As a full time class teacher I wondered why supply-teachers struggled with my ‘lovely’ class. Children recognise the non-verbal signals of their teacher, they know boundaries and expectations, what subtle changes in the tone of their teacher’s voice mean, when to work and when they can relax. They know their teacher knows them, has met their parents and understands their unique needs – a supply knows none of this.
I often get the impression children see supply cover as not ‘proper’ teaching, a time to try it on. My anxiety intensifies when I’m told the routine for warnings and which children I need to be ‘firm’ with. No one ever says watch out for Charlie, he is so polite and works tremendously hard, so make sure you praise him – the subconscious negatives feed my anxiety.
My fragile enthusiasm wanes when the work set for that day is a ‘holding task’ boring or tedious and destined for that ‘special place’. I hate ICT, laptops not charged, not enough to go round, painfully slow to connect to the Wi-fi and then a chorus of ‘I don’t know my password’ all this after being assured of an easy lesson ‘they all know what to do!’
I once arrived at a school only for a teacher answering my ring at the door with ‘the reception doesn’t open until half past!‘ I felt her irritation – stressed so early in the day. Having read the planning I have asked a question only to be told ‘just read it again.‘ Many schools have an assumption you just know their routines or they hand over a huge folder with all the information you need inside. Some schools do welcome a supply and in these the children have a greater respect. This makes me wonder about all the subconscious messages, positive and negative.
I try to create a positive first impression, I put on my best smile, ask the children what their teacher does if they are good and then praise several children for something, anything as long as it makes me sound positive. As the day progresses and my mental assessment is that things are going ok I even try a joke. And if things don’t go quite so well I call up my calming mental image and feel relaxation flow through my body which then helps me keep my voice and expression neutral and allows me to pause before responding to any provocative comments. All this may sound obvious to anyone who has stepped in a classroom, but it’s not easy to keep calm if things go wrong. In my experience once children sense you are rattled they push right on… Then there’s the moment when another teacher steps into the class and the children immediately go quiet, ‘what’s going on here?‘ with a scornful look at you the supply teacher ‘you must be a crap teacher, can’t even control the class,’ although not spoken the words come across loudly and clearly. For any teacher who has ever thought like this I would recommend a stint of supply teaching might open your eyes.