Ready, steady, teach - Cling to the positives

23rd January 2009 at 00:00

"Embrace your mistakes ... because that is when you learn." These were the wise words from my mentor on my final placement. Words I have started to live by as an NQT midway through my first term as a supply teacher. I have not been lucky enough to secure a permanent post after completing my PGCE, so I have started my first year teaching by picking up odd days of supply work.

Newly registered with a supply agency, I have been keen to cement what I hope will be an equally profitable relationship by eagerly accepting every assignment offered. "A school over an hour's drive away? Yes, that's great." A phone call at 9.30am with the news that another supply teacher has let them down. "Of course, I'll leave immediately."

Like my PGCE before, so far supply teaching has proved to be a steep learning curve. The staffroom protocol, timing of lessons, routines for lunch and breaks need to be negotiated before I pick up someone else's planning for a class of strangers.

As I reflect on my experiences so far, I realise how much I have learnt. The name games I used as ice breakers have been honed after a particularly mischievous portion of the class created new identities for themselves. An afternoon painting activity resulted in over zealous helpers mixing mass quantities of powder paint.

The more reluctant artists began a war of paint flicking and sabotaged their artwork. What works wonderfully with a class you know will not have the same effect with children who are as strange to you as you are to them.

The thing is, teaching requires a relationship. You may have been loved by your class on placement but it is nigh on impossible to build trust in a class loaned to you for just one day.

My judgment skills have improved considerably since I held an improvised circle time after a turbulent lunch and it descended into a heated argument.

The lows have been numerous, the highs few and far between, but I cling to the positives. I have a wealth of anecdotes and can answer interview questions much more sharply with apt examples from recent experience. More than this I have learnt from my mistakes. While the experience has been mildly painful, I have emerged from the first few months of teaching as a wiser and savvier teacher.

Ursula Watson is a supply teacher working in the Wirral and Liverpool.

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