Learning is....
Planting a seed in our brain... learning to water, nurture and grow it.... so we can live on the fruit of our learning and plant more seeds.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Tips for Relief Teachers

On the NZ Teachers Facebook page I regularly see posts asking about how to get into relieving and then other posts about what to have in your kete as a reliever.  So I've decided to write a post about these things, passing on the tips I have garnered.

I was a reliever in 2007 and 2008 while completing my Graduate Diploma of Information Technology in Education, even having a significant stint at a high school mostly in the ICT department.

I relieved during Terms 1 and 2 in 2015 due to family circumstances and again throughout 2016 while studying my Masters of Education.

I have relieved in a New Entrant classroom one day and even been in a Year 13 Statistics class the next (that's a bit above my maths level unfortunately).  Relieving has given me the opportunity to learn heaps about year levels I have previously avoided.  I have seen some fabulous ideas to steal.... and now phones have cameras I don't have to carry a camera any more!

How to get on the relieving list

Personally I went and visited all of the possible schools I could relieve at, and that is my personal recommendation if you want to be known.  I'm a bit lucky in that I live in the country, and it is 15 minutes to Cambridge, 20 minutes to Te Awamutu and 15 minutes to Hamilton from my house, meaning I had a wide number of schools to relieve at.  Some towns, like Cambridge, have a school that colates the relieving list for the town and surrounding areas, but I still wanted to visit every school as I believe a face to the name and the personal touch makes a difference in the long run.

When I visited each school I took an A5 sheet of paper with the following relevant details to leave for the relieving co-ordinator:
  • full name
  • photo of me
  • contact phone number
  • registration number
  • photo of my practising certificate
  • years of experience
  • availability
  • year levels I will do (and I will do all of them)
  • addresses of my blogs
Some schools will ask you to email in a CV with referees, and I was willing to do so on request.  Some schools will ask you to come back to meet with the relief co-ordinator for an orientation of sorts.  I found that very beneficial.

Some schools ask if you are using Class Cover, an app.  I was on that during 2015 at the suggestion of a school.... but got nothing out of it.  But it seems to be getting more use in 2016 and you need to be fast to secure any day that is offered.  So if schools in your area are using Class Cover, get on to it.  You will need to download the app for your phone... but you will need to sign up on an actual desktop device through the actual website and the app does not do all that. 

What to expect on the day

I find that most teachers will have a programme they want you to follow.  When I have my own class I usually try to keep certain things in the day going and set them up for the reliever, but I always leave a space for them to leave their mark on the day.  So be prepared to follow what the teacher leaves - but don't be afraid to say, "I don't get how to do this" and not do something.  As long as you leave a note it usually is not a problem.

Leave a note at the end of the day explaining what was achieved, students who were helpful, any concerns and the like.  Teachers like the feedback.

As a newby at relieving you may feel more comfortable having a kete of resources to call upon.  But don't go overboard.  Here is what I recommend:
  • have several really good picture books that will cater for a variety of year levels.
  • choose maths activities that are not too complicated - basic facts are good, things that should be maintenance for most students.  With the internet now you can make up worksheets of your own fairly easily.  I often check with the teacher what the theme is and then do an easy activity I have.
  • have a series of story starters you can use or use the picture book as your story starter.
  • some poems that can be used as story and art prompts or which you can develop reading activities from.
  • keep up with simple art ideas from Pinterest.  Don't be afraid to try something new.
  • do you know where your KiwiDEx is?  A great resource as a reliever for fitness activities and mini-games.
  • a whistle can be advantageous.
As an experienced teacher and reliever, I don't carry a big kit of things anymore.  I basically have a group of picture books that I base my day around.  I can use these books to initiate English activities or writing or art... and occasionally maths.  These are the books I have used a lot during the last year and there are links to blogs with reflections on using these books further down:

I got these books from the Warehouse... two books for $10... so you don't have to spend a lot.  I've used these books with New Entrants up to Years 7 and 8.  Another book I love using is Peter Millet's kiwi versions of some classic tales, The Anzac Biscuit Man and other classic kiwi tales.

This book is awesome for language features such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, colloquial language, visual language and more.  A fabulous book and the author tweeted me a few days ago to let me know another is in the pipeworks.  I even got applause from a class when I read them some stories from this book at one school

If you are musical, you could take along your guitar or have songs that you can teach students easily on the day without charts to sing.  I was known at a few schools as "the teacher who does the Moose Song".

If you are PE minded I'm sure the children will love that side of you.

Many teachers will ring or text or email you to negotiate what you will do during the day.  Some will ask you to come in and do your own thing.  The main idea is that you are flexible to either do the whole day from your own ideas or to follow a set programme or do a mixture of both.

Behaviour management

You need to be quiet and firm.  Students will challenge you, so be familiar with the classroom expectations and who will be your support if you have a difficult child during the day.  I always say at the beginning of the day that some things will be different and some things will be the same.  Rewards a teacher normally would do, I don't tend to, especially if I don't understand the system, because I don't want to stuff it up... but if I do understand the system I will milk it. 

You are going to come across names that are really new to you.  I always start the roll by saying that there will be new names to me, and I apologise in advance if I mispronounce it.  I ask the student only whose name it is to say it to me, and I explain if they all call it out my ears won't work properly.  If you are open about being challenged by a new name, the children appreciate the effort and time you take to get it right.  This video below is a classic on how taking a roll can possibly go wrong.
You are not going to remember all their names.  I use 'sunshine', 'mate' and 'sweetheart' a lot when I do not know their names.  Little tricks like checking the name on an exercise book can help you.  Just be honest and ask them to tell you their name again.

You will know certain students' names really well by the end of the day.  You know the ones.

Some blog posts to inspire you

Here are some blog posts I have done about my relieving experiences in 2016 to inspire you:
Final thoughts

Be flexible and be honest.  Often I have turned up on the day to find the room and year level has changed.  Try to go with it.  I've been rung as late as well after 8 o'clock by some schools.  Be honest if you are not going to make it by the first bell.  I've been staying at my brother's to help him out and had to drop off my nephew at school and niece at daycare and then go home and feed kittens and get into school clothes before I could go to school on occasion.

If you are not comfortable with a certain age group or class, be honest with the relief co-ordinator.  They will appreciate it in the long run.

Know when schools will be putting their relieving notes through to Novopay for the next pay day.  I was caught out by a couple of schools not putting them through like other schools and that led to some difficult discussions when I was left short at the next pay day while expecting that day to be paid as it would at another school.  Sometimes a day gets left off by accident, so just ring up the co-ordinator and they will sort it ASAP - but it will be the next pay round before you get it.

Be prepared to end up on duty even if the person you are covering doesn't have a duty.  Often schools use relievers to cover other teachers... and it seems some weeks every school does it and you are on duty every day!

Take a hat.  You never know when you'll be outside practising athletics.... like I was at one school before Labour Weekend and ended up with a fire engine red nose.  And be prepared with protection against the wind and elements on windy and wet days.

Have your phone handy for those early morning calls for the last minute teacher absence due to illness.  The earliest I have had was just before 6:00am.  I've had the odd relief co-ordinator try texting me in the morning.  I'm asleep unless I am booked.  If you want me, ring me.  Texts are ok the night before however.
Take your phone into the class to snap photos of the things in that class that speak to you for when you next have your own class.  But do be aware of the security of your things.  Check with the teacher or relief co-ordinator about access to keys to keep your things safe... or the BYOD the chldren have... or about locking the rooms at break times at some schools.

Don't be afraid to ask questions.  The schools like that rather than you doing the wrong thing or misinforming students.

Tips from other teachers and things I've remembered later

  • do not mess with the teacher's desk and other bits and pieces.  I had a reliever who tidied my desk and messed with my system while I was away on bereavement leave for a family member.  She also put out all my 'rewards' for the students to use randomly.  I was very, very mad.  ~  Melulater
  • the same reliever also did not follow my plan for a unit and the standard of work from the students was extraordinarily poor because the learning had not happened first.  This completely undermined me as the classroom teacher and I refused to have her in the room again.  ~  Melulater
  • be aware of the student who has been identified as being the 'class helper' may actually play up for the reliever and the 'class clown' may work well with you, particularly if you have a different teaching styles to their regular teacher or outside unknown factors.  Judge the kids on their own merits on the day.  ~  Pia
  • you may want to choose to work through a company like Oasis Education.  Look at your options and see what will suit you and any conditions you may encounter.  ~  Melulater
  • there is a group on Facebook called NZ Relief Teacher (Primary) to share experiences, ask questions and gather support and ideas.  ~  Martin
  • if you are taking photos in the classroom, be wary of overstepping the mark, use your professional judgement.  ~  Kylie
  • if you see a great worksheet or resource, ask permission if you know it was teacher generated.  ~  Kylie
  • ensure you leave the room tidy at the end of the day.  A messy room may mean you are not welcome again.  ~  Kylie
  • mark any work you do with the class.  Kylie even suggest having a stamp made for saying "work set and seen by Ms X the reliever".  ~  Kylie
  • do not hang any work or art on the wall without permission.  ~  Caroline
  • be respectful of using resources.  Ask which paper is able to be used if possible for example.  But if asking is not possible, be conservative with what you do use.  ~  Melulater
  • check what work should be done in which books.  I had a reliever that saw my Kiwi Activity books that were the children's Achievement Books where their work samples and progress are celebrated and was going to get them to do some random activity in them!!  Luckily the kids were like "no way man".  He ended up doing this random activity in their Topic Books in the middle of a topic and it had nothing to do with my topic (also annoying the heck out of me).  So sometimes teachers have a special book for relievers.... but just think really carefully before asking the children to do work in a book.  I would have preferred he did it in their Literacy Books as that was a space that covered a wide area of learning across the curriculum.  I requested he didn't come back to my class which was rather awkward when I met him in another setting.  ~  Melulater

If you can think of any other tips, please leave them in the comments and I will amend the blog as things come to mind.

1 comment:

  1. Arrive at school early so you can be prepared for the day!!