Cover teaching can be quite stressful. You’re going to a new school almost every day. The routines are different, the children are different and the rules are different. It might seem like every time you finally get your head wrapped around that particular school, you just have to start right over again. Here are some suggestions and tips to cover teachers I learned from my time supply teaching for 6 months:
When you first arrive…
1) Arrive early at the school (if you can!)
I found the earlier I arrived, the more time I had to get my bearings of the school, the classrooms and the cover work. Obviously, sometimes life gets in the way and we can’t be there super early. My first day ever as a supply teacher, the trains were not in my favour and I arrived 45 minutes late…yikes.
2) Ask questions!
Most schools will have a packet for you and someone to explain the rules but sometimes schools forget little important details that might make your day a lot easier. Make sure you know how to take the register, how dismissal works (whether it be at the end of the day or in between classes). If there’s log in information for computers, about the rewards system, and most importantly who should you contact if you need help during the lesson and how to reach them (whether it be over the phone, or a classroom to send a student to).
Preparing for the lesson…
3) Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you can’t find the classroom, the cover work or even if you’re locked out of the classroom, ask someone! I found that most teachers are super supportive and understanding and are always willing to help cover teachers. Don’t be embarrassed. This could very well be your first time at the school. give yourself a break!
4) Chat with the staff!
If you’re sitting in the staff room waiting for the lesson to start, chat with the staff. Be friendly! You can also ask them if they know the class you’re about to teach and if they know if there’s any students you should be aware of (whether it be SEN or cheeky students).
5) Look over the materials and try reading class list (if you have time).
I would do this before the lesson so I have a clear understanding of what needs to be done and where to find everything. Sorting those things out in the middle of the lesson while students are waiting usually leads to them acting up. So be as prepared in advance as much as you can. Also, reading the class list gives you time to practice those rather difficult pronouncing names.
6) Write instructions on the board.
At first, I would read the instructions to students. But I noticed, a lot of kids would pull the ‘I have no idea what we’re supposed to be doing Miss’ card (even if I explained it 5 times) so I started writing the instructions in steps on the board (hopefully done before the lesson starts), and I’d also explain all the steps verbally. No excuses this time, it’s on the board!
During the lesson…
7) Use the support staff!
This is a big one. If you’re lucky enough to have a TA in the room with you, ask them questions! They are there to help you and they know the students, routines and rules better than you. Chat with them! A majority of TA’s I’ve been with have really appreciated that I would turn to them for support rather than act high and mighty.
9) Be friendly with the students.
If they ask you questions, answer! Obviously, sometimes they ask questions to waste class time so don’t spend too long. But there isn’t harm in answering questions like ‘Miss, where is your accent from?’
10) Again, don’t be afraid to ask for help (it happens to the best of us).
Over my time supply teaching, I learned this valuable lesson; you are a cover teacher and students don’t know you well enough for them to respect you like they do other teachers in the school. There have been several times where the behaviour would start getting out of control and, trust me, sometimes it’s better for you, the students and the school if you ask another teacher for help rather than tackle it all by yourself. Asking for help isn’t accepting defeat. If anything, many teachers and schools have thanked me for calling someone to help because they would prefer that rather than the situation to continue to get out of hand. Obviously, try your best to manage the room without disturbing others. But you’ll soon realize the point when it's time to call for support.
At the end of the day…
11) Always leave a note.
Even if they were the most well behaved class, let the teacher know! I got in the habit from day one of leaving a note explaining behaviour (good or bad), their focus, what work we did/didn’t get done and I also started including names of students who worked really well and students who particularly were disruptive. I tried to be as descriptive and detailed about what happened in the lesson as I could. Who knows if the teachers actually would read my notes or took them into consideration but I would do it anyway.
12) Tidy the room, leave it organized, and mark any same-day assignments.
Do this as best as you can. I would make sure the workbooks were back where I found them, texts books were back in the cupboard, chairs tucked in and any large papers were picked up off the floor. If the students were handed an assignment that was to be completed and submitted the same day, I’d mark the assignment and leave a few notes for feedback for the teacher.
Yes, cover teaching is overwhelming at times but you get to meet so many interesting staff and students, you get to know many different places and schools. Cover teachers don't have to bring work home and they can always start the day with a fresh perspective.