Survival Tips for Casual Teachers
In recent years Departments of Education have deliberately moved to ‘casualise’ their work force. Despite this policy being one of the root causes of the current staffing crisis, casual teaching will remain a feature of our system. This type of work is challenging particularly if you are employed on a day by day basis. However, it is always a testing time on the first day you are appointed to any school. You arrive with little ‘corporate knowledge’ of how the school operates, its structures and expectations and as a new arrival you will be tested by the students to see if you can handle them. The following advice may help casuals survive the introduction into what I consider the best job in the world.
Arrival – First Day
This is when you will make your first impression on the principal, the staff and most importantly the students. As you may only be there for a day you don’t have the luxury of building a meaningful relationship so, especially in the classroom you must get off to a good start. The kids, like everyone will formulate an opinion of you in the first 20 seconds of your arrival. This is what is known as the primacy effect which will influence every subsequent interaction. The following points will help:
- Be punctual – I understand that sometimes you will be called in at the last moment and you must deal with this. However, when possible arrive early; this will impress the person in charge of employing the casuals and give you time to familiarise yourself with the surroundings.
- Acquaint yourself with the school management structure:
- Have the staff member that is your immediate supervisor identified and introduce yourself to them
- Be briefed on the behaviour management policy of the school
- Be informed about procedural matters such as evacuations
- Receive your teaching allocation for the day so you can quickly familiarise yourself with the assigned curriculum – in most cases you should be provided with the lessons you are expected to teach. However, in some cases this will not be provided and so you will need to have a set of interesting, educational lessons you can give to engage the class.
- You may need to get work-sheets organised and the photocopying procedures will be different in each school.
- Roll-marking procedures, you will probably be given a roll-call class. Most schools have on-line marking but in some cases the old hand roll marking might still be used and so you will need to know where to collect them, how to mark them and where they are sent for collating.
- You will most likely be given a playground duty so find out when and where you are assigned
- Get a plan of the layout of the school and the location of the staffroom with which you will be assigned.
- Dress Professionally – as mentioned above you only get one chance to make a first impression and the way you are dressed will go a long way towards establishing that impression. Most educational departments have a dress code which is supported by the teaching unions. They understand that the way you dress influences the way students and the school community will respect you.
The style may vary depending on the circumstances of any particular school and also the climate in which the school is situated. In general, for a classroom teacher a normally smart business level of clean and tidy presentable attire will be sufficient. Remember, this is a school and modesty is paramount.
- Bring Your Own ‘Supplies’ – you should not be expected to provide the equipment to deliver any lesson but you may not have easy access to things like marker pens, some schools have IPADs for roll-marking and you may need to use a smart phone. You should bring any resources you will need for times you have to improvise because you have not been left prepared lessons.
Also make sure you bring your own coffee mug, coffee and food. Most schools have a canteen but some smaller ones don’t so you will need to sustain yourself.
Also most staffrooms will have spare coffee cups and will share coffee but I think every teacher has been in a staffroom where, if you pick up the wrong cup there will be a ‘problem’, likewise you’ll be taking a risk if you help yourself to any coffee or tea supply! Better to look after yourself.
Being a first time casual you will not have the luxury of knowing the dynamics of the classroom and the things you would have normally in place will not be there. Things like seating plans, students with extra needs or the time periods for work to be completed. These are things you have to ‘wing’ in the first instance. What you can anticipate is that you will be ‘tested’ by the students.
As with the whole school, the first impression you make is critical. I assume you have dressed professionally and this impression can be enhanced by being first to the classroom. One of my mentors (not that he knew he was – I just watched him because he was so good) was always the first to the classroom. The message is that you want to be there with the kids. I know in some schools students line-up before they enter but I would suggest you let them in as they come. This gives you the chance to greet them personally as they arrive. Introduce yourself, ask them their name and smile!
Get straight into business, whatever the lesson is you have to deliver start by giving the students clear, direct instructions. In the early stages don’t give a choice, say what you want and move to the next instruction; if you pause too long they have a chance to get off-task. However, I do understand that you probably have to go back to the initial instruction but they will be aware that you mean business as far as the learning goes.
We have always advocated a pro-active approach to behaviour management and the following tips will help you take charge before you have to recapture the class:
- Move about the class
- Model the behaviour you expect
- Explain tasks
- Always be polite and friendly
- Be accepting of all students
- Be firm but friendly
- Speak in a calm even tone
- Refer to class rules and consequences if these are known
However, you will be challenged and will need to provide some discipline. When this is called for you will be delivering a message with some emotional content for the targeted students. Remember it is estimated that 93% of the emotional content is conveyed through non-verbal means, body language, facial expression and the tone of your voice. The most effective discipline is delivered this way. To do this you must:
- Continue to act as if their behaviour has no effect on you
- Maintain a steady, positive gaze
- Speak clearly
- Maintain appropriate eye contact – be careful you don’t turn eye-contact into glaring at the students
- Stand up straight
- Address the behaviour without threatening the individual – we always accept the child and reject the behaviour
- Never apologise for not getting emotionally involved
- Remain silent after you deliver your message
- Allow them time to digest the message
- Give them time to make a decision.
The following diagram explains the gradient on which each strategy should be used from the subtle least invasive at the bottom to the most invasive which should rarely be used at the top:
As a new casual you will not have had the time to set-up in-class time out consequences and so when the inevitable time arrives when a student or a group of students have gone too far they will need to be removed from the class. This requires some advanced planning. As mentioned above, whenever possible you should have met your immediate supervisor and at this time you should ask about the discipline policy but more importantly how you can remove very disruptive students.
More often than not you will be asked to send a note with them or a ‘trusted’ classmate explaining what has occurred so have the means to do this. Some casuals are reluctant to do this because they fear they will be harshly judged and will not be invited back. However, this approach indicates a level of professionalism which should impress the permanent staff.
Finally, stay positive, remember that:
- Challenging behaviour is just that – challenging
- Remind yourself you are a professional adult often dealing with needy children
- Dealing with the problems one child presents skills you for future behaviour issues, this increases your ‘expertise’
If you treat these opportunities to do casual work as an opportunity to develop your teaching skills and you become identified as a reliable and effective teacher you will not remain a casual for long.