Drawing the short straw has its pluses

1st September 2006 at 01:00
Just as I thought I was getting to grips with teaching, a whole new challenge beckons.

After life as a probationer in P2 and a newly qualified teacher in P7, my task this year is to provide cover for teachers during their non-contact time. It is a position I volunteered for, but also one that had my name written all over it as one of the newest members of staff.

I am expected to teach a handful of subjects to more than 200 pupils each week. It is a role I previously associated with teachers who had specialist training. Lacking this, I can't help but feel a little under-prepared.

The two main subjects are drama and music. I enjoy both but wouldn't claim to be an expert in either.

I am not sure whether to be excited or anxious about the year ahead.

On the plus side, I am enjoying the variety of stages I now teach, from P1 to P5. I am also taking practical subjects and have had very little marking to do so far. I have no wall displays to arrange, no national testing to carry out, and little involvement in parents' night.

On the down side, I have far more people to liaise with, the range of subjects that I teach is less varied, and I will have a lot more reports to contribute to. It is also strange not having my own classroom any more and instead of 20 or 30 names to remember, I have more than 200.

It remains to be seen whether planning for 10 different classes is more difficult than planning for just one. And, now that my week is confined to a handful of subjects, I wonder if I will miss teaching across the curriculum.

My list of questions could go on. While I remain unsure about how this year will unfold, the situation has got me thinking about how teachers'

non-contact time should be covered.

In my own school, some teachers compared the staff cover position to pulling the short straw. The headteacher's plea for volunteers repeatedly fell on deaf ears. No one particularly wanted to leave their classroom behind and no one really wanted to choose just one or two subjects to teach. But could anyone be blamed for feeling this way?

Although it will be the focus of my continuing professional development this year, I have no specialist training in the subjects that I am teaching. I was uncertain about which to choose, and yet there are bound to be experienced teachers and students embarking on their training who would like nothing better than to focus on a subject that they love.

As a relatively new teacher, I also feel that I have a lot still to learn about classroom organisation and management, and I wonder if being without a class of my own is really going to help.

Having said that, I am in and out of 10 different classrooms each week and this is providing a useful insight into how other staff operate. I am able to experiment with a range of teaching and learning methods and I have the opportunity to try out a variety of behaviour management strategies to find out what works best.

As a learning experience, it could prove to be a very useful year. I even have the luxury of teaching some lessons twice in the same week, so I can fine tune my work.

I like the momentum that moving from one class to another provides, even though it can be difficult to locate resources, and it has been interesting to discover that different classes can have such different dynamics.

It also comes as a relief that I am not in the same class all week. I had a tough time last year with a notoriously difficult P7. There were times I would have loved to have seen them for just a few hours. I am yet to rate my classes, but if they are bad I know I won't be stuck with them all the time.

It remains to be seen whether I pulled the short straw. All I do know is that life as a teacher is a steep learning curve and my experiences this year will certainly keep me on my toes.

If you have any comments, email scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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