Sunday, May 12, 2013

Retaining Good Relief/Substitute Teachers

Teacher and students at Airville, 1908. Group ...
Teacher and students at Airville, 1908 (Wikipedia)
by Richard D Boyce

Relief teaching, to some people, may seem a 'breeze' but often it can be a very onerous day indeed.

He/she would consider withdrawing their name for work at a particular school if they continued to find that they lacked enjoyment in working at that school.

Therefore, if you want to retain the services of good relief teachers, you must look after them. After all, they are helping you, your students and your school.

In my role as Head of Mathematics in a large school, I needed often to work with these teachers. I made sure I 'checked out' any new ones to see if they were 'up to standard'.

However, I also insisted that my staff give them a good program. Below is the advice I gave to try to ensure that.

Since my retirement, I have worked in primary schools as a relief teacher so the impact of that experience has added further ideas to the advice I have written below.

  1. Your set work must be related to what you will test or your current work unit/s. This gives most students reason to remain on task.

  2. Give work which will keep all students occupied and on task, i.e. work all the students can do or at least make a good start.

  3. Give several short activities. This will keep them from getting restless and keep the relief teacher occupied as well.

  4. Supply answers to all the activities where possible. Students are often curious about the answers and want to know how well they have done.

  5. Add a critical thinking or problem solving exercise/s for the more able to try. You can also add an easier one that all students can attempt.

  6. Give detailed instructions and any advice the relief teacher might need about the class in general and/or on a particular student/s.

  7. Give them the name of your teaching partner in primary school so that they can liaise with them regarding any problems they might meet.

  8. In secondary schools, give them the names of the teachers who work in adjoining rooms plus the name and room number of the Subject Department Head so that they can gain support if problems arise. Internal telephone numbers would also be advisable.

  9. Include a class roll for these teacher to mark and make any notes for you. If you have a photo of each child available, this could help with class discipline.

  10. Sometimes, a teacher is suddenly called away or is unable to leave a planned program. The school should have a plan to provide a program for the relief teacher. One idea is to call in a relief teacher who has taught at the school or one who knows 'the ropes'. In high schools, the Head of Department might have a series of resources available to give the relief teacher to get him/her through the day.

Although it may be the easy way out for the classroom teacher, the following should be avoided if your class and the teacher are to have a productive day/lesson.

  1. Avoid instructing that students are to continue with their assignment preparation. Often students don't bring that material. This is often a problem in lower high school classes. By all means, give them an activity related directly to the assignment.

  2. Avoid saying that students should read this or that. Many students cannot sustain long periods of reading. Rather, plan a period that is full of activities that students can get their teeth into and which can benefit their learning. Always include some extension work to challenge the brighter students.

  3. Never organise a computer room lesson (except in computer subjects). This will only lead to the relief teacher becoming a policeman continually checking to make sure that students are not surfing the web or misusing the web. This leads to unnecessary angst between the class and the relief teacher.

  4. Never instruct that the class continue work from the previous period. Many students don't or won't remember what they were doing last lesson so be very specific.

  5. Avoid planning Art lessons that involve lots of paint, water and cleaning up. (Of course, if you are a high school Art teacher and have an Art teacher to replace you, then I would still try to reduce the amount of preparation and clean up the relief teacher has to organise).

Our author, during his last 16 years of permanent teaching as a Head of Mathematics, had often to help relief teachers. Additionally, on retirement, he too, took on the role of a relief teacher. This article comes out of those experiences.

It is to be found in one of six eBooks designed to help both the primary and secondary relief teacher to 'get a handle' on what works in the classroom for them. Some of the eBooks offer lesson ideas to use when the relief teacher finds time to spare or the lesson prescribed is 'not working'.

They can be found on

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