What Relieving in Winter Taught Me

This is a guest blog post by Scott King, Team Leader of Education Personnel's Temporary Division and former primary teacher. 

Winter – the time when every relief teacher’s wildest dreams come true – the possibility of work on tap for a couple of terms. Winter is also a time when even the most seasoned professionals succumb to sickness and need time out from class.

There are generally two types of reliever. Firstly, the career reliever. These teachers may choose to relieve for a host of reasons, including being able to have flexibility to pursue other interests or being an experienced teacher looking for some time out of regular classroom teaching. Secondly, the beginning teacher reliever. Typically the BT reliever is looking to cut their teeth on day to day classroom relief teaching in the hope of gaining significant experience to pick up their first job. This blog will be more focused towards the latter.

You will get better and better and your confidence will grow immensely. It’s a great feeling when you can wake up in the morning and know that you have the ability and the experience to handle whatever may be thrown at you.

I did a little relief teaching in Timaru before picking up my first job but the bulk of my relief experience came when I moved to London. I remember the hard slog through winter in an attempt to see a few schools and get some valuable experience in the UK system. I remember an endless night in London trudging around in perpetual darkness to a whole host of unknown schools. You arrive in darkness and you leave in darkness. At the time, I felt like I was more crowd control than a ‘real teacher’. Looking back and evaluating it for what it really was, I realise this wasn’t the case at all.

Let’s not mince words, it’s a tiring time. Every day is like a first date. Your energy levels need to be high, you need to stand out from the pack, and every day needs to be like a job interview. This wears you out. I’m not of the “Tinder” generation but this might be something that youth are a little more able with these days. You may be going to a different school every day for weeks on end. You may also get a little continuity and either have the same class or same school for a few weeks. There are advantages to both.

The main skill that develops first is your classroom management. This develops out of necessity. It’s not one size fits all and the more variety you have in your day to day relief teaching the more reactive and natural this will become. You will quickly develop the ability to enter any class, big or small, and have the children work to your expectation. This is not really something that can be taught. There will be subtleties in here, you will be able to assess which classes will respond better to the soft touch or if a class requires you to be a little more staunch out of the gate. These are universal skills that you will take with you wherever you go. I recommend always using the school’s behaviour plan as your baseline.

Once you have the children working to your expectation you are free to work to your plan for the day. It’s always good to have a mix of activities within each curriculum. Have a good idea in your head how you will present the activity and how you will keep in interesting. Always be very clear in your head what you will do to push the earlier finishers. Will they move to something more challenging, is there other work they can move on to, etc.

I tended to use break times to get things planned out and ready for the next session. You will want to show your face in the staffroom a couple of times throughout the day so people get to meet you.

I’ll be honest and say I always found the afternoons the hardest part of the day. It’s a time when all the good work put in in the morning can be thrown away. Coming back after lunch it’s really important to set all the groundwork again. If it’s been a rainy inside day, just do your best and try to keep the children as occupied as possible.

Relief teaching in winter is the perfect opportunity to refine your craft and develop your own teaching style. If you are in the provinces it could be worth looking to one of the larger cities and temporarily residing for a term. It wasn’t uncommon for people to come into London and stay in cheap hostels during the term as work just wasn’t around in the provinces. Places like Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland would be the obvious targets.

Advantages of this season:

  • Ability to get your face out in lots of schools and make an impression.

  • Seeing a lot of different schools will help you put together a view of the type of place you want to work.

  • Get the ball rolling in your career with continuous work and a chance to find out what works and what needs tweaking with your current technique.

  • There is a high likelihood that you will discover a passion for particular year groups that may not have appealed in the past.

  • The ability to say “no” to schools that weren’t the right fit for you.

  • If today wasn’t good, there’s always tomorrow.

  • You will get better and better and your confidence will grow immensely. It’s a great feeling when you can wake up in the morning and know that you have the ability and the experience to handle whatever may be thrown at you.

Things to keep in mind:

  • It’s a long game, a tiring game and you need to pace yourself. If you’re feeling under the weather take a couple days off and kick it early.

  • You will have some bad days, it’s inevitable. The key is to reflect and build on the positives and critique the things that didn’t work.

  • Plan to take a couple of days off in the term. Somewhere in the middle of the term usually worked for me.

    • Probably better that it’s a quiet weekend away, if possible. Five days in Ibiza will have lasting effects and will no doubt have consequences on your health and energy on returning to the classroom.

  • If you have friends doing the same meet up for a drink on Friday and share stories.

A few tips for a successful day in the classroom

  • Get to school as early as possible. Familiarise yourself with the classroom layout, children’s work, behaviours plans and emergency procedures.

  • Be prepared – have enough planning for every year level.

  • Don’t be afraid to stray from the path if things aren’t working. If it’s not working start again.

  • Leave a note to communicate with the teacher of the class. They like and need to know what went on.

  • Always thank the principal personally at the end of the day.

If you have any questions about relieving, feel free to get in touch with me at scott@edperson.co.nz or call 0508 TEACHER.