10 essential tips for casual teachers

Casual teaching can be a great way to enjoy flexible working and avoid staffroom politics. Here are our 10 tips on how to make sure your time in the classroom goes as smoothly as possible.

Tes Editorial

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What makes a good casual teacher?

Life as a casual teacher, or relief teacher, can look pretty good from the outside. You work when you want, you avoid parents’ evenings and when the bell rings at 3.30pm, you’re pretty much done. That said, you can end up in the firing line if you’re not properly prepared. With that in mind, we asked some experts for their essential casual teaching advice to help make that school day a little bit easier.

Read our seven reasons to consider relief teaching.

1. Get there early

There are a few key things that you will need to be familiar with as a casual teacher, such as the school’s behaviour policy, the teacher’s written plans, staff toilets, locating the tea and coffee and, most importantly, the printer, so it makes sense to get to the school in good time.

2. Find out if the work is pre-set

Will you need to bring your own ideas or has the teacher left teaching plans to follow? Also, check to see if you will have use of a smartboard and, if so, whether that it will be set up for you. 

If there is pre-set work, it is a good idea to still bring extra resources with you. There will always be students who finish work earlier then planned or extra time in the day to fill. Having enough work for students to do will help to ensure a successful day.

3. Don’t be afraid to be tough

We all know those students who will try to get away with that little extra when they have a relief teacher for the day. Don’t let them!

Every school will have their own behaviour management policy, which you should ask about on arrival – and don’t be afraid to implement this throughout the day.

This will also help make your life easier if you ever return to the same school for cover, as students will know you and what you expect from them

4. Introduce yourself to everyone

The maintenance manager is often a great source of practical knowledge, and office staff can be helpful, too, in terms of finding out how the day runs and locating things around the school that you don’t want to spend an hour looking for.

Smile and say “hello” to other teachers and staff within the school: not only is it good to see a happy face but it leaves a great impression.

5. Ask about the children

Someone in the school who is familiar with the class should make you aware of any children with particular needs. Be sure to take into account any pupils who might find change difficult.

6. Make yourself familiar

Get to know the timetable for the day, what happens for recess and lunch, and the process for dismissing students at the end of the day.

Find out if any students in your class are on medication or have allergies. Ask what ways you can help or if there are any tasks you can take on to help the full-time teachers.

Alison Hislop, primary school casual teacher from Victoria, says: “Show a willingness to do whatever the school needs you to do for the day (including yard duties). Schools really appreciate the offer to do a duty...As a full-time classroom teacher, it can make your day for someone to do your yard duty.”

7. Find out about routines

Routines can help set the tone for the day and provide structure to those students who need it most. A lot of schools may have morning daily PE or a routine where they do silent reading straight after lunch.

Routines help reassure students that things haven’t changed and you are in command.

8. Know your groups

Not off by heart, of course. But have names of children and relevant groups to hand so that the class can be easily organised. The children will usually know which groups they are in, but you may get a few who will play around so stick the list on the wall.

9. Have fun ideas for time fillers

There are always times of the day when you will need to fill short gaps, such as when a session finishes early or assembly is running late. It’s always worth having a few entertaining ideas – a cupboard puppet seems to do the trick for some. Games are also a great way for rewarding good behaviour throughout the day.

10. Know your bathroom limits

Manage toilet needs by having a maximum of two children in the bathroom at any one time. There could already be a rule about this, though, so check with another teacher. You want to avoid half the class visiting the toilet at one time.