As a teacher, the daily demands of planning, preparing, assessing, and constant learning occupy most of my waking hours. Thankfully, after several years at, what I call, the speed of learning I have achieved what appears to be a work life balance.
One thing I clearly remember, from the start, was a vow to never (emphasis on never) take a day off due to illness, PD, or any other reason. And for a while, everything went according to plan. Steadfastly, I made it 8 months before the inevitable happened. I had to take a day (NTIP will get you every time).
4 brain wracking hours of over planning later, I gave myself permission to believe I was ready to be away. Looking back, I had really over-prepared and I know it…now. From what I reckon, I planned about 3 times more instruction and work on that single day for the Occasional Teacher or OT who covered my classes. Well, better too much than not enough right?
After the experience I began reflecting about that day. My first thoughts were a tad egotistical, truth be told. Did my class(es) behave, were my plans good? Was I going to be outed for not knowing how to prepare for an OT? What if I messed up? I felt a bit vulnerable. What if my colleagues (all experienced teachers) had to cover for me? What would I do the next time?
I also thought about what it must be like for the Occasional Teachers who, on a daily basis, find themselves in a different school classroom teaching someone else’s students and lessons? Did they ever get a chance to feel connected to the lives they were impacting, however brief? I remember the first time I noticed a couple of OTs sitting by themselves in the staff room during lunchtime – little to no eye contact and even less interaction. I didn’t like how it appeared so different than the inclusive environments we were espousing in our classrooms.
Did it have to be this way?
We are all in the same educational boat, but it seems that some are sailing on a different part of the ship. Did I break an unwritten rule the first time I said hello, and invited an OT to sit with our staff to eat? Did I miss a class in teacher’s college that covered how this was supposed to play out?
Perhaps, this was a rite of passage that all OTs had to go through in our profession? If it was, I claim ignorance, but what I observed guided me more towards how I wanted to support these colleagues who were going to occasionally be part of my teaching life. I wanted the OTs that were me for the day to feel welcome and valued in the space in my place.
So, I started with my Day Plans; ensuring they were informative, concise, and easy to follow. As a prep coverage teacher, I made sure all of the resources were marked by subject, class, and time on the schedule. I included names of students who are helpful, descriptions of students who might need extra support, and all details related to any/all safety routines/plans. Thankfully, our school had a booklet printed up with most of the general info to leaf through as well.
I thought about what else could I do? Maybe they’d like a snack? So I included a peanut free granola bar with my plans too. The response was overwhelmingly positive. I had a number of teachers write a personal note saying that no one had ever left them a treat. It made me feel good because we all know as the day goes on a little snack goes along way to staying strong. To this day I have a drawer full of treats ready to share with my OTs. I knew that if a little snack works for my students, it would work for others too.
Now that I’m a homeroom teacher, I share my plans with OTs digitally via Google Apps for Education or GAPPS. This allows me to include links to any internet content like websites or video to be shared throughout the day without having to risk typing in the wrong URLs or mistakenly opening the wrong file(s). The easier I can make their job, the better the day.
Taking stock of my OT plans from last year, it struck me that, for various reasons(mostly giving/receiving PD), I was away over 25 days from my class last year. I had to rely on a host of OTs like never before and with their support not a lesson was missed. Each one delivering the lessons and sharing important feedback after each day.
With more days out of the classroom guaranteed in the future, I know my students are in good hands.
Thank you for reading. Please feel free to share your OT stories and keep the conversation going.