Thursday, March 19, 2009

How to Survive Supply Teaching in London, England

Most teachers from Canada want to teach full-time and go to England because they know the job opportunities are plentiful. I did exactly that in 2004 when I first graduated from my Queen's B.Ed. But after teaching year 5 (grade 5) for two terms, I decided to take some time to do daily supply teaching (aka T.O.C., day-to-day, emergency cover...). I was shocked at how much fun I could have supply teaching! It was great pay, way less stress and I always got 5 days/week teaching in a handful of schools that I loved.

Sure, there were tough days and certainly tough classes, but when you get to leave after marking & leaving a note for the regular teacher, who wouldn't be happy? I suddenly had an amazing social life and could sleep through the whole night without waking up stressed about lesson planning, meetings, how I could help my students, time management worries and so on.

So, here are a few tricks of the trade that I picked up along the way in my supply teaching days in London:

Activities to Fill the Time –Less than 5 minutes to spare
The Alphabet Game

This is a great game to focus the students, keep them in their seats and get their brains working. Great for years (grades) 3-11.

• Find scrap paper and give each student 1 piece with a pencil or pen.

You’ll need a timer (use the Interactive Whiteboard timer, a sand timer or a watch.)

•Tell the students:
— “I will give you each one minute to write down as many words as you can that start with a certain letter. This is a competition against yourself and not anyone else. It needs to be completely silent for this game to work.”
— “At the end, I will tell you to put your pencils down and start counting how many words you found. Then, I will give you another minute and a new letter and let’s see if you can beat yourself.”
— “Remember not to tell anyone else what you got. It’s only for you to know. Ready? Write down as many words as you can that start with the letter A. Silence now please.”

• The students will madly start writing down words. Remind them that they can use ANY words (names, countries, foods...) and to look around the room at the displays to find other words that can help them. The
least able students (or ESL) can use dictionaries if they have to, but discourage this as dictionaries take too long and the others will argue its unfair.
• You can always start talking about random things using words that start with that letter – this will help the less able to “steal” your words. “I love to eat apples” works every time.
• After you do about 3 letters, tell them that you are now going to challenge them to write down as many words as they can that end in a certain letter. Try S to start with (plurals are nice and easy once they figure
that out).

This game LOOKS great. Remember, you want the Head Teacher or Deputy Head Teacher to walk past your class and see an active, engaged, quiet classroom. That’s what they like to see. The game is a literacy one, it gets their brains going and makes you look like a brilliant teacher.

I have easily done this game a thousand times in my experience and the only time it fails is if I raise my voice & have an over-excited room. Keep your voice calm, quiet and in control and your class will follow.

Silent Ball

I learned this game from a brilliant Year 6 teacher and have since used it hundreds of times, with all age groups. It’s a great game to finish off the day and to celebrate the class’ success. This is best for Years 3-9.

• Have the students stand behind their desks. Tell them that this game is silent and if they talk, they are out and have to sit back down. Tell them that you will throw a soft ball (or stuffed animal, or whatever you
can find in the classroom that is soft enough to throw) to a student. If the throw is rubbish, then I’m out. If the throw is fine, but the student drops the ball, then they are out. The student throws the ball to another
student, in less than 5 seconds.

• And on it goes.

• Once they get the hang of simply throwing, catching and being silent, tell them you will be changing the rules now. Only boys can throw and catch now. Then only girls. Then anyone with black shoes. Then the ball
is on fire, throw it as fast as you can.

The beauty? Eventually almost everyone will be sitting down. If you have a particularly rowdy class, then have them doing a silent activity at their desks while you finish the game. Or you can use the game to line the students up for the end of the day.

Remember, keep them calm and occupied! That’s your job in these games.

Less Than 10 Minutes to Spare
Around the World
This is a popular game in Canada, and one that they tend not to play in England. So you will have to teach them the rules, but once they play it once or twice they tend to love it!

• All students sit in their seats. Choose a corner table to start the game.

Tell one student to stand behind the chair of another student in the same corner. Tell them that you will ask them a question and the first one to answer correctly gets to move to the next student.

• You can do this game for virtually every subject, and all ages love it (the younger ones can’t last as long with it, but the older ones can play it for 20-30 minutes even). Most teachers just use the times tables. I’ve done
this game for spellings, geography (name a country that starts with “A”), science (name a reversible reaction) etc. The whole class needs to be totally silent and can’t give any answers away.

• Ask the question, the first student to have the correct answer gets to move to the next student. If the person sitting down is correct, they get up and move to standing behind the next students chair. The person
wrong then takes that first correct students chair.

The objective of the game is to make it “around the world”, all the way around the room and back to their own chair. Kids love this game and can get a bit loud, so make sure you are reinforcing the need for silence. You will need to change the questions quite often. For example, if you know one student is particularly strong in their times tables and the other isn’t, then throw in an easy “2 + 2” but say it very quickly. The student who is always right will probably get flustered because they expect more difficult questions.

Play with it, but don’t make it stressful for them! is a very good web site for more suggestions for supply teachers.

What about you? Do you have any great games that work in any class? Please share them here.

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Thanks for sharing your two pence!


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