What to do when the teacher leaves you a crappy lesson to teach?

by | May 9, 2019 | Behaviour Management, Blog | 0 comments

So, the teacher has left you a snooze-worthy lesson to teach that you know is going to bomb. What’s a supply teacher to do?

This is an all too familiar issue for casual teachers and it can be a tricky one to navigate. As the fill-in, you want to do what is asked of you to leave a good impression in the hope for a callback. But at what cost? All too often teachers will leave us “busy” work as they would prefer to teach a certain lesson themselves. I totally get that, but we are also rarely told this so it can be hard to determine from the notes whether it is a crucial lesson to be covered or just a fill-in activity they found somewhere.  When we are left work that is meaningless and boring it means that our already tough job of teaching children we don’t even know the names of is made even harder. Disengagement is the perfect recipe for a disaster of a day so as a professional you need to decide how to avoid your lesson, and your day, being destroyed.

So, you have some options. The first one is to suffer through it. I would generally choose this option first so you can at least report back that you have had a go at it. The key is to keep them engaged. Here are some tools to help do that-

  • Try your best to be enthusiastic about it, if you aren’t there is no way the kids will be, so fake it the best you can!
  • Use the interactive whiteboard as an intro, during the lesson or when finishing the lesson. Google “Interactive ‘the topic’” or search for a video on the topic to boost engagement.
  • Try Think-Pair-Share, Talk to your Partner or similar techniques to get students thinking, talking and engaging.
  • Use a brain break between the lesson to refocus them.
  • Use a soft ball or hacky sack to get students to answer questions, read a text and get interacting to boost engagement.
  • Tell them there will be a quiz at the end with a reward of some sort.

Sometimes the lesson sucks, sometimes you have no idea how you are supposed to teach it and sometimes things out of your control (technology, photocopy fail or missing resources) prevents you from delivering the lesson well or at all. This happens (more often than we would like) and teachers of all people understand that. But if you have tried your best and you are losing control of the class, I would suggest ditching the lesson and switch to an engaging activity you know the kids will love. It is more important to remain in charge and have the students behaving than completing a failing lesson that is quite possibly just “busy” work anyway. Many teachers report that they would prefer you to teach your own lesson than come back to notes about behaviour issues that could have been avoided.

There are hundreds of ideas out there but here are some of my go-to activities to save the day that students love and can be adapted for most age groups-

  • Some quick and easy word games to get students calm, thinking and focused again. Some examples are Change a Letter, Word in a word, Anagrams and Letter Questions.
  • Create a Find-a-Word using words related to the topic or subject then get a partner to complete it.
  • Minute Mime– Students have a minute to mime an action for the class to guess.
  • Greedy Pig-­ An engaging maths activity using dice using addition and chance.
  • Alphabetical Subject– Make a list of words relating to your subject using the alphabet, in order.
  • Follow directions– directional drawing activity that is easily adapted to all ages. For early years chose a simple picture eg. draw a tree, then add objects around using directional language. For older students draw quadrants then use cardinal language or left/right within the quadrants to draw objects etc.
  • Draw-a-Poems (sample pages here and you can purchase here).
  • Topic Talk– Give a student a topic to talk about for 1 minute without saying “umm” or “ahh”. Keep score of “umms” to determine the person with the least as the winner.
  • Mr. Squiggle An engaging drawing activity where students use their creativity to create a picture from a simple squiggle.
  • If the class is getting fidgety, get moving with some quick exercises at their desk. Try jumping, star jumps, hopping, running on the spot, frog jumps, etc.
  • Paper Ball Toss– Divide the class into two teams. The teacher asks questions related to the topic and the team that answers correctly gets a point. They get another 2 points if they shoot the paper into the bin.
  • Pizza Massage– A listening and instructional game where you give directions on making a pizza that students follow by doing the actions on another student’s back whilst sitting in a circle.
  • Heads down thumbs up/Seven up– A classic game that most teachers and students know making it perfect for when you need a few minutes to gather your thoughts to plan what you are going to do next!
  • Silent Ball– Students silently throw a ball around the room. If you drop the ball or talk you are out.

(Find all activities mentioned above here)

If you do end up bailing on a lesson or didn’t complete it as well as you had hoped, just be honest and let the teacher know. They are generally pretty understanding people who know what their class is like and what some lessons can be like. A detailed note of your failed attempt will be much more appreciated than no communication at all.

I highly recommend you DO NOT ignore the teacher’s planning as they work hard to do so and with a crammed curriculum can’t afford for lessons to be left BUT there are some circumstances that require you to do what you need to do to survive the day and if that means ditching the dreary lesson, then so be it!

Happy teaching!






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