I arrive at school at ten past eight; nice and early and expecting my usual (adorable and familiar) class of little ones. The school secretary glances at her notes and utters the fatal words:
“You’re in year 6 today.”
Now, my experiences of year 6 are mixed: From the wonderfully helpful, mature and all-round delightful young people I taught recently, to the boy who tried to strangle his class-mate at break-time and the extreme levels of “test the supply teacher’s patience,” with many grades between. I was once informed by a gloating girl that her class had previously seen-off three supply teachers who had informed the school that they were not coming back. Maybe I am deluded, but to me this was a challenge: I was not, not leaving that class until the end of the day, no matter how bruised!
The best bit about teaching a difficult year 6 class is the return. Suddenly the sullen, pouting faces are turned to smiles of recognition. Often the most trying students sidle-up and for some reason decide to “protect the supply teacher” – this is an interesting development.
My class today was a combination of the two types I described at the start. Having met them last, five months ago and sporting a big black eye and extensive facial injuries following an accident, the children were curious to see my healed appearance:
“Miss! Your eye is better!”
“Your face has healed Miss!”
Smile! Smile in the morning and allow the class to own their surroundings. In earlier year groups, the supply teacher must own the classroom as best as possible and not allow the children feel that they are in any way “at sea.” By year 6, the students see their classroom as their territory; the supply teacher must respect this. Unless you have the presence of Christopher Lee crossed with Maggie Smith, the class will push things initially.
So, I greet the children with a smile, project my voice, imbue it with warmth and jump straight into the business of the day, explaining how I like to do things. Ultimately I never try and take myself too seriously but not self-deprecatingly.
Never patronise – sometimes the supply teacher can even “trick” a challenging class into thinking that they are having an easy day with a supply teacher, when there is actually some pretty sound learning going on. This can only be achieved without patronising the children.
Ultimately, never ever lose your temper. Offer a choice of sanctions: immediate but not reported or names on the whiteboard for the regular teacher to see later. This works a treat. Try not to sanction an individual child if you don’t know too much about the class, rather sanction a whole table who are messing around; this won’t make anyone feel like a martyr.
At the end of the day; tell the class how you feel the day went. This openness is always appreciated and reciprocated.
Unrelated question: as a reasonably slim, size 10 female, I am getting increasingly alarmed by the amount of times children are asking me whether I am pregnant. Am I the only one they ask this from or do I need to start dieting?