*OT, as in Occasional Teacher, and not Over Time. Most of us grew up calling them substitute teachers, which is still used but my official job title is Occasional Teacher.
Get to know the office. The most obvious would be the administration – principal and vice principal. But you also should get to know the office administration staff. In a genuine, friendly way that you get to know people you work with. I’m not one of those people who can naturally bond with others – nor do I “suck up” to people. But it’s good for them to recognize your face and name when you come to school so that you can start building a repertoire with them. Luckily, I’ve been working at the school that I was a student teacher, and later a volunteer, at and most of the staff recognizes me, even if they don’t personally know me that well yet.
Bring supplies and materials. I’ve had mine packed way before I ever got a job assignment. In it, I had a few storybooks, worksheets, school supplies, stickers, bandages, and other nick-knacks. How often have I actually used it? Perhaps twice in the past three months. Luckily, I’ve been going to classrooms where the teacher has the daily plans so well done that I haven’t needed any emergency supplies. But it’s good to know that I have something if anything does go astray.
Take any job if you can get it. But be prepared. This one seems obvious but it really isn’t. The truth is, as a new and young OT, it’s hard to get called in at all. So when the call comes around or if the job pops up in a search, we should automatically accept it. Even if they call and wake you up at 6 in the morning. However, I do believe that there are exceptions. If you get called in for a job assignment that you really feel like you cannot handle (lack of certification or experience), perhaps you should let it go. Why? Because at the same time, you don’t want to do such a terrible job that the teacher and school you’re at thinks you’re incompetent.
Primary-level students are the cutest little people, especially in Physical Education. I’ve actually covered a lot for Phys. Ed in the past three months during their Cross Country days. Which is why I’ve taught many of the Kindergartens, Grade 1s, 2s, 3s, and a few of the 4s. And honestly? You will never see a more adorable game of soccer than to have ten little second graders running around the gym. And then you have to hold in your laughter when a few of them run up to you after only playing for a minute and a half (I keep time for rotation of teams), asking to get water because they’re thirsty, tired, and sweaty from playing around.
Teaching Primary actually isn’t that bad. Not that I ever thought it would be. In fact, I really do admire the teachers who do it every single day. I love this age range – they’re so cute and adorable – but I always felt my interest in teaching lay with the slightly older students. I like that challenge more. But recent experiences have definitely opened up my perspective and I’m considering taking my Primary qualifications. Which I don’t have, but I’ve been managing for OT days.
I need to be flexible and patient. So flexible. So patient. And not just with the students. With the search of jobs. It’s been especially hard since September because of the strike action in Ontario. Strike = no workshops = no teachers taking time off = less work for OTs = even less work for new OTs who have no connections. Because that’s what it is right now, a lot of the classroom teachers call in OTs that they already know. And for the ones of us who do not have that personal network yet, it’s very difficult. So I’m being patient. And flexible, as in, when I get called at 6AM, I’m taking the job. If all I can find are half days, I’m taking them.
Whistle. Attention Grabbers. I showed up to my first Physical Education job assignment without a whistle. And learned firsthand how difficult that can be. Ever try pausing a gym of 25 Kindergartens playing soccer/basketball/bowling/jump rope, with just your voice? Not fun at all. My throat was so sore by the end of the three hours I was there. And I’ve learned a few attention grabbers to use – especially with the primary grades. They love doing this sort of thing.
“Hocus Pocus.” “Everybody focus.”
“Macaroni and Cheese.” “Everybody freeze.”
“Ba da da da da.” “I’m loving it!”
Smile. It really does make a difference. I greet the students from the start so they know that I’ll be with them in the classroom for the day. I’m friendly and approachable. I’m kind, willing to listen and talk, and I see firsthand how students – even the “troublemakers” – respond to it. It doesn’t always work of course. And students are apt to get out of hand, especially with a new teacher in their classroom… so,
Be firm and follow through. It’s not always enough to be good, fair, and kind to your students. They need to know exactly what the rules are and what happens when they do not follow the rules. This is something that I’ve been working on for as long as I can remember. I acknowledge that I need to be stricter. And going in as an OT has definitely made me stricter.
Enjoy the time off. It can be really hard at times. Especially the first month, when I didn’t get a job until near the end of the month. You’re sitting at home, feeling kind of useless. And the feeling can be so destructive. So I’ve been working hard on being optimistic and grateful. Living with my parents is definitely a blessing at this point in my career and I’m so grateful that they’re able to be supportive of me. I enjoy (some) of my days off – especially those when I can go out for lunch with my parents. Something that would not be as likely to happen on a regular work week once I find a permanent position (which probably won’t happen for at least a year or two). So until then, I might as well enjoy the fact that I can have “time off” aka “couldn’t get a job for the day.”
I returned from Seoul with the desire to teach in my own classroom. And while I’m still not quite there, I’m glad I came back. Teaching in Toronto has always been a goal of mine, and I do believe that I’m gaining so much experience as an Occasional Teacher that will only make me a better teacher one day. Especially when it comes to classroom management.
Good luck to all my fellow Occasional Teachers out there. I’ll be back with a few more anecdotes and reflections. If you’d like to share yours, I’d be happy to hear them.