How to make casual teaching work for you

Young teachers
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Teaching is one of the most rewarding and challenging careers around. Those in the profession come from a range of backgrounds and special interests, and there’s more than one way to get in. You can do a full four-year Bachelor of Education degree, but a large number of graduates from other disciplines get into teaching by completing a one-year Graduate Diploma of Education (Primary), Graduate Diploma of Education (Secondary) or Graduate Certificate of Tertiary Teaching to boost their career options.

For many teachers, education is a stable permanent career in which they can steadily progress. But for many others, casual or relief teaching can be a useful temporary and flexible job which allows them to add an extra string to their bow and gain valuable experience while they work on other projects or seek permanent work in their field. It’s becoming an increasingly popular and worthwhile career choice for many.

Casual teaching offers a range of benefits. Experienced teacher and author of Success Secrets For Savvy Casual Teachers, Megan Dredge, says, ‘One of the main reasons that people choose to do casual teaching is because of the flexibility of time’. As a casual teacher, you also get to try things out, make mistakes and learn from them. ‘You get to try something different in another school or with another class tomorrow’, says Megan.

If you’re a casual teacher seeking permanent work or someone using it as a stepping stone to a new career, the following seven tips will help you to get the work and be the best casual teacher you can be!

1. Work on your resume

Strengthening your resume is the first step towards gaining work in schools, so ensure that you have a professional resume that clearly communicates your skills and qualifications. Megan stresses that with most recruiters, ‘You have seven seconds to make an impression’. Ensure that your cover letter is addressed to the correct person and that you include your days of availability to work.

Be sure to follow up your resume with a call a few days later to confirm that your resume was received. This demonstrates your ability to show initiative and your enthusiasm to work at the school.

2. Be prepared

It sounds obvious, but when your phone rings in the morning, answer it! It may be a school calling with a day of work for you. Megan suggests that you make a note of the person calling you from the school. Just remembering the person’s name when they call the next time can build rapport.

Be prepared with resources for the subjects you teach across a variety of grades. Being prepared gives structure to a work schedule that can be variable and unpredictable. The more organised you are, the greater your confidence will be when you enter a new school.

3. Present yourself professionally

‘Everything about you says something about you’, says Megan. You only have one opportunity to make a good first impression so be sure to pay attention to the details of your presentation – what you choose to wear, the way you smell, even your posture makes a difference.

Megan recommends dressing one standard above the staff dress code. She says, ‘It’s not about trying to impress them, but trying to make a good impression, showing that you’re a reliable, clean and tidy relief teacher’.

4. Approach the classroom with a sense of confidence and authority

Even if you feel nervous or uncertain, it’s important that your students see you as confident and in control. ‘The biggest mistake a casual teacher will make is they will try to be liked by their students. This is not your goal as a casual teacher’, says Megan. The sooner you establish a strong presence in the classroom, the sooner you will be able to get students to engage in productive class work and manage discipline issues effectively.

‘Be firm but kind is my overarching motto’, says Megan. She also recommends talking to students who arrive at school early and asking them how things usually work in the classroom. This will save you a lot of time in having to re-establish structure as a casual teacher.

5. Use your initiative

‘Graduate teachers can lack initiative’, says Megan. ‘They’re taught certain ways of doing things and when they’re thrown into a different school each day, and because they’re afraid of getting it wrong, they take an approach of zero initiative and they sit back and let the day roll on.’

Taking initiative may mean doing some extra work, stepping out and doing something you’ve never done before. ‘Principals and permanent teachers will notice that you take initiative. They will respect you more if you try and fail rather than not trying at all’, says Megan.

6. Build relationships and rapport with staff

?Make a point of saying goodbye to the person that you report to for the day and to the office staff. The office staff can really help you to get work in a school, so building rapport with them will keep you top-of-mind when the school needs a casual.

? Many casual teachers never go into the staffroom because it can be an intimidating place with its own set of social rules and expectations. But if you want to get more work at a school, you will have to overcome your fear and cross that threshold. ‘Building relationships with other teachers is a sure way to get more work in the school. Don't be invisible’, says Megan. Prepare some questions to ask other teachers, which can start conversations. A good question to start with is, ‘How long have you been working here?’

Remember: it’s about building genuine relationships with the staff, not about being fake or manipulative to get ahead.

7. Do more than is expected of you

If you want to be asked back again and again you will need to do something that causes you to stand out from the crowd. Megan says, ‘Lots of casual teachers rock in, do nothing, babysit the kids, at 3.15pm lights out and off they go.’

If, on the other hand, you arrive 15 minutes earlier and you leave 15 later than expected, everyone will sit up and take notice. Megan also recommends that you leave the classroom better than you found it, and ‘fill in a daily planner sheet, which shows the permanent teacher what you did with the class for the day’. If you leave a tidy class, with work marked and a daily planner sheet signed with your name on the class teacher’s desk, you can guarantee that you will get a call to do a casual day with the school again.

Above all, remember that you can have a huge positive impact in this career. ‘You can make a difference in one day, one class, one interaction with a student’, says Megan. When you focus on being a positive influence on the children you teach, your performance will be transformative for both you and them.

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