Things I wish I'd known

19th September 2003 at 01:00
Sue Cowley reveals what she has learned about doing duty

When it comes to lunch, breaktime or other supervising duty, you have two choices: you can view it as a pain in the proverbial, and bunk off as often as possible, or you can take the chance to have a bit of fun. As with so much in teaching, it's all to do with your attitude.

Sod's law states that if you "accidentally" miss a duty, that's the day there'll be a problem. One time when I had a genuine reason for missing my slot, the head of year checked the corridor I was supposed to be covering.

It was lucky she did. A full-scale riot was in progress, with one child about to chuck another through the (second floor) window.

The best advice is to do your duty, but try to have a good time while you're at it. If you're a primary teacher, take the chance to relive your childhood. Instead of meekly standing by and watching the children play, get involved and show them what a good sport you are. Teach them some of the skipping games you enjoyed so much as a child or become the playground marbles or conker champion. Alternatively, talk to the sad child with no friends who's looking lost and lonely.

If you're working at secondary level (or in a very dodgy primary), you have the chance to play cat and mouse with the smokers. This is great fun - almost as much fun as the "invigilation game" (but if I explain that one to you, I'll probably never teach again).

In one school where I worked, the smokers would congregate at the back of the playing field on the (usually correct) assumption that their teachers were too lazy to nab them. But I had other ideas. I would wait until they all lit up, then charge across the field, calling "stub 'em out" at the top of my voice. "But Miss, I've only just sparked up, and fags are expensive," cut no ice with me.

Preparing for duty is like getting ready for a camping trip. Prime yourself to deal with all that the great outdoors might throw at you. Depending on the vagaries of the British climate, grab your coat, hat, gloves, thermal underwear, suncream, shades, umbrella. Bring some supplies too - duty is a great chance to have a cup of coffee and a biscuit in relative peace.

Finally, see duty as your equivalent of the office water cooler moment.

Have a bit of a chat with the kids about non-teaching related subjects - EastEnders, Manchester United, their plans for the weekend. Your students usually see you only in the context of the classroom; they may be pleasantly surprised to find out you are a human being after all.

Sue Cowley is an educational writer, trainer, presenter and consultant. She also supply-teaches. Her latest book , Sue Cowley's Teaching Clinic, is published by Continuum at pound;9.99. Contact:

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