I have now been Casual/Relief teaching for over a year and have just moved towns and had to adjust and familiarise myself with all new schools. This means I have worked in about 7 different schools and consider myself to be totally qualified to share my advice with you all.
Tip One: Fake it til you make it.
First day ever working in a school or just your first day in a new school? Either way, there’s likely to be a few nerves about the unknown. If you’re just not feeling 100% confident, do NOT worry! It is completely normal and I’ve found that a few nerves are very useful to help you think quickly on your feet. Still, you want to make the best first impression possible so put a big smile on your face and walk into that school like you’ve done it 1000 times before. Be polite, say hello to other staff members as they walk by and remember to take what comes day by day.
Tip Two: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Everyone was the newbie teacher once in their career. If you have a question, don’t hesitate to ask it. Sometimes I feel like I’m being so annoying asking a million questions but then I step back and realise that it’s much better to be annoying than to make an assumption and make a mistake in the classroom. I’ve found most school staff are more than happy to help you out and share their knowledge. Most schools have a contact person that you report to and can ask most of them, but I’ve also found that other teachers on the same grade level will often know more about your class and what they are currently learning, don’t be afraid to ask their advice.
Tip Three: Have a great time-filler activity that you can use across all year levels.
If you’ve been booked for the day well in advance you can usually assume that the teacher has left a plan for the day and a good chunk of the work expected for the day. From experience though, I have found that little planning gets done for the fast finishers in the classroom. Therefore, I always, always, always have an activity prepared for these students. I steer clear of simple colouring-in sheets (timewasting sheets) and opt for something that requires at least some effort/creativity on the student’s part. My current go-to is an “imagination worksheet” which requires students to create a range of images similar to that of “Mr Squiggle”. I set my high expectations for this task as I explain it and encourage as much effort to go into this work as goes into the set work.
Tip Four: Collect ALL the worksheets.
Make friends with the photocopier and start copying any quality worksheets you come across. While I always try to incorporate a range of learning activities into my casual/relief days, worksheets are still my best friend. You will never know exactly what resources are available before you walk into a classroom so having a range of worksheets that you can fall back on will provide some peace of mind if you’re struggling to come up with any other learning activities on the spot.
Tip Five: Games are your best friend!
Kids love a Casual who makes their day fun. That said, I’m not a babysitter and I still want the students to be learning every day I am in their classroom. That’s where educational games come in. The two games I will share below are quick, easy to play, require minimal resources and can be adapted for most grades.
Around the world – You can use this game to teach pretty much any concept, but I find it most useful for maths. I mostly use this game to teach addition. Have the students form a circle sitting on the floor. Have two students stand and roll 2 dice (add more dice to make more difficult). The first standing student to total the 2 dice and call out the answer wins that round. The “losing” student sits down and the next student in the circle stands. The aim for students is to try and stay standing for as long as possible. I usually continue this game until each student has had at least 2 turns.
Buzz Off Hairy Legs – A fun way to practice spelling. Students stand in a circle and the teacher calls out a word to spell (can be taken from class list, integrated unit, sight words, etc.). Moving around the circle clockwise, each student spells out one letter of the word, at the end of the word the next student says “Buzz”, the next says “Off’, then “Hairy”, then “Legs”, the next student is “out” and must sit down. If a student says the wrong letter on their turn they are also “out” and sit down. The winner is the last person standing. If I use this game I always play it at least twice to give all students a chance to participate.