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How to manage behaviour in cover lessons – PP19

The topic of the week is Behaviour for supply teachers and cover lessons.


trooperWhen a supply teacher (substitute teacher) or cover teacher enters a classroom for the first time, pupils can take it as an opportunity to play up. One of the most important factors is the school’s expectations of supply teachers. Paul tells a story from his own early supply teaching where he spent a productive and rewarding day with a class tidying, cleaning, making displays of the classes work and developing activity corners after a string of supply teachers had clearly not bothered with children they assumed were disruptive and unworthy of attention. The headteacher was shocked – her expectation was that Paul would come in and simply look after the children and make sure nothing terrible happened.

Paul, however, treated the day with as much care and attention as if he was the regular class teacher. Unfortunately, the headteacher’s expectations of supply teachers were so low that she was attracting very poor quality practitioners. Paul makes the comparison with locum doctors – great supply teachers work to the same standards as the full-time class teacher, in the same way that we would all expect locum doctors to behave. This won’t happen unless the school’s expectations are high.

What do good supply teachers do to ensure a good start? – Turn up early – Ensure they have a list of names before the lesson and practise the pronunciation of tricky ones – Find the seating plan if there is one – Stand at the door giving out labels to the pupils on which they write their names (and use professional skill to spot the joke ones)

Sanctions and rewards If you are going to be at a school as a supply teacher for more than a day, spend a few minutes with a member of staff going through the sanctions and rewards policy. You need to understand the operational parts of that policy. If you are only at the school for a day and this is not possible, go for one expectation – have a tally board ready immediately to record the names of the children who are doing the right thing. When you spot someone, make the recognition verbal and loud so that those doing the right thing are getting attention quickly and those who aren’t doing the right thing are receiving no attention. This makes you appear calm, authoritative and willing to look for good behaviour. This will have the powerful effect of reducing the anxiety of the vast majority of pupils in the class who are not intending to be disruptive. For sanctions, ensure you are using small steps, have private conversations to reprimand rather than encouraging the small groups who are attempting to band together to disrupt. Make sure you avoid promising certain sanctions – give yourself space by saying something like, “Now you have done that, I’m going to have to think about what happens next.” This gives you a little space to consider.

Know how to get help You must know where to get help from and how to get it. Make friends with the teachers on either side of your room as soon as you walk into the school to ensure you have the help waiting when you need it. What have you been left to do? What is the quality of the work you have been left to do with the class? If you have been left work which is clearly not part of a scheme of work and you know it will not engage the children appropriately, you need a lesson ‘up your sleeve’ to call upon. Get the children working quickly and avoid criticising the absent teacher for the state of the room or lack of organised resources.

Teaching assistants and learning support assistants Use the learning support assistant as a resource if you are lucky enough to have one in the classroom. Ask the for help, ask them to co-teach the lesson with you. When pupils want to leave the room… …be really clear what the expectations are – you don’t want students roaming the school advertising that they have fooled the supply teacher into letting them out.

Don’t try and bluff it If you are covering a lesson in a subject you know little about, don’t pretend you are an expert. Children will see through the pretence immediately. Use the knowledge in the room – use the students to help to teach the material. Talk to the children, be active and certainly don’t sit passively down behind the desk.

Don’t leave a list of ‘naughties’ Instead, why not leave a list of positives – make it clear to the class that you have a list on which you will write down everyone who takes part positively and you will leave it for the class treacher to see. If you have to deal with poor behaviour then you also need to follow up – find an appropriate member of staff and stay late if you have to to resolve the situation. However, the more you can flip your attention to the positive behaviour in the class the better the day will go.

Clear everything up by the end of the day and don’t leave a ‘list of crimes’ for somebody else to deal with.

Leave the classroom tidy! As simple as it sounds, it’s really important to leave the room tidier than you found it. If the classroom is left in a poor state, everyone will assume the lesson was chaotic as well. This is a key part of your professionalism.

Leave a friendly note for the class teacher Explain how things went, who behaved positively, why you didn’t follow the work left if necessary and what you did to resolve any poor behaviour incidents. This should be a minimum expectation a school has of a supply teacher.

The importance of ‘End and Send’ Just like meet and greet, being careful how you send the children out of the classroom is very important. Play a game of trying to remember their names without the aid of labels otr something else which will bring the session to a positive end.

Overall, never give up However challenging the session, never show that you have given up. However you are feeling – the emotional reactions you may need to have must be done in private. Be unflappable. Stay calm for the 90% of children who are responding positively to you so they can feel safe and secure. In every class there is a group of pupils who are determined to be sensible, to help, to tell you the real timings of the day and to share the normal classroom expectations – use them.

What would you like to hear covered in forthcoming episodes? Let us know by emailing or by leaving a comment below this post.

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1 thought on “How to manage behaviour in cover lessons – PP19

  1. Thank you for these incredible tips. I have recently started working as cover teacher and reading this had helped a lot. Go on with this good help for all of us who sometimes feel lost.

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