Teachers Mutual Bank and ClassCover are delighted to present the first ever Relief Teacher of the Year Award, designed to recognise excellence within our relief teacher community.
In this article we interview the winner for WA, Karen Wasley to talk about his experiences as a relief teacher.
We also hear from nominating classroom teachers from Winthrop Primary School Kathleen, Andrea and Kerry about why they nominated Karen and all that she brings to their school community.
Why did you decide to be a teacher?
I didn’t actually decide. It wasn’t a decision I think I consciously made. I just knew that it was what I was meant to be, from about the age of nine, and never thought otherwise. And I love it, it’s a passion.
What has brought you to do relief teaching?
Relief teaching just fits better with my lifestyle and my family’s lifestyle – especially my family’s lifestyle! I love the greater variety it offers. I’ve taught full-time and part-time in the past and then I had the opportunity to do some relief teaching. I found that I really enjoy the flexibility, the challenges, the variety... There are so many different children, topics, lessons, year levels... I certainly enjoy the variety.
How has relief teaching helped you grow as a teacher?
Probably the biggest thing would be greater adaptability. You really need to be on your toes the whole time. I’m a lot more patient than I used to be. I’m more prepared for last minute changes and being able to work around those last-minute changes. I think I’ve become a lot quicker at being able to assess a situation, and then adjust to it to offer the greatest learning opportunity that I can for the kids.
What are the benefits and challenges of being a relief teacher for you?
For me, the benefits are that it’s flexible, I learn from different teachers and I love the variety.
I also love that I can have contact with more children, from pre-primary to upper-primary. I love walking into the school and having a student come up to me and say, “Hi Mrs Wasley, how are you going?” and I’ll find out that they had me last year or something, for such-and-such day, for such-and such-lesson and I’ll just think, ‘Wow I’ve only had them for one day and they still remember my name!’. I’m not that good with names.
I think the biggest challenge for me is working out where a child is at [in their learning] so that you can push them just enough to get them to progress. It’s a fine line between not pushing them enough or pushing them too hard. Identifying that as quickly as possible is difficult to do when you only have them for a short period of time and you don’t know them as well as their full-time teacher.
What is the best thing about being a relief teacher?
I’m going to harp on about the variety again! Even when I was teaching full-time, I’d enjoy the first year [of a grade], I’d enjoy the second year and then I’d want to do something different. It surprised me, as coming out of college I was hoping for year 3 for the rest of my career.
The other “best thing”, is the fact that even within a short period of time, I can make a positive contribution to a child’s life.
What advice would you give to other relief teachers?
I think what classroom teachers have liked about me relief teaching in their class, is that I treat the classroom like it’s my own. I teach in there for that day like it’s my own class and I treat the children like they’re my own.
I feel like my job is to make their [the classroom teachers’] job as easy as possible because they’re away for the day. I want them to come back without having to deal with too many issues. If there’s issues with children, I’d deal with it then. If there’s marking to be done, especially if it’s something that I’ve taught, I’d try to ensure it’s done.
If your students could describe you/your teaching style what do you think they would say?
I would hope that they would say that I care about them and their learning. I would hope that they would say that I make learning fun, as much as possible.
I’ve taught music in the past so I like to start the morning by singing, ‘good morning’ and they have to echo it back. It sounds nicer to me and is a happy start to the day – it can be a challenge with Year 6 some years. This year’s group is really good – they’ve never even questioned it, they’re used to it from past years. It’s something the kids know me for.
I know some of them would say that they particularly remember me by my morning riddles. The trick is that they’re not allowed to give the answer – which stretches them to think of hints and clues for the other children so that they can all get that ‘Aha!’ moment.
Talk us through what it means to receive this award in recognition for your efforts as a relief teacher.
When I noticed that I was nominated, it really touched me. What got to me the most was the fact that some of my colleagues took the time and the effort to fill out the nomination form and felt that I was worthy of it. Having been a full-time teacher, I know how incredibly busy they are and for them to have taken the time out to do that is really special, so I really appreciate that.
I love that I’ve been acknowledged. When I won, I read the email a couple of times because I wasn’t sure if I’d got it right. Then I walked around the house for about ten minutes in disbelief, repeating ‘Oh my gosh,’ in various intonations. I was just so... I guess... elated! Yes, elated is the correct word. Very much on a high, and still am, several days later.
I know that I’ll be able to recall that feeling just by thinking about this, so I think for many years to come – well for the rest of my life really – I'll be able to think about the teachers that nominated me and the fact that I won, and I’ll end up smiling. So, if I ever need to produce a smile on call, it’s going to be easy for me.
Any final comments?
I would like to say thank you to the school for treating me like a staff member and that I am in awe of the teachers who took the time and effort to nominate me. I would also like to thank Teachers Mutual Bank and ClassCover for recognising and valuing relief teachers and their role in educating children. Through the efforts of others, I have this wonderful experience and memory to treasure.