Long-term Cover Teaching in the UK: A Unique, Rewarding Experience – Part II
We all know the many different reasons why educators come to London to teach. Among them is the desire to earn some invaluable experience teaching in challenging, rewarding schools while having the wonders of Europe close at hand. Others see it as an opportunity to change their surroundings, to explore a new country – not unlike their own – but nevertheless offering a different perspective and way of life. And there are, of course, many others who truly look to London as a place to grow their careers, to blossom under a cloudy sky and establish themselves in a profession they have spent many years preparing for. As a long-term cover teacher, this goal can surely be achieved.
In Part I of this series, I spent some time writing about the exciting prospects of being a long-term cover teacher. Behind it are several reasons. One, the opportunity for consistency in the morning routine, as well as the obvious advantages of being able to go to the same school on a daily basis for a long period of time. Unexpected issues and concerns rarely disturb my morning preparations as I calmly have my cereal and prepare for work daily. Your mind is at ease during the walk to the local tube station, the pre-planned route becoming embedded in your mind within a few short weeks. You arrive at your school, comfortable and relaxed.
Which brings me to the second advantage of being a long-term cover teacher: A school’s policies, procedures, curriculum and general layout of the classrooms become second nature to you. Gone will be the days when you had to cover teach on a daily basis, entering a new school every day where confusion reigned when it came to the overall setup of each individual school. Day to day cover teaching is exceptional and vital when you first arrive in London to teach. You get to discover the UK education system immediately, see the classroom management challenges first hand and start to advertise yourself to a variety of schools that may be looking to hire you long term. When you do eventually get to a longer placement, once thing becomes very blatantly clear during your first day:
Long-term cover teaching is a completely different biscuit.
When I first started my long-term cover position in London, the first three weeks were incredibly challenging. There were so many teachers to meet – in my department as well as others, and general staff members. There were also the difficulties of coming to grasp with the material you needed to teach the students – sometimes having to learn several poems or a novel within days because they had already started a particular unit. Deadlines being thrown at you, reports demanded. It can be quite overwhelming and certainly frustrating. However, the days go by and you survive. Taking each day at a time is essential when you are starting a long-term cover position. Once you actually settle down into your role, understand all the intricacies of the school and at least some semblance of the curriculum you will be teaching, things become easier.
The first few weeks can be difficult and many teachers do feel the stress and pressure of a long-term position that comes with a significant increase of responsibilities. However, you need to come to terms with it and make the appropriate adjustments – whether it is in your lesson planning, efficiency at home while marking or general delivery of lessons during school hours. It can happen over a period of time or in a single moment one day as you are preparing for your afternoon lessons: Things click and start to gel.
You emerge from a cocoon of chaos and paperwork into a kind of focused zone. You get on top of your marking duties, you start to lesson plan for the entire following week. You begin to enjoy teaching and to remember all the reasons you wanted to enter this profession. Colleagues become friends, helping you along the way, making sure you find it comfortable in your new surroundings. I have found teachers in the UK incredibly helpful, caring and diligent when it comes to assisting you with any issues you need: Locations of those hidden classrooms, student registers, pointing out which pupils to look out for, etc. The list goes on.
The third, and I believe most important, advantage to being a long-term cover teacher is that you get to educate, observe and guide your students as they develop academically and personally over a span of several months. Watching students enjoy one of your lessons and produce work that is so inspiring to see is such a joy for me as a teacher. I enjoy the process of seeing my students understand the content, concepts and themes of novels and plays we are studying together. Or reading a student’s carefully planned short story on a cool Sunday afternoon in the winter when you know they spent the last two weeks writing and editing it, spelling and grammar mistakes few and far between. You build a rapport with your students and you become a part of a family of sorts at a single school where everyone looks out for each other and want to see success at different levels.
There are several other advantages to becoming a long-term cover teacher, including the actual experience, job security, chances for professional development and involvement in extra-curricular activities – all things I have mentioned in the past. Still, long-term placements are certainly not for everyone. It takes a lot of hard work, patience and focus. Also, many schools do have difficult students that make learning and teaching difficult. Just remember, they too are in the same fold and you should never give up on them.
Nevertheless, the advantages and rewards of being a long-term cover teacher are too numerous to list.