Long-term Cover Teaching in the UK: A Unique, Rewarding Experience – Part III
Recalling a day in the life of a long-term cover teacher
The sun’s magnificent rays have just peeked over the horizon. Clouds hang scattered across the sky, intercepting the bright light intermittently. Rain will surely fall by noon. However, spring has arrived and the weather is heating up. Morning has come in London, the streets are glowing louder and another exciting day of teaching beckons me.
I usually arrive at school sometime before 8:30. Many teachers choose to come to school much earlier in the mornings in order to complete any last minute marking or tweak a lesson plan here or there. I prefer to do as much as I can the previous night, enabling me to have a more relaxing commute the next morning. It really depends on a teacher’s preference, if anything. Upon arriving at the school, I usually have some time to print out any necessary handouts for the day or just check my school e-mail account. At times it can be flooded in the mornings with new messages and awaiting reports that need looking at. However, that’s all part of running the high school ship. All in all, mornings can be hectic if you’re not prepared. Knowing exactly what you will be doing in all your lessons the previous night, or days before, is essential.
Briefing always follows right before the first bell. During a briefing session, teachers and staff are usually gathered in the staff room to listen to any significant announcements for the day. All teachers go to their home form rooms soon after the bell has rang. Your home form for the entire school year could be a Year 7 class, maybe even Year 10, it really does vary. The home form period can be anywhere from 10 minutes up to 20. Here I take the register for my boisterous group of Year 8s, as well as give them any important messages that their particular year group has to know about for that day.
Keep in mind, some days you could have free periods. Take the time during those periods to do some planning, finish up some marking, or anything else that will set up your day better. Remember though, you can always be assigned substitution work on those days, in which case you will have to cover another teacher's lesson because they are away for whatever reason. The best advice I can give about those occurrences is to simply get used to it. I cover from 2 to 3 lessons every week and many other teachers do the same.
On this particular day, I am teaching double English to my lively Year 8 students. Ironically enough, they are usually quite focused in the mornings. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is the topic for today’s lesson as we are learning about the context and background of Caesar’s Rome at the time before his assassination. Eyes follow the PowerPoint presentation keenly, and questions abound of Caesar’s many exploits, his ruthlessness and why he was murdered. We will begin the play soon enough and it’s always nice to explore drama and literature, among other things, during these spring days before exams suddenly creep up on them.
During breaks – in this case between first and second period – it’s always best to have a quick, filling snack that picks up your energy. A banana or apple will suffice. In all honesty, though, it is so vital to get a good night’s sleep. There is no time for fatigue when 30+ students are hanging on your every word and waiting to be shown something interesting or given instructions on what to do during a lesson – although dosing off can be common for some of them in the mornings!
Lunch is also very important. Packing your own lunch is advisable because you never know where you will be working. I believe most schools have a cafeteria where you can buy food, but many of them revolve around a card system where you have to upload money – much like an Oyster card for the transport system in London. Also, you might be in a school that is really settled into a suburban neighbourhood, a fair distance away from a convenient store or supermarket. Preparing your own food beforehand ensures that you have your lunch ready to go as soon as the bell strikes for lunch. Key point: Eat some food; you will need it in the afternoon!
The rest of the day runs just as briskly as the morning. Teaching a group of Year 11s the play, An Inspector Calls, can get dull at times, but it is our job to make it stimulating, educational, and also to convey the importance of preparing for exams properly. At the end of the day, students need to achieve good grades to get to where they want to be. A balance of seriousness and good humour is always necessary. Good motivation is vital too. Today’s class is reasonably focused and questions about revision keep sprouting up. I want my students to excel at their exams and answering a vast array of queries, while giving them a chance to work on practice questions and answers is the least I can do.
The one tidbit that new teachers coming to London and finding a long-term placement this late in the school year need to keep in mind is that you will be exploring texts, plays and material that you have never read before. Ever. You need to be flexible. There can be a situation in one of your long-term placements where you will be working from Easter until the end of the school year. In this case, you could be preparing GCSE students (Year 10-11) for their final exams, looking at material that they learned last autumn and are quite familiar with. It seems comical, but you have to prepare yourself first by reading all the works in detail, and then plan how you will teach them to revise it. Our experience reading rapidly and digesting information quickly and in a short amount of time gives us one solid advantage at least. Colleagues and working as a team in your department helps greatly here as well, but that is a topic for another time.
As my day comes to a hectic flourish, I can think of several things that embody a typical long-term school day: It’s incredibly fulfilling, filled with good educational discussions, firm classroom discipline at times, and good cheer and laughter. Once you get used to a school and all the students get to know you, you never feel any dread going to work, or wariness surrounding you. Days go by swiftly and you enjoy the routine. However, it never really feels that way. Variety and diverse situations arise every day. It keeps you on your toes and your energy high.