One of the biggest challenges with relief teaching can be the uncertainty of work. Let’s look at some of the strategies that you can use to support you in becoming a teacher that is valued and offered call backs from the schools that you work in.

Building relationships with students is a vitally important part of our day. Setting the tone for the day by creating a safe and secure classroom environment sends students home happy and very keen to tell their parents and their classroom teacher about the great day that they had with you. 

To do this, ensure that you are familiar with the behaviour management plan in place in the school (this can often be found on the school’s website). If you cannot find one, ensure that you have your own in place that is simple to implement and rewarding for your students. Many teachers choose a raffle ticket and prize box system, but whatever works for you is best. 

  • Class Dojo is used in several schools; this link has some great downloads for you to use in conjunction with this great behaviour management strategy. Register with TES in order to download them. 

  • I have seen some very successful ‘punch reward cards’ on Pinterest that are very cheap to make and can easily be printed onto heavy card for durability.  When they are complete, students can take them home, or use them as raffle tickets for the end of week draw. 

Building relationships with ALL staff, (not just teachers…include aides, the maintenance workers, volunteers) and parents is also a part of you being included and considered to be part of any school’s community. 

  • Ensure that you leave a feedback sheet for the classroom teacher (start with the positives of your day first!!) and if there is anything that they need to know about or follow up (behaviour or otherwise) in their absence. 

  • Seek out the principal, or the person who books casuals and thank them for the opportunity to work at their school and what a great day you had. A final positive comment sticks with them and keeps you in their memory for future bookings. Even if your day was eventful!! Be sure to let them know that you will be available for further bookings. 

Knowing your way around the internet and having a fully stocked bag of tricks ready to take on any subject or grade, are vital. Many teachers have a mobile office in the boot of their cars!!! Flexibility is key, as last-minute changes can often be made once you arrive. 

Improve your effectiveness as a teacher with a working knowledge of the internet, enabling you to provide exciting and engaging activities for your students and in so doing increase your chances of call- backs from schools.  

Relief teachers are able to teach all year levels in their sector. Sometimes, they’ll be booked for a certain grade and then changed at the last minute to another one. Having a solid understanding of the curriculum is essential. Being able to pick up where a teacher left off and seamlessly continue to teach the current class learning’s is imperative. 

Relief teachers are responsible for keeping their professional knowledge and pedagogical practice current. They attend professional development courses just like classroom teachers, although often they must pay for these themselves, and complete training on weekends.   

Effective relief teachers are highly organised, punctual and reliable. They exhibit flexibility and cope well with working in unfamiliar environments. 

What are some of the challenges a relief teacher faces? 

Behaviour is by far the biggest challenge and this can often be caused by a number of reasons, often out of the school’s control. Turning up to a classroom full of unfamiliar little faces presents its own challenges.  Particularly if their teacher is on unplanned leave, and it’s a surprise for them to see a different adult opening the classroom door. Students can feel unsettled and their behaviour will reflect this.  They may be anxious, unusually rowdy, or just lacking focus in the absence of their regular teacher. 

Be firm, calm and consistent and establish your guidelines, rules and boundaries within the first 15 minutes of the day.  Let them know firmly that you are their teacher for the day, and you will try to do things the way they are used to, but in order for that to happen, you need to have their cooperation and support.  Creating a quick class agreement is often a great way to go about this. 

Make your expectations explicit and exude confidence. If you’re not feeling confident, fake it ’til you make it. Often all it takes to calm an unsettled class is for them to feel comfortable and pick up on your vibe – make it professional and composed. 

Here are some great tips from our friends at Teach Starter who have a wonderful range of subscription resources that are really helpful for Relief Teachers 

  • Come prepared: Some teachers leave a meticulous plan which spells out how they would like the day to run step-by-step. If so, follow this plan as closely as you can. I know of relief teachers who have disregarded the plan and done their own activities, much to the annoyance of the classroom teacher. If there isn’t a plan, have activities with you that are age appropriate. Have any sheets or activities photocopied, ready to go, so you can walk in and start the day. 

  • Be early: Arrive early and check in with the office staff for any plans, duties or extra information that may be left for you. Ask for the Principal or line manager’s name, as well as who you should contact in case you need any assistance. Also, take some time in the classroom becoming familiar with the class behaviour system or reward charts. 

  • Leave feedback: Leave a note for the teacher letting them know what activities you completed during the day. Be sure to mention anything else that they might need to be aware of including any parents that dropped in to see them, behaviour issues and any students who did a great job! 

  • Set your behaviour expectations: Let the students know first thing in the morning what you expect from them for the day. 

  • Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to ask other teachers at the school for clarification on any of the school’s policies or procedures – before class starts! 

  • Playground Duty: Make sure you are clear on where you need to be and when. Clarify what the expectations are for the students in that particular area and what your responsibilities are. 

  • Name tags: You may like to take some blank labels and write the students’ names on them. This will help you to get to know their names throughout the day. 

  • Dress appropriately: Make sure you take a wide brim hat and dress appropriately for the day. 

  • Clean up: Finally, leave the classroom as you found it. Make sure you have cleaned up any mess from throughout the day, instructed the students to tidy their desks and put back anything that you used. 

Recommended resources for any relief teacher  

The Ultimate Relief Teaching Survival Kit by Nikki Tester  

Bob Brandi’s has a number of courses on our platform and also hosts a website specifically dedicated to Relief Teachers. Check out here.

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