You’re nearly finished for week, in fact you’ve only got one more class to go. You don’t have any solid plans, but are looking forward to a weekend of wandering around the city and going on mini adventures. You go over to the kettle and make one more cup of tea to prepare you for the last class. As your tea steeps, the DoS comes up to you smiling coyly. Before they open their mouth you already know that you aren’t going to like what they’re going to say.
The DoS explains that someone is sick and the school is really shorthanded, would you mind covering a few classes tomorrow. You look at your cup of tea with hatred and disgust; if you hadn’t made the tea, you’d already have been in class. You could have avoided this whole situation!
Cover is one of the most dreaded words in the TEFL industry. Just writing the word is making me paranoid, as if one of my teachers is about to call in sick. Whether you have a legitimate reason why you can’t cover or not, nobody wants to give up a day off. Also, the idea of teaching a lot of classes that you don’t know can be a bit scary. While, in the situation described above, you may be tempted to tell the DoS that you can’t cover, here’s why you should reconsider. Also, I’ll give you a few tips for how to make it through a cover day with a minimum of stress.
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Tips and Tricks to Survive Cover
My first piece of advice, if you have to cover, is to let go of any bitterness that you may be feeling. Often, the worst part of cover is the anger and resentment that you feel for coming in on your day off. The classes probably won’t be that bad, it’s probably not a full day, and if you stop overthinking it, then it won’t be that big of a deal. To put it simply, you can spend a few hours teaching and enjoy the rest of your time, or you can waste the whole evening and the next day worrying about it.
The top tip I have for cover days is to use your best games and activities. Think about it, with your own classes, you constantly have to develop new games to keep the students interested. However, as these aren’t your classes, your games will all be new to them! You can bring out all of your favorites again with the confidence that they’ll be successful.
Not only will the games be new, but you yourself are also new. Students are often well behaved for a first lesson, because they’re not quite sure how the adult in the room is going to behave. Are they going to be strict? Are they fun? Because of this, students will likely be better behaved for you than their regular teacher. Likewise, they’ll simply be more interested in how you do things.
You are probably familiar with the acronym K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid), which in the TEFL industry refers to simple activities working better than complicated ones. Well, I strongly advise that you keep your cover activities extremely simple. Your students are familiar with the way you give instructions, these students won’t be. Also, you may not be able to accurately gage the level of a class. True, they may be using the same textbook as your class, but they may be struggling with it. Keep it simple.
I also recommend, if possible, discussing classroom routines with their regular teacher. Find out games that work, and whether there are any routines that they are used to. It may be the difference between a class going well or spiraling into disaster.
Though I hesitate to say this, another thing that makes your cover day easier is the knowledge that it’s not really your responsibility to fix classroom management issues. You simply don’t have time in one lesson to fix any deep rooted classroom issues, so don’t try. Keep them focused and engaged. Beyond that, your only responsibility is to discuss any issues with their regular teacher later on.
Why Covering Classes is Worth it
Money. TEFL isn’t going to make you rich, and there are probably lots of things that you’d like to do in the country where you’re teaching. That extra money will definitely come in handy during your next holiday. In fact, many schools actually offer bonuses as an incentive to get people to cover.
Another reason that covering is beneficial is that it gives you an opportunity to try out a few different types of classes.You may find that you really enjoy teaching teens, business English or pre-school students after your cover day. If this is the case, communicate it to your DoS and you may find yourself with some regular classes like those.
Lastly, and most importantly, if you cover classes, the DoS will be more lenient with you regarding your own holiday and leave. As a manager, I can tell you that finding cover for teachers that are ill or on holiday is an enormous pain. When it comes to approving requests for time off, I am definitely kinder to those teachers who have helped with cover in the past.
In general, if you simply accept cover as an inevitable part of the business, things will work out a lot better for you than if you are either forced or guilted into it.