It’s funny to me that when I tell people that I am ‘supply teaching’, I am often met with statements along the lines of “Well that’s pretty easy, you don’t have to plan, and you basically just watch the kids for a day.” At this statement, I usually scoff and reply with “Do YOU remember what you and your classmates were like when your teacher was away?”. This is usually met with a chuckle and a “oh yeah, I see what you’re getting at.”
I think we can all recall a time in our years as students, when the absence of the regular classroom teacher was met with the idea that there was a free pass to try to get away with what you normally couldn’t get away with when the regular classroom teacher was around. Kids being kids, this scenario still often rings true: students, knowing that an occasional teacher is only in for a day and is not familiar with the rules and routines, will try to push some boundaries. For me, when teaching as a daily occasional teacher, this is where classroom management and foresight are paramount to having a successful day. I have started my daily occasional teaching assignments, and in preparation, I read Chapter 7- Preparing for or Being an Occasional Teacher (Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning). I found the practical ideas from Connie were helpful in getting my head around teaching in someone else’s classroom for the day, and in being proactive in anticipating the turns the day could take.
In addition to the good ideas already mentioned in the book, I start out my day with my own bag of tricks. My daily bag is equipped with my desk bell, a whistle (in case I am teaching gym), a book of fun drama activities and a few picture books that are appropriate and liked by many age groups. Along with it, I try to think of a follow up activity that can be used if the teacher hasn’t left any plans or when work is completed and we have an extra chunk of time (for example, plotting the beginning, middle, and end of a book, writing in the point of view, creating an alternate cover page for the book).
For the older grades, I make sure to write Ms. Perrin’s Expectations on the board for the students to see right when they enter into the classroom. My expectations follow along the lines of:
- Be respectful of your classmates and teacher
- Raise your hand and wait your turn to speak
- Ask for permission to use the restrooms or to leave the classroom
- Be kind and do your best
- Let’s have a great day together!
I find that taking this little step sets the tone for the day. The students immediately know who I am. They understand that my expectations are probably similar to their regular teacher’s expectations, and that I want to have a positive day with them. Once the students are settled, I take a few minutes to introduce myself and share a little bit about the grades and schools that I have taught in. This way, the students (hopefully) view me as a teacher (and not as some grown-up impostor who has taken over the classroom for the day). I also take a minute to inform the students of my strategy for getting their attention (ring bell, clap sequence) and what my expectations are for when I use the strategy (stop what you are doing, track the teacher). With these expectations already established, the students are aware of what being successful and being unsuccessful looks like in terms of their behaviour.
Another thing that I do for most grades that I teach, is if the student’s desks aren’t labelled, I will have the students create a personalized name tag that reflects who they are (and maybe include 3 things that they would like to share with me or the class). I find that this is a great community building exercise, that lets the students know that I am interested in learning a bit about them, and it helps me to call on the students by name from the beginning of the day. A few minutes spent at the beginning of the day establishing community and guidelines, help me to set a tone that is conducive to us all getting along and doing what we need to do.
I find it most helpful to envision what I want my day to look like, then think about the things that need to be established in order for that to happen. If you’re starting out as a daily occasional teacher, or are struggling in getting the students ‘on board’ in your teaching assignments, referring to p. 115-116 of Heart and Art is a good place to start. Hopefully my tips will also help some beginning teachers to have a smooth, well managed day of teaching too. Best of luck!