A typical day for an occasional teacher can take many forms. In order to avoid difficult occasional teaching days, there are some strategies that will help you establish and maintain a productive day.
School boards use different call-out systems for placing occasional teachers. Some boards have an occasional teaching dispatch system. In this system, teacher absences are called in to the dispatch team. The dispatch team then calls requested occasional teachers to offer the position. If these teachers are not available, other qualified occasional teachers are called.
Some boards use an automated call-out system. In this system, the administration of the school reports a teacher absence to the system and occasional teachers with the appropriate qualifications are automatically called until the position has been accepted. In some automated systems, school administrators can input a list of preferred occasional teachers. If the assignment has not been filled and the preferred list has been exhausted, then the system will call other qualified occasional teachers.
In some boards, teachers are responsible for contacting the call-out system to report their absence from school. They may request a particular occasional teacher or rely upon the automated system.
As well, in some boards and in some schools, preferred occasional teachers may be contacted directly by the teacher or the administration. In these cases, the information about the teacher absence and the replacement occasional teacher is called into the call-out system after the assignment has been allocated.
In all of these systems, it is important that you make a favourable impression each time you accept an assignment. This will ensure future calls for assignment to the school.
When you arrive at the school, your first stop should be the front office. Here you are able to introduce yourself and request information about your assignment and any material that the absent teacher may have left with the administrative assistant. It is important that you be perceived as professional and enthusiastic about your assignment. This is the first impression you will make in the school, and you want it to be a positive one. Appropriate and professional dress and a positive outlook are imperative.
Arrive at the school early, if possible. This allows you time to become acquainted with the school, so that you know where the staff room, the gym, the computer lab, etc. are located. Early arrival gives you plenty of time to review the plans left for you and to locate necessary materials that will be needed throughout the day. If no seating plan has been left for you, an early arrival allows time for you to create a template that can be filled in when the students arrive. You can also use this time to learn about emergency procedures, health concerns in the classroom and other classroom and school routines.
An early arrival may also facilitate meeting other teachers in the school. This allows you to demonstrate your enthusiasm and professionalism, which may result in future requests for assignment in the school. It also helps to build a network of teachers upon which you can rely if needed.
Begin the day by welcoming your students as they arrive at the classroom. Introduce yourself to the class and invite the students to begin an activity as soon as they are seated. Perhaps the classroom teacher has left an activity to engage students upon arrival. If not, it would be a very good idea to have one with you that is appropriate for the grade level to which you have been assigned. Engaging the students in an activity immediately reduces opportunities for misbehavior and signals to the class that you expect to have a productive day with classroom routines and procedures in place, just as they are with the regular classroom teacher. While students work on the activity, you can use this time to get a feel for the class dynamics that will serve you well throughout the day.
When students are busy with the assigned activity, you can use this opportunity to complete the attendance procedure and/or fill in a seating plan, if one has not been provided. There are many ways to accomplish these tasks while students are engaged in a learning activity. Some occasional teachers prefer to take attendance by calling out names on the class list. Perhaps a more effective method is to take a sign-in sheet or a seating plan around the classroom. This allows students to sign in while others continue working on the activity with minimal disruption.
It is important to make students aware early in the day that it will be a day like any other day in the classroom. Having students begin an activity as soon as they arrive will signal your intention to achieve this outcome. Once this activity has been completed, it is important to begin establishing a relationship with the class. You can begin to do this by providing a clear explanation of your expectations for the day; both of the students and of yourself. Following the establishment of classroom expectations, it is important to begin teaching. Give clear information about the assignment to be completed; what the students are expected to do, how the work will be done and what materials are needed.
Now that you have established a connection with the students, and have them settled and engaged in their work, how can you maintain this atmosphere in the classroom? There are a number of strategies that may be used to ensure that a positive learning environment continues throughout the day:
If these strategies donít refocus the student, you might want to send him/her on an errand to give both of you an opportunity to regroup. Above all, it is important to provide the student with a graceful way to comply. It is important to maintain the dignity of the student as well as reinforce your authority in the room without finding yourself involved in a confrontation. Providing a choice for the off-task or disruptive student provides a graceful exit from a situation that may have escalated beyond the studentís expectations.
As an occasional teacher, it is expected that you will cover the material in the classroom teacherís plan. It is important that you make every effort to accomplish this. However, there may be occasions when the students are not engaged in the activities assigned. When this occurs, it will be necessary for you to be flexible in your approach. You may have to provide a short activity to refocus the students or you may have to change your approach to the lesson that you are trying to complete. It is important that you recognize when student engagement in the learning process begins to wane and take appropriate steps before students become disruptive and difficult to refocus.
Students in some classrooms will try to test your patience. The ability to deflect an inappropriate comment or action with a little light humour may be all that is needed to put this to rest. When the students see that you are not easily rattled and are able to maintain your poise in a potentially difficult situation, they will respect your professionalism and the inappropriate behavior will most likely end.
There will be times when you will need to deal with disruptive or disrespectful students. It is important that you are able to distinguish between behaviours that should be addressed and those that should be ignored. If the behavior is annoying, but is not disrupting the learning of others, it may be best to ignore it. Positive reinforcement of the appropriate behavior of those near the disruptive student may cause the student to stop the behavior.
If the behavior persists and disrupts the learning of others, then it must be addressed. Although this kind of behavior is frustrating, you must not let your annoyance or frustration be evident in your response. You should consider the reasons that this student may be acting in a disruptive manner. There could be a number of reasons for the behavior.
Perhaps the student:
A student who is struggling to get through a difficult start to the day, has a problem that is causing significant stress or is having difficulty with the assignment, might benefit from some attention. If the student is responding to an audience, that might be addressed by teacher proximity or a change in the seating arrangement.
If the behavior persists despite your efforts, you must calmly and firmly state that the behavior must stop, and give the student a task to focus on. Giving the student a focus allows him/her to stop the behavior and move on without compromising his/her dignity. Confrontation, sarcasm and threats must be avoided at all times. A calm, clear delivery of expectations and consequences for not following expectations will give the student an opportunity to adjust the behavior.
As an occasional teacher, you want to demonstrate your ability to deal with situations that arise in the classroom. However, if you encounter a student who is unwilling to comply, and you have attempted a number of strategies to engage this student without success, it is possible that he/she may have to be removed from the classroom. The student may be sent to another class if this arrangement has been made early in the day with a colleague on staff, or you may have to call the office for assistance. The factors to consider when making this decision are:
If you have made every effort to change the studentís behavior and have been unsuccessful, and the answer to any of the above questions is yes, then the student will have to be removed from the classroom.
As the day comes to an end, it is important to ensure that the students are clear about any assignments that must be completed for homework and that the classroom is left the way that it was found. Have students note in their agendas any assignments that must be completed for homework, and then tidy up their desks and the floor in the classroom.
At the end of the day, it is a very good practice to leave a detailed note for the regular classroom teacher outlining the day. Even though there may have been a number of difficult issues throughout the day, it is important that this note provide the information in a positive way.
Consider a scenario in which you have been assigned to a grade 9 English class. You are expected to have the students assume roles and read through the third act of a play about the first day of secondary school and the insecurities felt by new students. The class did not run as smoothly as you would have liked.
First, you were unable to find the class copies of the play. After searching throughout the entire classroom, you asked the department head to help with the problem. Once the copies of the play were located, the students were reluctant to take part in the activity. You were able to work through this with all of the students except Ryan, who refused to participate and attempted to disrupt the other students.
You would like to be called to this school again as an occasional teacher, so you want to make a good impression. It is also important that the regular class teacher have information about what took place in his/her absence. You can accomplish both of these goals by leaving the classroom teacher a note similar to the following:
The first period class went very well. I checked with Bill to determine the location of the plays you mentioned in your day plan. Students were somewhat reluctant to select parts and begin the activity, but did read and participate well as the activity progressed. I took one of the smaller parts to help keep the students focused and on task. Ryan seems disengaged from the activity, though I encouraged him often to join in. We were able to finish the third act, and for the last few minutes had a short discussion about their transition to secondary school and the associated fears and insecurities. All in all, it was a very pleasant class and I enjoyed leading the activity.
This note has conveyed a number of things to the classroom teacher. It demonstrates that:
If things did not go well at all, the teacher will need to know that as well. Even in the worst of assignments, there will be something positive to include in your note. All correspondence should be professionally written.
Occasional teaching can be challenging, but it can also be very enjoyable. Success can be as simple as: