How not to organise your guided reading

Today, Facebook threw up this memory from a year ago:

Yesterday’s logical Y3 guided reading filing system: Red group books: purple folder. Purple group books: green folder. Yellow group books: green folder. Orange group books: red folder. Green group books: orange folder.

Far be it from me to tell you how to do your job but that system is shit.  What chance does anyone, supply teacher or otherwise, have with that?

If I recall correctly, this was also the teacher that left a (paraphrased) note saying ‘For the afternoon, talk to Miss Smith in class 3, she will tell you what the class need to do.’  Understandably, Miss Smith in class 3 had sod all idea what a completely different class were up to.

That is a school I refuse to return to.


Stickers: A Love Affair

One of my semi-regular classes has begun giving out stickers for good behaviour and work.  While this does seem to be making an impact with this class (I managed to convince a very ‘active’ child to sweep up all the sand he had chucked on the floor with the promise of a sticker), I have mixed feelings about stickers in the classroom.  I first encountered them on my very first school work experience when the teacher gave them out for good behaviour, being helpful etc.  It worked well but come tidy up time, I asked a child to put some games away, to which her reply was “Will I get a sticker?”

Another time I was on supply placement and gave some stickers for good behaviour, which prompted one child, during carpet time, to persistently say “Mr Thing gimmie sticker.  Mr Thing gimmie sticker. Mr Thing gimmie sticker,” for about 15 minutes.  My name is not Mr Thing.  I could have given him one to shut him up but it would have sent out the message that they way to earn a reward is to use auditory water torture techniques until the teacher submits.  That wasn’t the angle I was hoping for.

Mr Thing Gimmie Typewriter final

That’s my fundamental problem with stickers, in that the sticker can often become the end in itself, rather than the reward for doing the right thing.

Of course, some schools do employ sticker-based systems (including my first workplace) but I think they need to be handled carefully.  I have bugbear with random dolling out of stickers when I child does one right thing.  The child gets a sticker for tidying up, then immediately goes back to smacking another child around the head.

I prefer to implement a system whereby the children get themselves into a ‘sticker-zone’ (meaning they are eligible for a sticker on their chart at the end of the day) that they must remain in until home time.  If their behaviour falters, they come out of the sticker zone and don’t get the sticker.


To be fair, something like these would motivate me. Source.

It is different on day-to-day supply, however.  You need to get the kids on side from the off and, sad as it is, the promise of a sticker is one of the most powerful carrots you can have.  When greeting the class and explaining my expectations for the day I’ll let them know about the possibility of a sticker if they impress me.  I’ll then draw a smiley face on the board that the children can write their name under if they’re in line for a sticker (which doubles up as a helpful reminder of the kid’s names).  If their name is still there at the end of the day, they get one of the hallowed stickers.

I tend not to draw a sad face for the kids that have made bad behaviour choices as, not only, is it publicly shaming the kids but, from a certain contingent, there will be competition to see who can get themselves under the sad face the quickest or for the most impressive reasons.

This system needs adapting, depending on placements and your feel for the class, in the morning.  Children with specific needs are a separate case and if it’s a tricky class that needs lots of motivation, give the stickers at lunch and start again in the afternoon (with potential for some kids to get two stickers during the day).  It seems harsh but when I get a really lovely class, I actually end up giving out less stickers as I’m so engaged with what they’re doing to think about behaviour motivation, which is lovely.  On those rare occasions, I’ll often reward the whole class at the end of the day.

The main thing with stickers (or any reward system), is that you should aim for the reward to feel like it has been earned in response for doing something well, not just as the end in itself.

The lies we tell ourselves.

I wondered aloud on Facebook today why negative thoughts appear so much more potent that positive ones. A few chums posted some responses but I’ll expand here why I raised the question. I’d been wondering this for a while but today’s supply placement prompted me to write.

Today’s placement was shit. At the end of the school day I felt defeated, a failure and was questioning why I bother to do this job. That sort of experience affects me and my view of myself. Why, I wondered, do I not feel such a strong emotional reaction when I have a good day’s teaching?

To lighten the mood, here is a happy child with some broccoli.

When the kids are lovely, they try hard and do their best to behave and learn I’m happy but tend to say it’s because their usual teacher is awesome or their routines are well embedded. If it’s a crap day, I immediately tell myself it’s because I’m a bad teacher who can’t manage a class and isn’t an effective educator. How stupid is that?

The class today were a nightmare (in the afternoon, after I produced a perfectly good morning’s teaching) because they’ve had a load of different teachers, there has been no consistent routines, they are well behind where they should be academically, with an extraordinarily high proportion of children who don’t speak English and therefore really didn’t have much of a clue what I was saying to them. There was also no planning or resources (so I was making up the day as I went along), the school did Read Write Inc incorrectly (it should not be taught as a carousel), there were insufficient activities for the free-flow children, staff only get 25 minutes for lunch and on arrival I only had 15 minutes to get my head around what to do before being told to come to the 15 minute whole-staff briefing (supply teachers really don’t need to attend them).

Of course the class were going to act up. I’m amazed we got to lunchtime before they all kicked off (and each other).

I’m not saying I’m perfect because as soon as I raised my voice I knew I’d lost them (then I was pissed off at myself for doing so, so the cycle was exacerbated) but what I am asking is why does my brain focus on the negative and steamroll over, not only, the positive but the reasons behind the negative? It’s stupid, irrational and emotionally exhausting.

Bob montage final

Does anyone else out there feel the same?

Goodbye Mr Chips: Does supply teaching create anything permanent?

My dad, although ostensibly, is retired, seems to keep working. He appears to be as busy as he was when he was employed but I guess the difference now is that he can pick and choose the work he wishes (his problem being that he finds it very difficult to ever say no to anyone who asks – probably also a reason that for three years in a row, he agreed to come to talk to the children in my classes). The other day, however, out of the blue he was called with a new position that he describes as ‘the cherry on top of his career’. For anonymity’s sake, I’m obviously not letting on any more details but it made me wonder what does a supply teacher look back on, when they eventually retire?

Wait a minute…that’s the wrong Mr Chips.

Like many teachers, I went into education to make a difference, help the children, create an impact upon 100s of little lives etc, etc. When I was working as a full-time teacher I felt – for good or bad (but mostly good) – I was making that impact. Having been back as supply for almost a year I do wonder what I’d look back on after a lifetime of day to day supply.

There’s no regular classes or schools, the supply agencies certainly aren’t that bothered about you, you’ve not got any regular colleagues and, perhaps, most sad of all, you’re not making anything of lasting impact. The kids might remember you for a few days but after that, you’re gone.


Three Greatest Hollywood teachers
Any excuse to reuse this picture.



I’ve said before that it is not the supply teacher’s job to be Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society or Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. The best you can hope for is to be Vic Racine in My So Called Life – and he ends up getting sacked. And at the end of his episode? [Spoiler alert] You discover he is a family-deserting bastard.

Really, the ending should be him on the phone, apologising to his supply agency for messing up an otherwise good placement.

Having gone – with very noble intentions – into teaching as a career, it can be hard to reconcile what that means with the realities of how teaching is now just a day-to-day job. At the end of the last summer term? There were no thank you cards or grateful parents. The kids won’t have remembered me and the parent’s didn’t recognise me. When I look back at this part of a teaching life, what will I say I achieved?


I’ve done the right thing.

There is a school I’ve supplied at a few times over the past few weeks that has just confirmed to me that leaving teaching as soon as was logistically possible was, if not the wisest idea, definitely the right one.

Last week, having finished for the day, I walked past the staff room to see all the teaching staff sitting, stony faced in silence, doing what looked like a cross-phase book scrutiny (looking at other classes’ books, in lay terms). It the sort of thing you have to do as a teacher as it is one of the ‘things-you-do-as-a-teacher’. I partook in a few book scrutinies but all they ever did was make me feel crap that in comparison to what the kids in other classes were achieving (mostly due to me being too hard on myself) and use up time when I could have been prepping or marking or getting on with all the other jobs a teacher is loaded down with.

"This staff meeting will invigorate your teaching and ensure your class are engaged all day.  It is about APS points and differential progress." Bored by Jason Scragz
“This staff meeting will invigorate your teaching and ensure your class are engaged all day. It is about every teacher marking in green ink.”
Bored by Jason Scragz

I don’t think it ever really helped me or improved my teaching practise. Add to that all the pointless staff meetings I attended in my time, just because it was staff meeting day not because there was anything valuable to do, and I’m sure I’ve spent days of my life in a room full of people who would much rather be somewhere else, with anyone else.

At the end of today, the class teacher and her TA were having a salacious gossip about their colleagues’ various personality conflicts, teaching approaches as well as griping about all the other staff that are fleeing the school in droves (mainly because of work/life balance) and how it might affect the impending OFSTED inspection.

"You'll never guess what I heard about Miss Williams in Y3..." Gossip by Jürgen
“You’ll never guess what I heard about Miss Williams in Y3…”

Gossip by Jürgen

While we all love a good gossip (and it was certainly entertaining to have an academic eavesdrop) it just made me think that it is nice to be largely free of all the internal politics and the possibility of people slating your work behind your back (which, to be fair, you can get in any job). The cream was thinking also that I shouldn’t have to experience OFSTED to any great degree anytime soon.

Today, the teaching was a challenge but when you remember all the other crap that teachers trudge through, it puts that one day in perspective.

Nomadic teaching: Five good things about supply.

So, firmly back as one of the nomads of teaching, wondering, stateless, from school to school as a supply teacher, I present to you, five good things about supply teaching.

Hello.  I was told I'm teaching in Miss Williams' class today. Nomad with camel by Charles Roffey
“Hello. I was told I’m teaching in Miss Williams’ class today.”
Nomad with camel by Charles Roffey

1. Flexibility

You’re not stuck in one place. If you like, you can often pick the number of and which days you work. If you hate a class you don’t have to go back. If you get on with a class, they will often request you return. You’re not locked into a contract with a particular school, which offers you a lot of freedom. I am loving my three days teaching/two days parenting balance.

2. You can leave a school you don’t like.

As mentioned above, if you hate a school, for whatever reason, you don’t have to return. I once decided to not go back to a school because I got a parking ticket that day.

Perfectly acceptable reason not to return to a school. Charleston parking ticket by Charleston's TheDigitel
Perfectly acceptable justification for not to returning to a school.
Charleston parking ticket by Charleston’s TheDigitel

3. None of the rubbish that comes with being a teacher.

This week has been a revelation. While I’ve popped in and out of schools, I’ve seen teachers stressing about parents’ evenings, planning and one ranting about how he had to spend six hours on Sunday compiling half a term’s worth of attendance data. This is all the crap that only has a little to do with teaching but everything to do with being a teacher. I have loved leaving all that at those schools.

Change is good. loose change by ambert
Change is good.
loose change by ambert

4. You get to experience different settings.

If you’re interested in how different schools operate, day-to-day supply is brilliant. You get to see how so many different schools and key stages function. You get to see how days are organised, behaviour management systems, class routines, expectations of working, displays, approaches to teaching: so many different and complementary aspects of learning. The constant change can be stressful but at least it’s different.

5. It can lead to a job…if you want.

Supply was how I get my first permanent job. I made a good impression, was asked to return a number of times, a position became available and it was offered to me (no interview or trial lesson required – bonus)! If you want it, often something will come up.

To keep it fair, tomorrow will follow with…five bad things about supply.

Someone out there reads me!

I didn’t think I was going to write this blog to be bothered about likes and comments and views but it is nice to know someone occasionally looks at it and might form a passing opinion of it.  “The Best Outcome for Our Child is When You Leave on Friday” post has dwarfed all the other posts on here, though.  Which is a bit weird (I did mention it on Facebook but its gone well beyond just my ‘friends’).  How lovely.

A blog about a teacher leaving teaching?  I can't believe the ground-breaking opinion, research and comment on this site!'   What have I done!? by  Miguel Angel
“A blog about a teacher leaving teaching? I can’t believe the ground-breaking opinion, research and comment on this site!'”

What have I done!? by Miguel Angel

Someone else, who liked another posting of mine writes The Trying Project, evidently someone else who has also decided to quit teaching.  And despite her being a Korean American, in America, pregnant and a woman, her experience seems somewhat similar to mine.  Have a read of 5 Reasons I’m Happy I Quit Teaching, and 1 Nagging Reason I’m not and it kind of covers everything I’ve been prattling on about.  All those people looking at my blog can savetime and just go and read that one post!