3 Skills that Principals look for in a Relief Teacher.

How to demonstrate your relief teaching skills:

Look, relief teaching can be tricky. It has wonderful moments (like going home and not needing to mark workbooks all night), but sometimes you want something more. Whether you’re ambitious and want to rise the ranks in a school or just want some stability in your work, making your mark in this career is a common goal. 

Getting more work is all about making yourself visible to those around you. It’s not necessarily about how much you do for a school, but what you do and how you do it. Risk-taking is king in this field, and putting yourself in a situation where you’re dealing with a conflict or solving a problem in front of site leadership is always a risk worth taking. This is especially true if you’re a relief teacher and can disappear into the ether and never see them again. 

But what kinds of actions can you take? What skills can you build and demonstrate to get noticed? How can you ensure that you’re skilled enough to handle these kinds of risky situations at short notice?

1. Initiate conversations with other teachers.

The first skill that school Principals will be looking for is someone who isn’t afraid to say something. You want to make sure you’re not complaining but talk to the daily management team at the end of the day about any issues and about how your day went. Simply saying hi to the teacher on yard duty or talking to other staff members in the staff room at lunch can also go a long way. 

Three young professionals standing and talking while drinking coffee
Making sure that people know your name and what you’re about is a big step towards becoming a part of the community.

Initiate conversations with students in the yard. If you see a student wandering around between classes, check out what they’re doing. Don’t assume that they’re doing the wrong thing, but go and have a chat and check it out. If you happen upon some parents of the students that you’ve taken that day, strike up a conversation. Tell them how good their child was today and how they struggled with the reading task, but you’re proud of how they pushed through. 

Being a teacher is a lot easier for us extroverts. A lot of the time, the position requires a lot of proactive socialisation. Approaching students and parents is the first step towards building rapport and an eventual trusting relationship, which is an essential skill for teachers to have. You can’t do a lot of that while you’re a relief teacher, so demonstrating that you have the skills in whatever way you can certainly put you in the good books.

2. Solve problems… by getting some help.

But I’m only a relief teacher; what problems can I solve??

Whatever ones you can, however you can!

Another thing that really stands out in a good teacher is that they can actually confront and solve problems. This goes for in the classroom, the yard, and the staffroom. Now, one thing that you need to make sure that you don’t do is sign yourself up to solve other people’s problems. That one can burn you out quickly, and biting off more than you can chew is not a skill that Principals are looking for. Taking the initiative is, though, and there is a difference.

Let’s say two students start fighting in the yard. You could step in and break up the fight to solve this problem, but you don’t know these students, their history, or even what this particular fight is about. Talk to them and see if you can figure out what’s going on and talk through it, but it is also perfectly logical in this situation to call in help. Sure, it would look better if you could solve it yourself, but actually solving the problem might require someone who has a stronger relationship with the students or has a little more social power over them than the relief teacher they’ve never met before. 

A young male and female student getting help from a teacher with another student in the foreground.
Getting some help from another teacher or site leader isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and certainly shouldn’t be seen as such.

At the first school that offered me a full-time position, I was encouraged by the Assistant Principal to call him if there was ever any trouble. I would call him at least every second or third day that I was in that school, and he would come down to take a student for a walk or give them a stern talking to. If he was still around after the bell had gone and the students had left, he would regularly book me for the next day.

As much as this is often taken the wrong way, you are just the relief teacher. The students often don’t take you seriously, and you probably don’t know all of the ins and outs of how the school works yet. In many cases, solving problems is about asking for help instead of dealing with them on your own. The school leaders realize this and know that what you can do in certain situations is limited. This isn’t a reflection on you, and they greatly appreciate you coming in to cover a class. Most schools will be more than happy to support you in whatever way they can, and those that don’t aren’t worth a return visit.

3. Know your students.

Even if you never see this class again, they are your students. If you’re going to be helping them learn, talking to their parents, or anything related to them, you will need to know something about them. I’m terrible with names and always have been, but showing that you know each student’s name (and even better if you can remember it until you take that class next) will show the students and school that you care. 

An elementary aged student getting help writing from his smiling teacher.
Getting to know your students on an individual level can be difficult to do in a day, but it’s well worth it.

Talking to leaders and parents at the end of the day about the students who did well, the students who surprised you, and the students they may want to follow up with will show that you know them. The critical skill that schools look for in a teacher is learning about their students and adapting to their needs. This is the key to building a relationship with them, but also to help them actually learn and grow. 

This can be incredibly difficult as a relief teacher, which makes it even more impressive if you can pull it off.

What do you do when you’re relief teaching in a school to make sure to get noticed? Leave a comment below!

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