How Does That Work?

The question I get most frequently about being a traveling art teacher is “how does that work?”  It is a true logistics nightmare.  I travel to five different schools, which means that I have to have my supplies with me all the time — usually in the trunk of my car.  I have to haul everything for the day around with me, up and down stairs, and often for a few blocks to wherever I park.  Since I am only in each school for a day, I often do not have a classroom (or a parking spot, for that matter,) and my supply storage in each building often leaves lots to be desired.  Sometimes it is inaccessible (like the school where my two cabinets are often blocked by lunch tables pushed up against them) or really inconvenient (like the school where my one cabinet is right in the doorway of the teacher’s lounge, which is often crowded.)  I usually have to have enough supplies with me to teach 8-9  40-minute classes, with few breaks in between (save a harried 30-minute lunch break), so things have to be ready to go as soon as the bell rings.  It really makes the most sense to keep a lot of supplies at my house and carry what I need to school each day.

On the downside, I am not a superhero.  I don’t even have a lot of upper body strength.  And I am only 5′ tall.  And some of my schools have a lot of stairs.  And there are often steep hills, curbs, chunky pavement, potholes, and lots of other obstacles between my car and my school.  And did I mention that quality art classes require a LOT of STUFF?

Here’s how I make it work:

1.  Wheels!
Clearly, I can’t carry all the supplies around.  I even tried getting a really huge bag, but that didn’t work, either.  A regular sized Art Cart isn’t an option, because several of the schools I visit have multiple levels and no elevator, so I settled for this model:


It was very inexpensive, and I didn’t expect much, but it does the job.  I would like to find a more sturdy model, but this design is just about perfect, and it has withstood a lot of abuse.  It is just big enough to pack a day’s worth of supplies, but not too big to carry up and down stairs.  It can still get heavy, though–  (I did pull a muscle in my shoulder trying to wrestle the thing out of my car when it was parked on a steep hill) so I have to pack ONLY what I need.  That’s where organization comes in.

2.  Supplies
It’s really hard to know exactly how many supplies to pack for a day.  I really have to be careful and ration out supplies, because I have to keep that number as low as possible without sacrificing the quality of instruction.  I also have to monitor the kids closely and make sure they take really good care of the supplies because I don’t carry enough to have replacements. I try to pack my cart like a Bento box.   I found these boxes, which I use to create a little kit for each table or group:


Each box holds 6 smaller boxes (designed for holding photos), which are the perfect size for crayons, oil pastels, collage supplies, etc…  At the end of class, they all go back into the boxes, and nothing spills out when my cart goes into my car sideways.  If I’m using wet supplies (i.e. paint, ink, etc),  I sometimes use restaurant condiment cups with lids to measure out exactly the amount of product each kid needs, and then pack those into a clear plastic shoe box.  Paint brushes fit really well into plastic spaghetti cannisters.  You can get really creative with containers.  Small, plastic baby food containers are perfect for google-eyes, pom poms, and that sort of thing.   It’s more important to find a good box with a tight-fitting lid that is the perfect size for art supplies.  The lid is very important.  A really perfect box that won’t stay shut when your cart is bumping around on stairs or turned sideways to fit in your trunk is really just going to be a pain.

3.  Cleaning Supplies
I wouldn’t want to leave a teacher’s classroom a mess, so I carry a small plastic container with a few cleaning supplies in it.  Most teachers have paper towels, but I like to bring a Magic Eraser with me.  I can usually find them at the dollar store for cheap, and they usually clean just about anything off the kids’ desks.  Plus, the kids love to use them!  I also pack a few nail polish remover towelettes for when we are using Sharpie markers and kids make errant marks.  Note: this is only good for certain kinds of desks.  Do not use on wooden desks!

4.   Teacher Stuff
Since I travel, I do not have a desk, for all those “desk items” teachers need to have.  So, in my cart, I have another small plastic container with these items:  Pen, “grown-up” scissors, staples, Scotch tape, tape for hanging art, Post-it notes, bandages, Neosporin, a nail file, a small tin of hand salve, a fingernail brush, Advil, and anything else I might think of.  I can usually borrow a stapler, tape, staple removers, etc… from other teachers, but I always repay them if I use a lot of tape or staples.  I also have a plastic accordion folder for administrative papers I don’t want messed up — order forms, behavior slips, notes I need to respond to, etc…

5.  Lunch!
Lunch can be tricky.  Since I have to carry EVERYTHING with me all the time, I don’t really want to carry anything I don’t have to.  But school lunches are no good, and I have a wedding dress to wear in a few months, so junk food is out!  And I really don’t like to use plastic to keep food, especially when I need to heat it.  I found a small ceramic bowl with a plastic lid to heat food in, and that’s working pretty well.  The lid is plastic, but that’s the best I can find, and it fits in my small, waterproof lunch bag really well with an apple and a spoon, so that works out.  It looks kind of like this:

I put a little bit of dinner in the bowl the night before and grab it in the morning.  This is a lot healthier and cheaper than frozen lunches, and I don’t have to eat cardboard-tasting chicken nuggets from the cafeteria!

6.  Coffee!  
Coffee is very important to me to get through my hectic day.  Nothing beats this travel cup.  It’s gotta be able to close up and seal shut so it won’t spill in the cart, or it won’t work for me.  I really need to get a new one because mine got left behind in one of my schools.  D’oh!

7.  Purse
Because I have no place to store it, I have to carry my purse with me.  This has forced me to find a small purse that I can stuff down into my cart, away from thieving (or just curious) little hands.  I leave cash at home, though, and my phone stays in my pocket.


8.  iPad
I also have a laptop, but carrying it around was a pain, and I really do not have the time to plug it in, turn it on, get it to log in, and then use it.  I’ve found that the iPad is big enough to allow me to share example pictures with students, and I can also use it to do grades, set class schedules (yes, I do use the Alarm Clock function as sort of a bell schedule, or I would never be able to keep my 5 different schedules straight!), record lesson plans, and even take photos of student work.  Without the iPad, I would be lost!  Of course, it goes on top of everything, and is in a good, sturdy case.  I never, EVER let students use it, which is sad, because there are a lot of really cool apps for them to use.  Maybe someday my schools will have iPads for students.

Believe it or not, all this stuff fits into my cart.  I have never weighed it (that would be a fun idea!) but it isn’t too heavy for me to carry up and down stairs, although it is cumbersome.  Next year, I will trade in two of my biggest multi-level challenges for a bigger, one-level school, so that will make things easier.  And of course, I am always analyzing my system and improving as I learn new things.

What works for you?  What makes your day easier?


2 thoughts on “How Does That Work?

    1. Hahaha! It has its pros and cons. Logistically, it’s a bit crazy, but I really love it. I so love teaching art to elementary kids. Of course, I would love having a classroom and seeing kids more than once a week, and all that, but this is how Elementary Art works in this school system.

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