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Five things I wish I had known! Part One

Darren is an Irish trained teacher who has recently made the move from Ireland to the UK to teach with Protocol Education. In his debut blog, he reflects on his first term and gives some tips and resources to anyone starting supply in the UK. 

Part One

I moved to the UK from Ireland in August and started working for Protocol in September. It's now the beginning of December and I'm working full time in a lovely primary school in East London as a PPA cover teacher. For the first few months, however, I spent my mornings walking into unfamiliar classrooms, staring blankly as my brain was overloaded daily with new routines and policies and having my sanity pushed to the limit by pupils who delighted in taking full advantage of my greenness. Such is the life of the suppy teacher.

I wouldn't like to give the impression that the last few months have been some kind of nightmare. I had some great days in some wonderful schools and met some amazing people, but it has been a very steep learning curve. I'm now approaching the end of my first full term here in England. While I look forward to going home for Christmas, I thought it would be nice to look back at everything I've learned over the last few months. Maybe I can pick out some tidbits of information that might help other teachers moving to the UK for the first time in January and setting off on the unsteady road of supply teaching.

1. Things will go wrong - Ask your students for help!

Ok! So you've walked into your first classroom, met with your point of contact for the school and picked up your plans for the day. Everything seems to be going quite well. But wait a second, while looking over the plans you discover that you don't seem to have half the resources you're going to need for today's lessons. As you read further, you see that the plans only take you up to 2.45pm while the school day doesn't end until 3.30pm. Just as you're about to go looking for someone who can help, your students begin to enter the classroom. Some immediately start to inundate you with questions as to your identity and the whereabouts of their regular teacher while others simultaneously inform you that, for the first half hour each day, they must go to another room for additional learning support. You finally convince people that if they just take their seats long enough for you to do the register, you'll deal with each of their problems in turn as soon as possible. That's when you realise you haven't been given a log-in for the school's online register...

I'm exaggerating, obviously, for dramatic effect. All of these things have happened to me more than once over the last few months, but usually not at the same time. The point I'm trying to make is that, no matter how well you prepare and no matter how well the school prepares, there will always be times when things go wrong. This is where your ever-helpful students come in. While you might worry that asking the students for help in such matters is their perfect opportunity to dupe you, that any chance they get to leave your sights is a chance for them to misbehave, the fact is that most of your pupils will be very good-hearted and very eager to help.

They know the school's routines and policies better than you and can advise you through your worries in real time. They usually know where to find other members of staff and and any resources you may be missing. What's more, you'd be surprised how the simple words “I need someone who is sitting very sensibly and paying attention to do a message to the office for me” can make an entire room instantly return to their seats with their fingers on their lips. My advice would be to always make students put up their hands and to pick a single person to give you the help you need. If you just ask the group in general you will usually just get a wave of voices shouting back at you in disagreement with each other.

2. Have back-up resources/ideas prepared.

This is particularly important for Maths and Literacy as these are subjects that every class does every day. There will be times when plans have not been left for you and there will be times when students finish their work far earlier than was expected. It's always a good idea to have back-ups to, at the very least, keep the class engaged for 10 minutes while you send a sensible pupil to the office for your plans.

For literacy, a good place to start would be to Google 'Pie Corbett Starter Games'. This will provide you with a number of literacy games which you can download to a USB key and display on your interactive whiteboard if need be. You can also have a collection of word searches and crosswords relevant to each subject you may come across. For maths, there are plenty of times-table games which can be used with any year group. Just ask them which times tables they are currently learning and tailor the game accordingly. I would suggest looking up 'Around The World' and 'Times Table Bingo' as they have proven particularly popular for me.

Alternatively, when students have finished their work early while the rest of the class finishes up, you could ask them if they have any ongoing projects they would like to work on or if they have any 'next steps' they could do (where they review the comments their teacher has left on previous work and complete small follow up tasks). If all else fails, you could allow them to read quietly to themselves. In most schools, children will each have a book at a time that they are reading independently.

In Part Two, Darren with touch on a few more things that will be useful to any teacher begin supply work in the UK. Stay tuned!

Got some tips of your own? Share them with us by emailing Megan at or let us know on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and Google+

Tags: DarrenC, Protocol, Irish, Ireland, Overseas, Moving, Wish, Known, Learning, Teacher, Discover

Category: Australian Teachers

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