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Thursday, 22 August 2019

How to not spend a fortune on prizes this year.

I am currently in a hotel lobbby with a very didgy WIFI signal, so appologies if this is a bit brief or sloppy this week!

This is not going to be a discussion on whether or not to use prizes as a form of praise. I think you totally should.  Not always, there are plenty of occasions where your good favor should be reward enough, but for those moments when a child has gone above and beyond, I think a special treat is warranted.  Exactly what those moments are is up to you.

I have never subscribed to 'Star Pupils' or 'Treasure Box Children'.  I think they are tokenistic and often devolve into a glorified checklist inevitable resulting in the agony of 'how the heck do I make sure this child receives something?  Almost every school uses some sort of Friday certificate scheme, leave the awkward decisions for that.  

I should also mention that I am something of a convert when it comes to prizes and physical recognition of preferred behavior.  I used to be a curmudgeonly type who would openly declare that children should do the right thing because it was the right thing.  What can I say?  We were all young and stupid once.  I have my wife to thank for my heart growing three sizes.  I came home and told her about a particularly naughty child who had been told off, first by me, then by the Headteacher.  The child had done something terrible but at the time I felt like I had dealt with it.  The Head became involved because he happened to be visiting the room while I was reprimanding the child and decided to reinforce my decision as a teacher, and the various school rules broken by the child.  

My wife was not impressed.  She asked if the child needed to be publically told off twice.  I admitted that he probably didn't, but he was unlikely to do the bad thing again.  He definitely knew he had done something wrong.

My wife remained silent for a while.

"Does it work the other way round?"  she asked.  "That child was told off until he knew he was in trouble.  Do you praise the children until they know they've been praised?"

And that struck a chord.  I was all for praising children when they tried or did the right thing or made me laugh but it was usually a verbal 'well done' or something similar. Did I praise the children until they knew, publically, that they had done the right thing? Could it be that some token of good behavior was valid?

I mentioned this to a teacher friend of mine from a different school who said that it was a waste of time.  It seems he didn't buy into all that 'hippie shit'.  And that 'kids don't even want it.'  That's what clinched it for me. 

Nobody does anything without incentive.  We go to work, yes we love our jobs, but would we do it for free?  No.  And we have the luxury of choosing to go to work.  Okay, if we don't go to work, we don't get paid (unless we call in sick) but that is still an incentive.  The only people at school who don't have a choice, who have to be there by legal decree, are the children.  We expect good behavior from them.  We should expect good behavior from themBut that doesn't mean we can't provide the positive feedback of incentives for good behavior.  

Here are some of the things I have used that have been successful in the past.  None of them cost anything.

1. Treat them like a dog

This sounds awful, I know.  But they love it.  Pat them on the head, rub their back, treat them like te little terriers they are.  All the time saying what a good girl/boy they are.  Go fully doggo on them.  Who's a good boy/girl?  You are!  Yes, you are!  You're probably cringing while you read but I've done this and it works.  The child ends up smiling; the rest of the class have a friendly giggle and everyone knows what exemplary behavior looks like in my classroom.

2. Tell them they can smile, but set a limit.

This is excellent work, Janey, you may smile for ten seconds today.  That's all it takes.  The great thing about this one is that it is so ridiculous that the child immediately begins to smile and you get to tell them not to waste their smile time.  Tell them they only have seven seconds left now and that their parents will want to see a smile at the end of the day, so stop wasting it.  One of two things will happen then.  The child will either try to stop smiling (something that is very cute to see) or they will flat out laugh.  At which point, you walk away tutting over their flagrant disrespect.

3. Give them a round of applause.

The way I do this is to walk over to the child, tell them to stand up (all very deadpan), then tell them to stand on their chair.  Then explain to the class that this person has [insert preferred behavior here] and needs a round of applause.  The class applauds.  The child smiles.  You help them down.  I usually end this one with a stern sounding 'now get on with your work.'

4. Make sure you have a system.

I've spoken before about my behavior chart and that it not only chronicles negative behavior but also positive.  Once this system is in place, it is simply a case of telling them to circle a letter.  (The letters spell 'PRIZE'.  What I love about this is that even if a child has done something bad in a previous lesson, they can still achieve a reward through the day.  Because the behavior charts are separate, they're 'bad choice' doesn't go away.  They still have to acknowledge that it happened but they can also see that one bad choice doesn't have to define them.
If I want to go totally mad, I'll tell them to circle two letters.  If I think they deserve crazy peer-recognition, I'll tell them to circle a letter for everyone on their table.  It's completely free so the cost to effectiveness ratio is astounding!  I'll provide a link to an editable behavior chart when I get back from my holiday.

5. Have a prize bag.

I know, I know, I said this list wouldn't cost you anything.  And it doesn't have to.  I had prize bags bursting at the seams for the whole school and it didn't cost me a penny.  Here's how.  Whenever I went anywhere (CPD, conference, BETT - BETT is a goldmine for prizes) I would pick up free pens, stickers, fluffy bug things, prizes from Christmas crackers absolutely anything.  I would put it in my prize bag, or my 'Bag o' Crap' as the staff knew it, and if a child had done something exemplary, and I mean completely off the scale, they would get five seconds to have a rummage and pull out one thing from the bag.  This was also the prize at the end of the 'P,R,I,Z,E' behavior scale.  This tat was revered by the children not for what it was but for what it represented.  I gave everything in that bag value.  If a child pulled out something truly crappy, I would say that it was in there by mistake and that they had to swap it with something else.  It was mine, you see, and I really wanted it back.  80% of the time, the child held on to it more tightly and refused.  
Incidentally, my wife cottoned on to this bag of mystery and decided that it could be used as a house-clearning device.  Once a term, I had to go through the house and gather all of my 'toys' or any novelty mugs that we didn't need/use and put them into the bag.  When non-teacher friends find out, they start donating their crap as well.  Your bag will fill very quickly!  The look on a child's face when they pull out a Storm Trooper cereal bowl (Star Wars, not Nazi) is something to behold.

So that's my top 5 ways to praise children until they know they are praised.  If you've read this far, please leave a comment below.  Do you disagree with anything I've said?  Have I missed something obvious?  Is there a topic you would like me to write about?  Let me know!  As always, I can be found on Twitter or on my website, where you will also find my 'Supply Closet', a selection of resourse-free acitivities for English and Maths that are designed to last at least an hour.  Perfect if you've been left with a class but no plans!

Carl Headley-Morris

@Mr_M_Musings     www.mrmsmusings.com     bit.ly/carlslearningplace

Friday, 16 August 2019

It's important to take regular breaks...

I am on holiday this week and next week and I have just been told that my family (who are travelling up from Cornwall) have just been left behind by the Megabus they were on.  So I'm having a bit of a 'mare!

Anyway, in lieu of any biting social-educational commentary this week, I thought I would provide an extract of a children's book that I am in the middle of writing.

As always, comments, spelling corrections, etc. are welcome!

Enjoy!

________________________________________________________________________



Extract from Slipstream 
by Carl Headley-Morris


“Sarah,” said her mother, in a very exhausted tone suggestive of having lived the same argument over and over again, like a bad song stuck on repeat, “if you’re going to be so childish about the whole thing then I don’t see the point in continuing.”  

“Fine!” Sarah shouted, “Don’t continue it.  Just leave me alone!”

“I can’t just leave you alone, young lady, this is serious.  It’s the third time this week that you’ve…”

“Young lady?!  Mum, I’m not five!  You can’t young lady me anymore.”

“You’re right,” the voices on both sides were getting louder, “you’re not five anymore.  Not that anyone would notice judging by your behaviour lately.”

“Sarcasm?  Really, mum?  That’s mature.”  She performed a slow clap, the delightful irony lost on her for the moment.  “Did they teach you that in parent school?”

Her mother let out a noise.  It was supposed to be a disbelieving exhalation, but sounded, in truth, more like the quack of a constipated duck.  “I wish there was a parenting school, then I could…”

“Oh no you don’t,” Sarah interrupted, “you’d fail every single subject.  Trust me.”  Sarah quickly weighed up the pros and cons of being a smart-arse.  She decided the collateral damage would be worth it.  “And it’s were, the situation is completely impossible so you would use the subjunctive.  Looks like you’d fail real school, too.”
Boom!  

“Go to your room, Sarah, I don’t want to see you for the rest of the night.”

“Suits me.  I don’t want to see you again for the rest of my life.  If I were old enough, I’d leave!”

And with that, she stomped up the stairs to her room.  The slam of the door reverberated around the whole house.

Once inside her bedroom, Sarah picked up the nearest object and threw it (checking first that it was soft enough not to break - she was angry with her mother, not her stuff).  Having thrown a stuffed elephant, she then threw herself on to her bed, face down, and let out a scream.

Sarah was not known to scream into pillows.  She was not known to scream at all, truth be told, and this was probably why what happened next did not seem unusual until it was entirely too late.

The scream seemed to fill the room.  The noise was all-engulfing and altogether more present that the scream of a young girl should have been.  It sounded like the very walls of reality were being ripped apart.  The sort of shriek that would cause banshees to pause in shamed disbelief.  And it continued long after her lungs had emptied themselves of air.  Then there was the light, or lack of it.  Sarah had rolled onto her back when she noticed her scream had outstayed its welcome and saw the room, sort of, well, melt.  No, not melt exactly, but the colour had definitely drained, like the room was suddenly very poorly and about to be sick.  Then, apparently not wanting to be outdone, the noise kicked things up a notch, tuning from a demonic shriek to a deafening moaning and groaning.  The sound an ocean liner would make if it were to be squeezed into a balloon made of wet latex.  Then the lights decided to join the dance, flashing and swaying, despite an eerie lack of breeze.  At the very point that reality seemed to have been stretched just a little too far, it popped.  That was the only way to describe it.  There was a loud pop, everything seemed to swell for a second before disappearing altogether, and then there was silence.  Except for a frustratingly similar ping sound every few seconds.  

Sarah rubbed her eyes and looked around.  There was too much going on to make sense of, so her brain decided to focus on the tall, skinny man wearing a smart suit and bowler hat, who was looking down at her.

“Where did you come from?”  He said.

***

The room was anything but normal, assuming that her bedroom was the standard being used for normal.  It would have been a perfectly normal room, to the point of boring, if one were to compare it to, say, a submarine.  There certainly were a lot of lights and levers and buttons and holes in the metal floor.  But her bedroom?  Not a bit of it.  Where were the posters of ponies, puppies and boy bands?  Where were the straight walls for that matter (these ones were definitely curved)?  And what was that pinging sound?  There was also the curious feeling that the room was moving.  Sarah couldn’t work out whether it was moving quickly or slowly, but it was moving.  She felt like she was in an elevator but going along the ground instead of up or down.  Where was she?  How had she got there?  On a more positive note, the rage she was feeling had yielded the floor to confusion, so there was that.  And the man.  Why was there a man?

“Well?”  He asked, the merest touch of frustration creeping in.

“Well what?”

“Where.  Did.  You.  Come.  From?”

“Where did I come from?  That’s rich!  Where did you come from?  And what’s happened to my room?”

“Your room?  As in, bedroom?”  Now it was the man’s turn to look confused.  He turned to a console and tapped a few buttons.  The pinging was still there.  “Oh!”  He said eventually.  “Well, that makes more sense than anything else, I guess.”  He turned back to Sarah and extended a hand to help her up to her feet.  “By any chance,” he began slowly, narrowing one of his eyes to a squint, “are you an Etherial?”

Sarah thought for a while.  “No.”

The man was still mono-squinting.  “Are you sure?  You might be and just not know it.  The world seems to be full of people who think they are normal and end up being absolutely essential to the proper functioning of the universe.  May I just…”  He plucked a hair from Sarah’s head.

“Ouch!”  She shouted, punching him in the arm.

“Ow.”  Said the man, genuinely surprised at her reaction.  “I’m trying to help.  I can analyse the DNA in your hair and clear up this whole mess.  Won’t take a jiffy.”  He swiveled heal-and-toe, placed the strand of hair in a recess in the wall and tapped on more buttons.   “It’ll be great if you are an Etherial, I must say; it’ll make my job so much easier.”

“I’m not.”  she said, matter of factly.  “You’re going to be disappointed.”

“You’re sure?  Have you ever felt like you were in the wrong place; the wrong time, even?”

Sarah thought about it.  “Well, yes, sometimes.  More often than not, recently, actually.”

“Mmmhmm.  And on a scale of one to ten, how well would you say you understand your immediate family?”

“Ha!  Minus 3!”

“Well, it would add up.  How exciting!”

“But this doesn’t make any sense,” began Sarah, starting to take some tentative steps around the room.  “How could I be an… Ephemeral?”

“Etherial.”

“Etherial, whatever, how could I be one?  I’ve been just a normal girl for as long as I can remember.  I mean, I’ve lived in the same house ever since I was born.”

“Well that’s not true, is it?  I’m assuming your first address was some sort of hospital.  It’s perfectly possible that you went from the hospital to your Etherium training ground where you had your implant placed in some sort of dormant state until now, exactly when I needed you.  It’s happened before.  They usually put it in the pituitary gland - it makes it hard to spot, or accidentally dislodge.  That can be nasty!”

“It that true?”  She asked, a little too enthusiastically.  Had the man been paying attention he would have picked up on the sarcasm in her voice.

“Oh yes.  Clever bunch, the Etherials.”

“Right from the hospital?”

“Yup.”

“And my parents?”

“Either wouldn’t have noticed or wouldn’t have known.”  He looked away from the glowing recess for the first time since placing the hair.  “Or, on very rare occasions, they would have been in total compliance.”  He turned back to adjust some controls.  “That usually happens when one Etherial creates another.  It’s a very special thing.”

There was a droning beep and the glowing recess stopped glowing.  Some paper tape ticked its way out and the man ripped it off and read it excitedly.

“Oh,” he said, dropping his arms.  “You’re not an Etherial.”

“I wasn’t born in a hospital either.”

“Stable?” he asked hopefully.

“Kitchen.  Quite unexpectedly by all accounts.  I wasn’t due for a few days.”

“So you’re not special at all.”

“Ouch.”

“Sorry, but I was kind of hoping.”   He sighed.  “Well, I guess that brings us back to: Who are you?”

“Erm, no.  Who are you?  You’re the one who’s kidnapped me, the least you can do is give your name.”

“Kidnapped?  That’s rich!  I haven’t kidnapped you; I don’t even know where you came from.  You could be a spy.”  He stopped short.  “Are you a spy?”

Now it was Sarah’s time to sigh.  “No.  Why?  Are you worth spying on?”

“I’d like to think so.  I’m very important.  In some circles.  If you’re not a spy, you’re a stowaway.  how did you get aboard my duck?”

“Stowaway?!  First of all, mister whoever-you-are, I am not a stowaw… duck?  Did you say duck?”

“Yes.  You’re in my duck.  I want to know why.”

“Okay, now I’m totally lost.  What do you mean, duck?  Does that stand for something?”

“No.  Well, I mean, it could.  I guess.  But it doesn’t.”

“So we’re on a duck?”

The man laughed.  Out loud.  A very tickled oh-my-gosh-are-you-hearing-this kind of laugh.  “N-ho-ho-o!  We’re,” gasp, “we’re not on the duck.  That would be absurd.”

“Oh.  Then…”

“We’re in the duck.” He allowed his giggle to die to a chuckle.  “On the duck, teehee…”  He suddenly became much more serious, “if we were on the duck, we’d both be dead.”

A while ago, Sarah’s anger had gone to the green room of her brain, where all the emotions and better-known fantasies go to calm down and have a drink.  Having exchanged a few long-term memories and accidentally created at least three new phobias, it left.  Brushing off some crumbs from its chinos, it strolled back over to the stage of Sarah’s emotions, thanked confusion for stepping in at such short notice, and took up where it left off.

“Fine.  IN the duck.  Whatever.  Who the hell are you and where the hell am I?”

The man in the suit and top hat either didn’t notice the change in tone or didn’t care.  Still chuckling, he began:

“We are in a sort of ship, I suppose.  It’s shaped like a duck.  But a big one, you haven’t been shrunk or anything, nothing weird like that.  And you are, well, we are in the Void.”  He offered his hand again.  This time to shake hers.  “My name is Spindle.”


Carl Headley Morris

           @Mr_M_Musings       bit.ly/carlslearningplace      www.mrmsmusings.com

Friday, 9 August 2019

Keep Calm and Don't Let the Kids Die!

August is a magical time of year.  You've been on holiday long enough to have stopped thinking about school for maybe a day or two; the sun has put his hat on (this year it was a Wednesday); and you get paid... for being on holiday (I know, I know, we are salaried and the August paycheck is actually our hard-earned money divided into twelve... don't @ me!  I always enjoyed telling my non-teacher friends that I got paid in August, just to see the look on their faces). That is, unless you do not have a full-time, contracted position. If you're a supply teacher, it can be quite a different matter.

I tried to find out how many supply teachers there were in the UK and for some reason, I could only find a rough estimate for the supply teachers in Wales (~4500).  Four and a half thousand in Wales alone. So I'm going to do a rough estimate and say that there are significantly more across the whole of the UK. Supply teaching is big business... for the agencies.  For the professionals who provide the service, not so much. In London, the average supply teacher can expect to earn between £140 - £180 per day (that's around £17 - £22 per hour) depending on which agency you are with and your experience level.  Well, I say it depends on experience, in reality, since the agencies can charge the school up to £200 a day (in my experience, it tends to be between £160 and £180 in London), there is a cap on the daily rate you can expect.  Requesting more because you have years of experience is likely to result in someone else getting the slot. I recently supplied for a term (I took a sort-of-sabbatical to do an MA full time) and thought that over a decade in the classroom, most of it in Year 6, with English and Computing coordinator roles and lots of SLT experience would be an advantage.  

It was not.

Well, not so far as the agency paying me is concerned.  When it came to moonlighting in a different class every day, it was a big help.  More on that later.

I think the most important thing I learned was that, as a supply teacher, you are not the client; you are the product.  The client is the school.  And the agency makes its money from the client.  They do not care about you. They care about their reputation with their client.  IF you have a bad experience, sure you can tell the agency and they will listen (they may even sound sincere in their concern) but at the end of the day, they will side with the school because it is the school who pays them.

That sounds harsh and I am not saying that supply agencies are mercenary bastards who would rather throw you under the school bus, but I think it is worth remembering where you as a supply teacher stand in the greater scheme of things.  Most agencies will want to make sure you are treated well and they will listen to concerns involving how schools have managed things like your arrival and safety but they are a business and businesses need to be paid. Sorry to harp on, but it's important that we're realistic.

Sometimes though, that perfect job interview didn't quite work out and we find ourselves in August hate-liking Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts about how fabulous new classrooms are looking.  And we'll congratu-hate friends on their wonderful new Year 2 position. And September looms. And the bills keep coming. And you have spent so long becoming a teacher that you are not prepared to wait on tables or work in Boots.  So you supply-teach. But where to begin?

Allow me to take you on a bit of a flashback (or epilepsis - this is an educational blog, afterall).  If you just want supply advice, scroll down to the next subheading. If you're up for a bit of contextual history, make 'twiddle-dee-dee' noises and wave your hands in front of your face as I take you back in time...



It was 2007, a different time - Gordon Brown was spending our money; the pound coin was round; and I had just moved to London after completing my PGCE.  Fresh-faced and full of that naive enthusiasm so prevalent to the newly graduated, I was ready to take on the work of education and make it better. I'd seen Dead Poet's Society and Dangerous Minds; I knew what I was getting into.  'Bring me your young,' I challenged those mean streets, 'for I shall make them knowledgeable.'  And then I didn't get any jobs.  

To be fair to me, I wasn't even sure where to look.  My PGCE was in Cheltenham as were all of my contacts and I must have missed the class on 'How to actually get a job.'  Oh wait, no I didn't - there wasn't one. Useful.

Anyway, I had bills to pay (London bills.  Which are ever so much bigger than Cheltenham bills).  I had no idea how to get started so I did what any sensible person did in the early 2000s, I sent a message to AQA (Any Question Answered - Google it).   The advice I received was to register at a supply agency so I went to the library (I hadn't even managed to set up my own internet) and did a google search.  Hedging my bets, I registered with three. I had to register with each of them; interview with each of them; and answer the same questions with each of them.

But it got me my first job.  And I was lucky (so much of life is luck - remember that when you're hate-liking!) in that I had a very good first day and the school were looking to replace a teacher who had left quite abruptly.  The school invited me back the next day to teach a different class and then bought me from the agency. You read that right, as a product of a supply agency, schools can buy you. And it isn't cheap either.

Flash-forward to 2019 and I'm supplying again (it's okay; I'm also a student again).  So I registered with more supply agencies. Fortunately, it is a very different world now and it is much easier to get on the supply radar.

How to get an agent without even trying

Online resume banks, like CV Library, are a very useful tool.  Make sure you CV is up to date and relevant.  I'll be posting about how to write a golden CV in a few weeks, so look out for that.  I'm lining up some interviews with HR leaders of international companies. It's going to be good.

Anyway, get your CV online and then sit back and wait for the phone to ring.  And it will. A lot. I left my phone at home while walking the dogs one day and when I checked it later I had 17 missed calls.  I felt like a celebrity. And they're always so nice:

Hi Carl, I've just come across your CV on CV Library and I've got to say; it's really impressive...

I mistook this 'I've just got to say' bit as an expression of how impressed they were, but on reflection, I think they genuinely have to say it.

... I've actually got a few schools that I work with who are looking for someone just like you, so if you have a moment, can you give me a call back on 07***********.

That's pretty much the script.  I was a telemarketer for a day back in the dark-ages and had to read from something similar.  Be prepared to get a lot of these calls.  

And for your inbox to become jammed with email versions.

They are clever, these agencies.  Remember, the agent is paid relatively little but receives compensation for every successfully placed product, so they will talk to you like they are your best friend.  I'm not saying don't enjoy it. Embrace it! Be friendly with them. Laugh and joke (and be honest - more on that later) but never forget what it is. Agent - Product. My favourite ever email from an agency began thus:

Dear /getlist:#client: (FIRST)+(LAST) 

So personal.  I was moved.

Once you have agreed to meet with an agency, you will have to schlep into their corporate offices to have a welcome interview and perform a live version of your CV's Greatest Hits.  It's annoying but it's what they have to do. Be prepared also to bring in so many forms of ID (had I been mugged on the way to one of these interviews, my identity would have been cloned without trace!).  Three proofs of address, passport, driving licence, QTS, NQT, Degree certificate, DBS (portable or they will charge you)... I ended up putting everything in a folder and making sure I had that with me. I also created digital copies of ID (passport and driving licence), which were mostly accepted.  But don't get excited. This is not a job. This is only a first date. They won't even start looking for jobs for you until you have gone through this. Even if they say they have already lined something up. They haven't. They have schools who need supply teachers. It has nothing to do with you (even though you're awesome.  Heck, even I recognise that!).  

Tips for dealing with these first Agent interviews

Be honest.  If you don't want to teach a certain age group; tell them.  
They like teachers who can drive, but schools in cities rarely have parking so be prepared to take public transport or cycle.
Ask what courses they provide for their teachers.  Some agencies run lots of CPD - mostly web-based now - that (they say) can beef up your CV.  In reality, they'll provide some ideas you may not have considered.
Have a cup of tea.  The coffee is often dreadful (I'm not a coffee snob but I know what bad coffee tastes like.  You can't mess up a cup of tea).
Take a pen - it makes you look prepared and theirs often don't work.
If you can, take a tablet computer with access to a DropBox of Google Drive that contains all of your information (CV, application form, any agreement forms they have emailed you).  This will make it quicker and easier to sign things or email fresh copies if they have lost them (it happens... a lot).
Be polite.  Even if you're as cynical and jaded as I am.  These people are just doing their job and they will find you a place in a school.

Getting Paid

This can differ from agency to agency.  Some will go straight down the PAYE route.  This will sort out your tax and is the path of least resistance.  I would always go for this because it's easier.  

Some agencies will offer to pay you through an umbrella company.  This means that they pay a separate company, who deal with your tax and NI etc., then forward the money on to you.  This option seems like a better deal because you seem to take away a little more than with the PAYE route, but I have been advised against it in the past.  I'll be honest, I don't understand it myself. Back in 2007, I took this route because you could claim all sorts of expenses (I was claiming around £25 a day for clothes, food, working unsociable hours, using my home as an office.  Ah those heady Gordon Brown days...) but that well has pretty much run dry. Although you can still claim tax back on things like school clothes and stationery. Probably even a new laptop if you're using it for school. It'll make those trips to Costco even more exciting!

Some agencies will offer to withhold a percentage of your daily earnings until holidays so that you don't have to fight the dog for food during the half term.

None will pay very much.  It's just a fact. School budgets are getting cut left right and centre and many schools are deciding that training an HLTA  is better value.

I've got a job booked!  Now what?

Woohoo!  Go you! Your agency will email you details on how to get to the school and who your point of contact is.  It can be a bit overwhelming. Don't panic. All you need to know is what year group you are covering and where the school is.  Take your DBS with you and some ID. It is a good idea to get to the school by 08:45 at the latest so that they can show you around and you can get a feel for the room.

You should/could bring:

  • A pen (I take a green and a purple frixion pen - I'm a left-handed boy; my handwriting often needs an erasable pen!)
  • Stickers (crack for children)
  • A 'marked by supply' stamp (it'll save so much time)
  • A travel mug with a lid (I have a collapsable one to save space)
  • A deck of cards (trust me)
  • Refreshments or some cash (a selection of 20p and 50p coins.  Some schools ask for a donation for tea or coffee)
I also take a tablet (my trusty Asus Chromebook Tab10 - not a valium) and an HDMI connector.  Not essential, but I've had classroom desktops lock me out requiring password that nobody knows.  I've also been wonderfully briefed on lesson flipcharts only to have the teacher take their laptop with them leaving me stranded without these fabled flipcharts!

A school should supply you with:

  • An outline of the day - break times, lunchtimes and home time.
  • Almost a whole forest of safeguarding material.  Some might ask you to sign this - that's fine, sign away.
  • A brief tour of the building.  At a bare minimum, you will want to know where the nearest toilet is.
  • An introduction to the staff room (this is not always provided. Ask though, you are staff for the day and have a right to use the room).
  • A day's worth of lesson plans
  • An introduction to a TA or other adult in the room.
Those last two are really important.  It is unreasonable to leave you completely alone with a class of children you've never met in a school you don't know.  It doesn't make you incompetent. The teaching you can do with your eyes shut. The day-to-day running of the school is a different matter.  If you are left completely alone, let your agency know. If you're really uncomfortable, tell the Headteacher and ask for some support.

You should be left with lesson plans.  I used to leave entire flipcharts for my supply teachers.  The lessons were almost self-teaching. I briefed my TA on everything (I love TA's, a good TA is absolute gold) and I also briefed the children.  Essentially, I wanted my supply teachers to be there as a token gesture. That's how it should be. 

Imagine my horror on the other side of the fence.  I am an upper KS2 teacher. I was placed in a Year 1 class and the lesson plan provided for English was: 

Chn to edit work.

That was it.  These 5-year olds were supposed to edit their work.  For an hour. I asked the TA, she didn't know what it meant because a) the children had never edited work before; and b) she wasn't the class TA.  The lesson did not go well.

The maths plans were even better:

After break.  Maths.

That was it.  After break the class and I would just... math?  We ended up playing a lot of tables games but it was hard work.  

The majority of schools will leave plans that are a little more detailed than that though, so don't panic.  If you do find yourself in a plan-less situation, I have created a selection of resource-light activities that can take up entire lessons and require no planning (or marking).  They can be found, for free, via my website (bit.ly/carlslearningplace); near the top left corner - click on Supply Closet.  You're welcome :)

At the end of the day...

I realise that subheading is a Les Miserables quote - don't read anything into it; your day will be fine..!

Hometime can be tricky as a supply teacher.  Who walks home alone? Who gets picked up by Uncle Nick?  Who is actually going to a club? Again, this is unreasonable and is a breach of most school's safeguarding policy.  Request that your TA, or some adult who knows the class, is at least close by. It is not your job to know all of the parents and carers.

When the children are gone, if there is work that needs it, it is good practise to mark it.  If I were you, I would have the children do as much of the marking as possible during the lesson.  This is neither cheating nor lazy. Self- and peer-marking is a legitimate skill and should be built in to most lessons.  If you can, walk around while the children are marking their work and stamp the top left corner with your 'marked by supply' stamp.  That's all most class teachers will care about; evidence that they were not responsible for the lesson that day. It sounds merciless, but it's true.  

Of course, if you like the school you're in and you hope to maybe work there someday, then put a little more effort in.  Overall though, so long as there is some sort of evidence that the work has been looked at when SLT flick through the pages, it'll be fine.  'Marked by supply' is code for 'does not count'.

Then you're done.  Most agencies will ask that you stay in the school until 16:30 but this is silly.  If you're done, go home. The school either won't care or won't notice. It's polite to say goodbye to the people you've met but realistically they might be busy.  A courteous 'thanks a lot, please say goodbye to everyone for me' at the office will be fine.

You mentioned a Supply Closet...?

Yes!  This is where that deck of cards will come in handy.  My website now has a Supply Closet.  At the time of writing, there are 29 different activities for maths and English that are just a click away.  Many of them update dynamically, meaning that a simple refresh of the page will result in completely different activities.

You are welcome to use any of the resources.  If you like them, please get the word out there using #supplycloset.  If you want to add to them, there is a form on the website to submit ideas.

I am so keen to have a central point for supply teachers to pool resources and experiences.  It's a difficult job and the least we can do is club together to make it easier. In a perfect world, we wouldn't need it but look out of the window.  The world isn't perfect!

In closing...

I couldn't leave it on that note!  I want to end by saying thank-you to everyone who reads these blog posts.  I started writing a few months ago on my wife's advice (wives are amazing) and never really expected anyone to read them.  But you are! You wonderful people! Please keep spreading the word. And feel free to leave a comment... or a question... hell, troll me a little if you want to!  Those comment sections are looking a little barren. I'll start off this week. Check the comments for a bonus question...

Thanks again, whoever and wherever you are.  It is currently raining where I am; I hope it is warm and sunny where you are.  As always, be nice to each other and look after yourself. have a cup of tea. Stop for a moment.  Breathe... You're tops.

Carl Headley-Morris


@Mr_M_Musings       bit.ly/carlslearningplace      www.mrmsmusings.com

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