No one talks about cover to young teachers let alone trainee students. So it was in my first year that eventually my first cover lesson came along. As an NQT my first school looked after me very well, but once my 5th year (mode 3 CSE) left inevitably I did my bit.
Those of you who teach know there are cover lessons and cover lessons. Sometimes colleagues leave work or others set work which is detailed and comprehensive, the children are well briefed and the ‘substitute teacher’ can get on with their work. But there are also the “carry on with the where you got to” type lessons and those where you try and avert a near riot as the pupils exaggeratedly pleads “Sir, this isn’t fair Miss promised we would ….. today ” fill in blank with a glorious treat.
So it was. I saw my name on the cover board – Tuesday period 4 PE. OH NO. Of all lessons PE has to be one of the worst, no reflection on PE staff, but there is little chance of getting anything done as you supervise some sporty activity. This being summer, the gym was used for about 3 months for exams and this was ….tennis. I had no kit, I had no idea how to teach or coach tennis but my colleagues helped and whilst I might have got away with it wearing my lab coat umpiring cricket, I did my best to make the effort in the summer sun.
Imagine my disappointment and surprise the next week when again I saw Tuesday period 4 PE. To be fair the deputy apologised but I took the group out again and they were glad my presence meant they got their lesson. I was annoyed not to have packed my kit again but I ask you who gets a second cover for the same lesson.
If only…… you guessed the next week Tuesday period 4 PE, cover Mr Dexter. Well even patient, enthusiastic Mr Dexter was cross and so I asked the deputy if we could avoid PE and watch something in the TV room and then suddenly inspired recalled ….”its Wimbledon”.
Many of the children understood and so after the usual fiddling with leads/aerials and sound they watched Wimbledon….and this was a year after the famous John McEnroe “You cannot be serious” in 1981. So interest was maintained. I sat at the back and crouched over a small table started my marking and yes slightly pleased with myself.
It was about 5 minutes before the end when a strange sound went up from the class, not a hurrah, not a cheer, more a cross between the noises when someone drops their lunch on the floor in the canteen and your team miss a penalty. I sat up, looked over very confused. There wasn’t even any play, the players were resting between sets and the camera panned the crowd and a loan voice in the class piped up …” There Mr Dexter, look who is sitting on the second row.” Then with me thinking aloud “you cannot be serious” but yes sure enough the PE teacher was sat in row 2 enjoying Wimbledon perhaps not quite as much as this class. Professionals think what they might say or do… I had no chance for either the class left and the message was everywhere even without social media.
It turned out the teacher was a supply teacher covering one of my colleagues off with a broken leg….. we didn’t see her again in school, and I did no more covers all summer.
I loved my first school, colleagues were wonderful, kind and supportive and I learned so much from watching and talking with them, and most importantly I realised I really could teach and enjoy the job. BUT I also learnt there are some who aren’t like that, some who will break rules and later on I had to appreciate the accountability, performance and system measures necessary for a small minority … pity really but necessary.
I can honestly say no more than a dozen staff have I met during my career that I did not enjoy working with over those 36 years – the majority ( thousands) professional, creative, diligent and clever …with the odd exceptions
Oh and quite a different lesson – when pupils get hold of a juicy story – it travels at lightning speed in fact at unstoppable speed with or without the turbo of social media.
“Tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault break, love – the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature” Andre Agassi