four classrooms, leaving the house area for classes outside of the core such as music and art. Today, with a student population of close to 1,300 the house concept has broken down. Students travel from house to house for some of their core subjects such as science.
Benjamin, who is from St. Paul, was a substitute teacher in the Hudson Middle School last year. This is her first full year teaching.
"I gravitated towards science because with science you can continue to learn and grow," said Benjamin. "I knew when I was hired that I would be teaching from a cart." There are fourteen teachers at the middle school who, like Benjamin teach from a cart.
Benjamin has added a pair of deer antlers handles to her cart.
"They give me a better turning radius," quipped Benjamin, as she starts rolling out "her" office. She is joined by two other cart teachers. Together they roll toward the elevator. It is the start of the day, before the students are in their classrooms. After riding up one floor, they pour out of the elevator and head to the same house, Avalon, but to different classrooms.
For Benjamin she rolls into a congested classroom, which is clearly used for storage as well. Everything she needs to teach today's lesson is on her cart, including bottles of water for her students to water their growing plants. Her laptop is the first off the cart, plugged into the smart board.
"One positive is the Internet," said Benjamin. "I never lose connection."
"It has been a growth process," said Benjamin. "The first challenge of doing this is to engage my kids and at the same time be portable and simplified. Everything I teach is the same. It is all science, one subject."
Benjamin quickly addresses her class of 16 seventh-grade students. It is the last day before spring break. As a result more than five students are missing.
While she is going over test scores, teaching vocabulary and working off of her cart, the classroom teacher she displaced is working on her laptop in the house common area with a cart of her own.
For both the "cart teachers" and the classroom teachers they displace, it means extended days and attention to organization and efficiency.
Stephanie Heerdt, who is based in the Avalon House, teaches math, history and English studies.
"We have three teachers sharing one desk in the office," said Heerdt, which was why she was in the common area during her prep hour.
As first hour draws to a close, Benjamin gracefully unplugs her laptop, collects the highlighters, while the students begin to water their plants. When the bell rings, she is ready to roll out of the classroom, while Heerdt is waiting at the doorway to roll in.
Rejoining the other two cart teachers, the trio heads back to the elevator, this time through a throng of students. At the elevator, two more cart teachers join them, all five of them and their carts glide into the elevator in a well-rehearsed order. It is on to second hour.
No matter where she goes, Benjamin leaves the classroom as she found it. Any sign of her or her students is gone, except the plants, which in second hour are tucked into narrow hallway.
"I do a lot of labs," said Benjamin. "I have to make the labs portable, which means I may need two or three carts to move the materials."
"It's not just me or the classroom teacher," said Benjamin. "We have to share all of the supplies, for example we have only one set of microscopes. Everything has to be thought through. You can't get to your classroom and realize you forgot something."
Her cart is organized. She has developed a system, so that she can reach and know what will be at her fingertips. Whether it is the attendance book, highlighters, handouts or graded tests for six different classes, there is no wasted movement.