Welcome to my Blog which combines the unlikely topics of supply teaching with progressive rock. Here you will find my ongoing 'Diary of a Surviving Supply Teacher' and a variety of lists/ timelines/ articles on progressive rock.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Diary of a Surviving Supply Teacher: a Monkey on the Moon

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

o matter how much thought one gives to a situation, there are times when it is difficult to understand the circumstances. While writing my name, I scanned the page of the signing-in book and noticed that the manager of my agency had visited the school yesterday morning. I could not help wondering why she would tout for work, knowing there was so little. A technical query, regarding the new electronic time sheets, also seemed unlikely. When I first started supply teaching, a friend, who was already a supply teacher, advised me to trust no-one. While this seemed a bit dogmatic, at the time, it was probably good advice and my experience of agencies is always to assume the worst.       

I braced myself for another spell with Mrs Strident. Mercifully, it was just the morning. As usual the instructions were given as though I were a stupid child and in a way which defied me to deviate from them. When I asked if we were still working on ‘Mr Majeika’, she answered, as though I were retarded, “We don’t spend more than a week on anything in this class.” The rest of the school appear to spend weeks on the same literacy tasks. Trying to pour oil on troubled water, I said, “Some of the children are pretty good aren’t they?” Mrs Strident launched into a strange diatribe about how she was looking for a spark and did not want the class to sit nicely, she just wanted them to write sentences with a connective. She needed them to understand, “You won’t get praise for sitting nicely, but you will for using an adjective in a sentence.” I wondered if this was aimed at me, because I spend so much time on telling children how to sit and rewarding them for doing so properly. As a teacher on a contract, perhaps this was how I had been; less concerned with sitting than with the children’s ability to achieve what they were expected. Now, as a supply teacher this has been reversed, so that I spend so much time on sitting, listening and co-operating. If the children do not listen, how can I teach them anything, never mind sentences with connectives? I have a friend who believes all teachers should spend their first year as supply teachers.

English was LCWC (look, cover, write, check) and a starter in the back of the children’s books in which they had to improve a sentence, ‘Baboon ate his breakfast’. Next we had to discuss what they had seen so far of an animated video called Baboon on the Moon by Christopher Duriez, followed by covering the screen and listening to the remainder. The class were supposed to describe the events combining their previous knowledge and the noises on the soundtrack. In between was the inevitable sentence work of identifying adjectives and improving with similes, connectives, adjectives, adverbs and more powerful verbs. Finally, the writing task was to describe how the baboon gets the Moon to work by considering what he does, what sounds he hears, what he looks like, how he feels and what he might say to himself. Actually, he pours Moonshine into a machine and pulls a lever!

During the register, Miss Blonde appeared at the door saying that her projector was not working, so would I mind if she brought her class into our room and led the start of the lesson? Her approach did not match my instructions because her class were slightly ahead of ours, but I kept quiet. I felt increasingly uncomfortable as she gave information I was specifically told not to mention and showed the stage precisely beyond where the video was to be switched off. Interestingly, she praised the two classes with, “Year 4, you sat and listened very well.” Later, she told them they were sitting beautifully. 

By the time we were involved in the writing task, five children had been to the toilet and I had received a secondhand complaint from an LSA about their behaviour in the corridor. Three of the same children decided this was a good time to sharpen pencils and one turned round in her seat to declare, “I don’t know what to do.” The class were chatty, argumentative and some tutted when addressed.

Maths meant giving a brief explanation of division for fractions and working through examples. Mrs Strident demonstrated her method, which coincided with mine:

Step 1: ¾ of 24 =
¼ of 24 =
24 divided by 4 = 6

Step 2: 6 x 3 = 18 (¾)

She told me, “The methods of division are established and this is why.” I could not get to the bottom of whether they needed to show working out. The class worked reasonably well, but it was clear they had difficulty taking the second step.

After break, I was with Miss Blonde’s class. She wanted them to continue with the same maths. After that I was to read the story for RE. She was vague about the lesson, so I was to spin out the maths and discuss the story. This was no problem as I overran on the maths and had to read the story quickly to fit it in before lunch. Miss Blonde asked how the class had been to which I replied, “They were good as a class, but I had to speak to individuals about sitting. They gave me funny looks when I did so.” This, she put down to them claiming to have done nothing wrong or nerves. She is normally OK, so I did not read anything into her comments.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

When we went down to collect the class, we were to take them to the end playground where the whole school was to sing the Red Nose Day song, Entertain. Children dressed in red, including makeup and wigs, stood in huddles so it was impossible to give out the song sheets to the right class. At the front was Mrs Untidy doing her full West-End musical performance, while amidst the bewildered children were singing and dancing teachers also dressed in red. Staring at the assembled chaos, from behind Mrs Untidy, were various parents – not singing at all as usual. Registration involved counting the number of items each child was wearing and the highest total was sent on a ubiquitous post-it note to the deputy. I put off collecting 50ps until just before break, when it was sent down to the office. Even then, according to the secretary, we were the only class to have done so. Fortunately, the classroom assistant and the teacher next door, Mrs Pretty, job sharing with Mrs Untidy, were prepared to help.

The first part of the English lesson was reading part of a text on Looking After Your Puppy in order to extract the relevant parts of instruction writing such as ‘bossy verbs’. Next we watched and discussed the stages of a video on halter training an alpaca, so the children could continue writing their instruction leaflet on Caring for an Alpaca. I modelled most of the paragraph on halter training and asked them not to copy it word-for-word. To give the class credit where it was due, they did work hard to vary the writing. There were other videos, but we ran out of time. In the middle of this lesson we went to the hall, as a year group, to put money (coppers) in a hoop on the floor.

Maths was to continue adding in columns by carrying in the traditional way. The sheet took the form of word problems, but this was not the objective. Lastly, they were asked to create three of their own.        

After play, the children headed straight into the hall for a Red Nose Day assembly, led by Mrs Strident, who spoke in a quiet monotone. A video of starving children in Uganda was followed by prizes of Easter eggs being given to those wearing the highest number of red clothes. Apparently year 5 had put the most money in their hoop. In the remaining half an hour, I tried to continue with maths, but the children seemed disappointed that they did not have ‘activities, whatever they were. 

For science in the afternoon, the learning objective was to look at how vibration causes sound. It took most of lunchtime to set up the activities, which were to be undertaken by a rotation of small groups:

(i)                   a rubber band guitar to make the pitch higher or lower;
(ii)                 blowing across the tops of half a dozen glass tubes, filled with graduated amounts of water, to find which has the highest and lowest pitch;
(iii)                using string telephones to find how they work;
(iv)               twanging a ruler on the edge of the desk and altering the position;
(v)                 musical instruments - using the glockenspiel to see which note has the highest pitch. Drawing a cello and violin, which meant sending a child to the library to find a text book;
(vi)               which tuning forks have the highest/ lowest pitch and immersing them in water to watch vibrations; and
(vii)              I was not sure how the beaker, elastic bands and rubber ‘corks’ were supposed to work. 

I tried to explain each task and the recording before starting, but, on my own, this number of activities and groups was difficult to manage. The children, including the more able, did not work quickly enough mainly on the recording. I could anticipate Miss Conscientious being disappointed that the children did not finish all of the tasks, in her overloaded plan, as usual. Towards the end of the lesson, the class were taken to buy cakes in the hall from a sale run by Mr Shouty and year 6. There was also another assembly before home time. After school, Mrs Pretty asked how the lesson had been, to which I explained the number of tasks were difficult to manage and that the class, “Were a bit unsettled by the Red Nose Day events.” Her response was, “You were lucky they were only a bit unsettled.” She was not being completely glib, as her class is tougher.

Monday, 21 March 2011

The last few weeks, I’ve been visiting the TES supply teachers forum. So far, the visitors appear to fall into two main groups, (i) those experienced teachers like me, whose experiences are similar to mine, and (ii) newly qualified teachers having a torrid time due to their inexperience. The first group are reassuring in making me feel that I am not alone, but depressing in reflecting how the situation seems almost universally bleak. Around nine years ago, when I joined the local authorities’ supply register, newly qualified teachers were not allowed to join until they had taught for two years. So, while, on the one hand, I sympathise with their predicament, I do not, on the other, believe that inexperienced teachers should be working as supply teachers.

Originally posted on Friday, 25th March 2011

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