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Going On Your First Date With Supply Teaching

Dating and supply teaching - you wouldn't think they would have many similiarities! Or do they?

Like any first date your first supply day in September is a massive learning curve. What's the best manner to adopt? What to wear? And, after it's over, will I ever be asked again?

This is, of course, assuming the phone has rung in the first place. I only know about secondary supply since I always, despite having raised three children of my own, turn down primary work. "But Year 6 is nearly the same as Year 7," say those nice people at Protocol Education. "You maybe right," I reply, "but I don't have to spend all day with one Year 7 class."

Anyway, the secondary desk at Protocol Education can be a bit quiet in September since all those teachers return full of good health and keen to try out the new approaches they've been working on in their deckchairs. It takes a few weeks for them to realise Year 9 is Year 9 whichever way you approach them so then they start getting poorly.

Meanwhile it is best to prepare for busy times so that when the phone does ring you are ready for work whenever and wherever they want you. If all the jobs are done and the freezer is full of dinners you will at least be able to relax when coming home ragged. And ragged you will be some days.

So how best not to let the bad days get you down?

The temptation, of course, if money is tight is to accept any job that is offered which is fine if it's for up to a week. Knowing you are never going to see some particularly obstreperous class again makes the situation tolerable. But if it's longer in a school unknown to you it is worth asking for a trial period. Unscrupulous establishments have been known - can you believe it? - to dump really difficult classes on unsuspecting supply teachers. And teaching of any sort should never be about dreading going to work or feeling sick at the thought of taking a certain lesson.

Getting through the day means having work for the pupils to do. If none is left or what is left is unsatisfactory seek out fellow teachers for assistance. Some will be helpful but others will treat you as nuisance. Take no notice, it's their absent colleague they should be cross with.

Unfortunately any work that is not integral to their learning programme and which they know is not going to be looked at by their teacher will never be taken seriously by pupils but that does not mean that the supply teacher should not take it seriously. Walk round and comment on their work praising as much as possible. They are usually rather pleased that you are taking real notice of their efforts.

As for discipline, sound assertive from the outset. 'Please' and 'I need you to ...' make you sound just that, needy. Simply tell them what to do and thank them when they have done it. Don't insist on silence. You won't get it and thus look foolish. Just require an acceptable level of noise. As for major infringements it is all very well having a copy of the school's discipline policy but not always easy to implement it at the appropriate level. I prefer to call on a neighbouring member of staff. Never be afraid to ask for help. One usually finds that the intransigent pupil who is causing problems is a known trouble-maker.

And lastly, what should be in one's bag for this first date? Coffee is top of my list, I always take a flask to new schools but also to those where the coffee may be provided/sold but you are terrified of using someone else's cup. (I remember blogging about sitting in someone's chair in the staffroom and being asked to move. Thank goodness I didn't use his mug as well). And a sandwich, of course, for lunchtime. A board pen for where there is none evident. And a few of the cheapest biros to be had.

Invariably in each lesson a child will maintain he or she has nothing with which to write. Firstly, look on the teacher's desk for one. Failing that ask if someone can a lend him or her a pen. Last resort, offer one of your own and make a note on the board. Way back I used to refuse to rummage in my handbag for one of my own telling the child off for not bringing the proper equipment to school blah, blah. Then I realised I was simply making an enemy at the start of the lesson when it was easier to spend a few pence on a pack of pens in Wilkinson's.

If all this sounds a bit forbidding it is just addressing the worst case scenario. When the children have been lovely and you have been part of a positive learning experience, if colleagues have smiled at you, if the first date has been a great success, you don't need any advice.

Lynee is a secondary teacher who is currently working in schools through Protocol Education in Bristol. We are very glad to see her back blogging with us.  

Tags: Lyn, Bristol, Secondary, supply

Category: Australian Teachers

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