For the purpose of this post I am going to reference a “typical” TRT (Temporary Relief Teaching) day, but I need to be absolutely honest in telling you that this is one of the most unpredictable jobs a person could possibly have, and the chances of any day being remotely similar to another is highly unlikely. There are so many factors that influence a classroom environment and its day-to-day, hour-to-hour fluctuations. Adding a new person (you, the outsider, the stranger threatening the relative norm) only magnifies those experiences and adds to the chaos of maintaining “normalcy”. Although I teach in two classes on a very regular basis, I am actually not going to talk about those classes for the purpose of this post. The “typical” relief day doesn’t usually look like a teacher the students are connected with and bonded to, strolling in first thing and knowing the daily ins and outs of classroom life for those children. What is more than often the “typical” relief day, is being sent in to a classroom that you may or may not have taught before, with students whose names you may or may not know, whose classroom code of conduct you may or may not be familiar with. So on that note, to give you the most realistic “day in the life” recount for a relief teacher, I will use an example of a school I am much less familiar with, and in a class I had taught only for short periods in the past.
My first year of teaching is drawing to a close. I have just gotten back from a 2-week holiday in Thailand. Hope the school doesn’t notice my new tattoo. It’s a Sunday afternoon. Four weeks of school remaining for the year. I’ve got three days booked at my placement school covering the Kindy transitions at the end of the week. Watching Netflix. Phone buzzes. Text Message.
Deputy principal of local school. Am amused by his “text talk”. I studied linguistics as part of my Arts Degree, I find his informality refreshing, I struggle with authority a lot, it’s an anxiety thing, but I find this particular deputy extremely approachable, and kind, I think it is because he is young.
I accept his message with a quick “yes absolutely” and he replies with a quick confirmation of the class I will be working in. The teacher has left notes for the day. Score!
This is great because I have plenty of notice, I don’t need to do any preparation, and I find this particular class to be quite manageable. Not all days start off like this. Sometimes I get called at 6:30am with an urgent “PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE tell me you are available today, Mr. John Doe has called in sick and I’ve got 4 staff out at a conference and no relievers”. I don’t mind those days either. I have a folder of junior primary and a folder of primary activities ready to go in those situations. I’ve got activities and resources that pair up with certain stories and loads of activities in my brain just waiting to be used on such an occasion. Some times it pays to be creative. I have even had days where I have walked in to a classroom, thinking of activities on the fly, and had a child point out a beetle on the classroom floor… I then engaged the class in a clearly well-rounded and well-planned science lesson on beetles where the students drew and labeled the parts of the beetle (Google, I love you more with each passing day) and then as a group named the beetle (Spike), who we captured inside a discarded lunch container and then freed in to a safe and suitable environment at the end of the lesson.
Being flexible in your plans, and thinking creatively and quickly makes life as a reliever a lot easier. Even if I don’t have time to come up with ideas, I will start the day with some type of “sharing” activity (there is usually a pre-established roster in most junior primary classrooms and older kids will talk about anything if you give them the chance and a little prompting) which gives me ample opportunity to jot down quick learning ideas while the kids are engaged elsewhere. Again, I digress, on with the story…
I arrive at the school. I am late. It is only a five-minute drive from my house. I left with ten minutes to spare. I encounter unexpected road works. I have to loop around the main road of the suburb and approach from the North. Stuck behind the trail of parents’ SUVs and mini-vans (I drive a Mazda 2 but because it is manual I drive like it’s a race car). I can’t get to the car park from here without waiting in a long line of cars. I park on the side of the road. It is a hike to the front office. Seven minutes late. Sweating. Anxious. Busted by principal. She understands. She got stuck in the road works too. Note to self: leave earlier, save embarrassment. I sign in at the front office (this will be the same in most schools, try to remember your DECD ID number, otherwise you look like a dweeb taking out your little diary every morning to copy your number to the sign-in sheet). I collect the classroom pack/relief folder. My prac school doesn’t have these, I usually just collect a key, but this way is much better because aside from the building key it will have classroom information, school map, duty areas/roster, timetable for the class, kids with severe allergies, and basically any information you strictly need to know.
Finally I arrive at the classroom. PE teacher who has non-contact first thing has come down to open the class up in my absence and started taking the role. I haven’t been in this particular classroom before but I have taken the majority of classes in this block. I’ve had this class for single lessons, teacher release, when I took art for the day, when I took PE for the day, some of the kids I had taught as part of a whole-block literacy rotation when I was in the room next-door. A couple of the kids I know from outside of school, their younger siblings were in my playgroup, they will be useful throughout the day because I know their names so can call on them, and because I know their families they will be eager to please and willing to help with day-to-day classroom management. The teacher has left me notes, it looks like this:
I don’t know if you realise by now but this school has a lot of teachers that go by the name “Doe”. In terms of teaching plans left for a reliever this is pretty decent. In my experience it is not often you will find one that is more detailed than this, which is more than adequate. The class tends to function a lot better when there is some semblance of normalcy, so the teacher leaving notes, when they can, greatly improves your chances of successful behavior management. At the end of the day I tidy up and lock the classroom, say “goodbye” to the surrounding teachers, and head up to the office to drop off my relief pack and sign out.
I drive home the long way because of the road works. The road works are now gone. I feel like an idiot.
This day went relatively smoothly for me, and I told the students at the beginning of the day there was an option for outdoor activity if they demonstrated responsible and respectful classroom behaviour. I make a conscious effort not to refer to it as sport or fitness because these are important elements of a holistic education that considers child wellbeing, but rather as “outdoor reward activity”. I make it clear that they have to earn it by showing the school values, putting the onus on the students to make the right choices. Then when students are being particularly rambunctious (such a great word) they can be gently reminded to consider their choices and make the one that gives them the best outcome (yay for encouraging responsible choice making – there is hope for my teaching yet).
Now, I say this is the “typical” day, but this is one example, of a million different scenarios that can occur for a relief teacher. Even on this given day things could have gone totally differently. Conflict between students could have been higher if child x (the one that is the class comedian but doesn’t have a great home life) wasn’t absent, no teacher notes could have meant an entirely different day plan, I could have been on time and 100% less flustered, there could have been a headlice epidemic, student z vomits in the classroom, half the class have to go out for unexpected traffic-crossing training (this actually happened after recess), I left my lunch at home and the children have to suffer the wrath of “hangry” Miss Smart. There are so many factors that can change and influence a classroom environment, then apply that to an entire school of classrooms and how each one is different and has a different dynamic. Now expand that principle even further, and apply it to every different school you teach at, and you can soon appreciate how no day of relief is ever going to be “typical”. I spent a week in one class and no single day was the same, even when you strip away the timetable and just look at the student interactions. Little Billy didn’t get much sleep last night and is stirring the pot. Betsy on the other hand has a new baby in her family and the lack of attention at home is making her emotional and clingy. And as for Johnny Doe Jnr. (this is the grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Doe the school teachers), he grazed his knees as soccer training yesterday and needs to remind you about it every 6-7 minutes like clockwork.
Be prepared because relief teaching will always be different. I hope this gives you at least some insight in to #reliefteacherlyf. Obviously no two schools do things the same, but there is at least some consistencies you can always be aware of, like arriving early (unless you have my poor time management), signing in, getting class keys, being prepared for any situation etc.
My final parting wisdom is this: always take your own mug, because you can never guarantee a spare in those precious few moments you’re holed up in the staff room, and no one wants to go a whole day coffee & tea free.