Tuesday, March 13, 2018

What you need to know as a Casual Teacher

I have been a Primary School teacher for over 13 years, which means I have been going to many, many, many, different schools as a classroom teacher, an RFF (which means taking up to 4 or more different classes a day) teacher, and a librarian. I have had some amazing experiences, some hilarious ones, and some not so pleasant ones (with students and teachers). Still I love my job and I will continue to do it. I wrote this post to help you consider how to prepare for working in classrooms. I have also written some advice specifically for NSW teachers, though it could also help in other areas of Australia, though as I don't know how it works with certificates etc in other states, it could still be similar.

At the start of each new year, since I don't have a permanent class to prepare for I only really have to prepare for myself and my supplies. If you are a new teacher these are some of the things could help you prepare for the year ahead of you.


It is really important to have your own stationary supplies. Most teachers don't mind you borrowing things here and there, but some do, they really do! In your pencil case you should have:

  • Pens
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Ruler
  • Lead Pencils - I sometimes have a couple as some students borrow from you if there isn't any in the classroom. 
  • Post it Notes
  • White Board Marker(s) - this may seem strange, but I have been to schools where I can't find a working white board marker. If you have one that works, you will never be stuck.
  • Eraser
  • Stamps and stickers - some teachers are ok with you borrowing theirs, some aren't but its good to have your own. 
  • Paper Clips

I do believe it's important to have these on you. Some teachers are ok with you using their stuff, but some items may require you searching through their desk which for me, feels a bit weird, especially if someone walks in on you!

It's also good to have a whistle on hand. You never know when you will be doing sport, or sometimes the whistle can be helpful for crowd control in the classroom!!


As I have been teaching for so long, I have folders and folders of resources. If you see something that interests you that another teacher has, don't be shy, ask for a copy. I've never met a teacher that has said no! I am always more than happy to share my resources too. I've been known to take pictures of particular art work that I really like, with permission of course.

If you are new to casual teaching, you will need to have a go-to folder of things that will help you get through the day. I would recommend you join Pinterest, TeachersPayTeachers, StudyLadder (Australians), The Busy Teacher, to name but a few. Non-Australian lessons (or lesson ideas) can easily be adapted to Australian Curriculum.

I would highly suggest you find some colouring pages, and fill-in activity sheets, which are readily available on the internet. You can also get books dedicated to fill-in lessons or activities. You never know how quick a class can complete a task if you have not had them before. If you don't have work to give children, you can lose them very quickly and the class can fall into chaos. If you don't have work to give them these activities are good fall backs:

  • Read a book
  • Finish unfinished work - avoid art work  unless you know what the art work is and if it won't disrupt other students. 
  • Peer tutor other students who are still finishing - be careful with this too, it can backfire quickly
  • Write a story - then illustrate it.
  • Draw - most kids love to draw and I find this a great way to keep kids occupied. 
  • Create a find-a-word for your spelling words - you can get the kids to rule up the grid too, which takes time. I now have my own grid that can be photocopied, but if you have a rowdy class having them rule it up themselves is helpful!
  • Dictionary Meanings for spelling words 
  • Sentences for spelling words - this may already be done during literacy, but its good for Kindergarten or Year 1 to help practise their words. 
  • Sports is always a good filler for the end of the day or middle of the day depending on weather, and behaviour. It can also be used for a reward.
  • Art 
  • Games like charades, heads down thumbs up, spelling bee or buzz, silent ball etc 

Basically, what you must always know is you must have work with you every school you go to, even if they say the teacher has left you work. Never fall into the trap of not bringing work. I have been in that position a couple of times and you learn you never want to be there again. 

Many of my lesson ideas are found on the internet conducted via the SMART Board, or interactive white board, which is fun and interactive for students. However, there will be times where the internet is not behaving or the SMARTBoard isn't functioning properly. So it is always good to bring sheet work with you. Don't rely solely on the internet working. 

In a situation where you don't take work with you, or you forget your folder. Here are some tips to help you get through the day and ways to ask other teachers for suggestions, without giving away that you didn't bring anything to offer!!! 

1. Make sure you get to the school as early as possible, but not too early! If they say 8:30, try to get there by 8:15am. Time goes very quickly when teachers are explaining the program for the day or if you are trying to make sense of notes left for you. If nothing is left, you really need extra time to plan something for the day.

2. See if there is a timetable on the wall near the teacher's desk to see what is planned for the day. If there is a timetable, you can then go about asking questions, or finding books. 

3. Even if their is no timetable, ask a teacher from the same grade what they usually do on that day. Say you want to keep to the timetable as much as possible due to the changes of a different teacher. They will usually help you with text book information or lesson plans without a question of what you do or don't have with you. Keep in mind its best to ask a teacher these questions if you are early to the school. Teacher's time is very precious and they may not want to spend too much time explaining work to you. 

4. Most classes run on Literacy, Numeracy, then something like HSIE, Science and Technology, CAPA etc. 

5. If you have Early Stage 1 or Stage 1, you can start the morning with talking about the day, date, weather, alphabet, phonics, counting, colours etc. If you incorporate music and songs, your morning circle can go for about 20mins and it is entirely educational. I have shared some resources on my blog before, but I'm happy to share some morning circle songs and ideas that I use via the SMART Board using YouTube. Most students love this and its a great in helping them feel comfortable with you. 

6. If you have Kindergarten or Year 1, they will usually start the day with a sentence about the weather, or a book you read. This is a good starting point for the day. You can also use sight words in sentences or practise verbally putting them in sentences. Choosing a book that can run through as your theme for the day can help too. Other grades will more than likely have spelling and activities, and if they don't you can create some for them!   When they groan, tell them if they work hard, you will do something fun with them in the afternoon - this more often than not works. 

7. Handwriting - most classrooms have a handwriting textbook or work book. You can do the next available page. I have many teachers who know I am taking their class ask me to do handwriting. I am not sure what it is that teachers don't like about it? If they don't have a text book or workbook per say, then choose a non-fiction text (preferably related to a topic they are doing) and write a couple of sentences down and have them copy them neatly in their books. 

8. Maths should be easy to pick up on what they are or have been doing. If its Early Stage 1 or Stage 1, and the teacher has resources use them. You could give students two die and ask them to roll it 10 times and each time they need to write a number sentence for the numbers and write what the numbers total. You can also sing number songs to start or end your lesson via Youtube. For example, 5 Little Ducks, 5 speckled Frogs, 5 Cheeky Monkeys etc. There are heaps of options on YouTube. 

9. If you have an older class for maths, check their text books. You can also put up a bunch of mentals on the board to challenge them. You can play some math games for times tables, or use some internet resources to keep them interested.  For Stage 2 and 3 classes for english you can get them to right a creative story, or a recount from their weekend, or a recent excursion etc.  You could organise a debate for Stage 3 classes, which could take up a full morning session and even into the afternoon, but I wouldn't recommend it take up the whole day.

10. For the afternoon session, I find doing art helpful or going out side for sport. Most kids love getting out of the classroom for sport. If you can prepare a go-to drama activity or game your students will love you! I have found over the years that kids love to do drama, but many teachers don't incorporate it, for various reasons.

So there are some common tips, which I really hope will help you out with lessons. In terms of getting yourself ready to be employed in a NSW school and you are new to teaching or returning after a break. Here are some things to consider:

1. Make sure you can access your e-mail.
Accessing your department e-mail just makes life easier. You can call EDConnect on 1300 32 32 32 and select  option 5 for IT support and they will help you set it up or reactivate it. If you need to reactivate there is a chance you will need to provide your Working With Children form. Your WWC is essential to employment and is obtained via Service NSW and you will need to pay a fee.

2. You will also need to make sure your bank details are up to date and this is so much easier to sort out via your e-mail login, which is why I suggest you set that up first. You can access ESS via your login and set up your details and if you are have any concerns or need help with payroll queries, you can do that through your login. I can't stress enough the benefits of having your login.

3.  Make sure you have your mandatory certificates.
Not having a WWC document will stop you from employment, but if you do have this, there are other things that can stop a school for allowing you to teach. If you don't have your mandatory certificates, you can't work. Its that simple.  You have to have:

  •  WHS - valid for life
  •  Anaphylaxis E-Training - this is an online course and needs to be updated every 2 years and it will take you about 2 hours to complete. 
  •  e-Emergency Care e-Learning - online course updated every 3 years and will take you about 2 hours to complete, but you don't necessarily have to complete it in 2 hours straight. 
  • Approval to Teach in NSW Schools from the DoE - I am not sure how it works for current teachers, but I got this letter when I graduated and back then, I couldn't work unless I had it and showed it at each school I went to. So whatever you equivalent is, keep a copy with you always. This will also have your ID number on it which you will need when you organise your e-mail and set up your payroll information. 
  • You may also need to show your NESA approval or at least provide your number. I am new to this as I am a pre 2004 teacher and only being transferred to this new system this year. 
  • You will need to provide your payroll number, you can't get paid unless you provide this!

All these courses are now easily accessible via your login via the E-Safety System page or Health and Safety Shortcut, again the login is your best friend. Once upon a time, you could easily get by without a login, I did for a while. Then I started working more regularly at a school and the principal told me  I had to have the login or he wouldn't hire me again!! So I got the login and I have never looked back. Have a copy of these certificates in your folder of work and present these to each new school you go to. It looks so good for you, that you have ALL your certificates with you ready to be copied. The reality is, if you don't have ALL certificates, you can'y teach. However, that all being said, you can now easily access your certificates via the E-Safety System and should you forget them, they can be printed. But that takes time away for you preparing yourself for your day ahead.

So there is some starting points for your to consider. Getting your certificates sounds like a lot, but thankfully you don't have to do them every year. There is a cost involved with your WWC which last  5 years, and you have to pay a NESA fee every year.  But once these logistical things are sorted you are ready to teach and earn the $$.

I am more than happy to help with any questions, leave them in the comments. Any important information I have missed, please let me know in the comments. I have taught in Special Education and I have also taught in some schools where students have some major behaviour challenges. So I am more than happy to offer suggestions on behaviour management and resources. If I can't, then maybe others who are reading the comments can.

If you would really like me to do a post on resources, I can do that too. Good luck with the new year and I hope you really enjoy yourselves. Teaching can most definitely be challenging, however, if you are organised, it can really help you along the way.

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