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.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Diary of a Surviving Supply Teacher: Gobsmacked

Tuesday 24th May 2011

 must have sounded stunned when the agency offered work this morning, just before 08:00am, as I had not worked for almost the entire summer half-term 1. To be exact, the total period was seven-and-a-half weeks, or 53 days, taking in the last week of the spring term, the Easter holiday, the royal wedding and May day (the last day I worked being Thursday 31st March).  The offer was for a whole day with year 5 in a fairly tough school across the city, but my journey was reasonably trouble free.

By the time I arrived, young Mr Easy had little time to explain the work, but he did his best and twice told me to send out anyone who caused trouble. Lesson one was poetry in English and meant creating and describing three fantasy items for a box in three verses, plus the materials and location of the container. It was called The Magic Box and the children had to complete the line, ‘I will put in the box . . . ‘ I was confused about the number of items and verses, but the class worked hard. They changed over into sets for Maths and my group, working on properties of plane shapes, mainly rectangles, were very bad listeners. One boy in particular refused to follow instructions, pulled faces and was argumentative, so I sent for the head of year. He reappeared, presumably to apologise, but merely expressed his anger, and although I complained about this, nothing seemed to be done.

After break I was required to read and discuss a story for seal. It was a familiar tale of an elderly person who, on his way to the public library, is intimidated by a group of young bikers. However, he falls when trying to reach a book on a high shelf and it drops open on a page showing a scantily-clad girl. One of the bikers quickly helps the man to his feet and saves his embarrassment by rapidly closing the book. The pupils’ task was to draw pictures of a teenager, a burglar and a scientist, which soon raises issues of clich√© and caricature. Interestingly a number of the class thought the possession of a bicycle made a teenager, while the burglar was dressed in black with a face mask and the scientist had frizzy hair. Discussion was therefore easy, one youngster pointing out that burglars, ‘do not look like that, they are just like us’ and the lesson quickly came to a close.              

At lunch time, the head of year told me I would have two successive classes for the same lesson; the one from next door, containing the bad tempered child, and the original class. To save trouble, as the staff would be at the Lakes carrying out a ‘risk assessment’ for a trip, I would do full worksheets based on the six times table rather than the planned music. Questions were in groups and included brackets and function machines. She said the year group were predominantly low ability and the task could be used as a diagnostic assessment. To me, this was a merciful relief and to give credit where it was due, the staff arranged for the deputy head to be available in an emergency. Behaviour in both classes was not perfect, with some needing to be asked to remain in their seats, but the year group had plenty of work and demonstrated a good knowledge. As I stated in my letter, their main weakness was using brackets - despite class discussions on the subject. Only a few children required the extension work and were far from finishing the second sheet.

As I left the school, the head teacher and deputy, both said, “We’ll see you again.” Not having heard from the agency all day, little did I know how soon this would turn out to be the case . . .   

Note: SEAL is an acronym for Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning in UK education.

Wednesday 25th May 2011

At 08:30am the agency asked if I would work at yesterday’s school again this afternoon, tomorrow all day and on Wednesday 15th June. Not so long ago, I would have turned down the half-day, but I wanted the full day on Thursday. I do not like half-days, especially afternoons, because you: (i) are looking at your watch all morning, (ii) cannot embark on a proper job, (iii) have to eat your midday meal at an awkward time, (iv) consider the amount of pay and the cost of fuel, and (iv) take into account the amount of time travelling home. These all applied, but my journey to the school was relatively straight forward. While in discussion with the agency representative, I told them the amount of work had been bad before Easter, but since then it had got even worse. She said with the bank holidays, royal wedding and closure for the election that schools had been able to ‘make do’. 

Unusually for 12:15pm, midweek, there was a queue for fuel at the supermarket petrol pumps, so I rapidly drove to the nearest station. At the entrance was a sign saying, ‘Sorry we are temporarily closed’. I could not easily obtain petrol until on the other side of the city, where fuel was, as a small bonus, cheaper.

I was teaching music in the music room with two successive year 4 classes. Miss Snotty, the year leader, reminded me that the last time I had done a similar job, the classroom assistant had said it was the best music lesson she had seen year 4 take. Despite telling her that I was not a musician, she seemed adamant and found two songs: one about apostrophes called Apostrophes and another on more general punctuation. She quickly photocopied a set of song sheets and gave me a cd containing the music. Once alone with the cd player, I discovered to my horror that the music was just music without anyone singing. Not having a register to call, I tried to work out how to sing the song and hoped for the best. One of the worst aspects of this lesson was having to sing the song to the children after an explanation and getting them to read the words. Mr Selfless, an agency worker replacing an eccentric member of staff in the same year group, asked if I had everything I needed, warned me of a difficult individual and told me to send any trouble makers to the deputy without any hesitation. 

One child in the first class refused to sit down and ran off, so I sent for the head of year. She returned with him to apologise, although I would have preferred an assurance that he would follow simple instructions, which as I pointed out was not asking for the world. After hearing my woeful solo performance of Apostrophes, unusually a few children smirked, but most were probably thinking that it was quite complex with a lot of slowing down and speeding up. They worked hard because I promised them that those who ‘sang up’ would get an instrument from the range that I had found in the lockers – mostly ‘soft’ shakers, tambourines and bells. Most managed to get a turn on an instrument of some kind.  

Thursday 26th May 2011

Although under the impression I was teaching year 6 all day, it transpired that I was with year 4 again in the morning and year 6 in the afternoon. The first lesson was with a visiting cricket teacher, who organised the lesson with precision. These people often have good ideas, but their systems are complex and I often forget them. There were no behaviour problems and the next lesson was 20 minutes of improving sentences on mini-whiteboards just before a writing test after break. Collecting the children from the playground at the end of break, Mr Selfless asked how I coped during the school holidays. When I said ‘with difficulty’, he told me how he worked for non-teaching agencies and gave me their names.

I was not sure if this was a mock or actual test, but we rearranged the tables in rows with children facing each other in pairs. One Bolshie individual announced that he was under instruction to sit alone, to which I replied I was not surprised. The children had five minutes to plan on a prompt sheet and twenty minutes to write their piece on the reverse. Their task was to state which two items they would take on a trip to the Antarctic and to give their reasons. It was specified that the items must be small and appropriate for Antarctica. Clothes and food are provided. They could be: useful; for amusement ie. a book or a small game; a reminder of home ie. a photo or teddy; or extra clothing. As I patrolled around the class, peering over their shoulders, it struck me how they did not personalise their item. For example, many said they would take a teddy, not their teddy. It probably was not a part of the marking criteria, but seemed a bit strange to me. 

Maths was an activity given to me by a student on teaching practise in the year group. She was not confident about the plan, but the task seemed meaningful with cards used as dominoes based on multiplication tables. Miss Snigger said I could avoid the task and use maths games on the laptops. I compromised and used the dominoes in the first part of the lesson and laptops in the second. A trolley containing a set of laptops was positioned in the corridor, but I was told not to send the children in small groups to fetch one each (as in many schools). Instead I was to collect them and return to hand them out, meaning constantly leaving the classroom. 

Because it was wet play, I stayed in the year 6 classroom at lunchtime and observed Mrs Vowel-Strangler using 16x Nintendo DSs with her cross-year group maths club. She was struck by their immediate concentration and I was surprised at how useful these little devices were in increasing the children’s mental maths recall. Some drop-in/drop-out children were sent away on the basis that there were not enough DSs. I had two successive year 6 classes and each was continuing working in twos on Dance DJ software in the computer suite. I was given the option of an unrelated stand-alone task, in which I might have more control, but decided to go with the software. Register was at 01:30 with the first class using the computers until 12:15, before moving on to games outside - which was not easy as the peripatetic games teacher arrived late. There were also strict routes which the children should follow and I had no idea of the direction. Coming from games was the second class, who I took to an awards assembly, led by the deputy, at 03:00 to 03:30. I noticed that both classes were fine while using the computers, but were restless at the end of each lesson.  

Before going home, I made sure Mr Selfless wrote down the names of the two non-teaching agencies with whom he worked. He told me to say I was looking for temporary work and to reject anything too far from home.

Originally posted on Thursday 9th June 2011

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