There is perhaps nothing quite so mercurial as being a cover teacher. The seemingly hapless authority on innumerable subjects who comes and goes with epidemics of flu; and who inevitably spreads a variety of ailments, diseases and troubles as they migrate from one school to another. Cover teachers are Death in a Marks and Spencer two piece suit.

Being a cover teacher means adapting to change, thinking on your feet, and navigating the labyrinthine corridors and passageways of a school without any real sense of familiarity. Be in one school for long enough and the staff might acknowledge you as a familiar face, but whilst the students might remember your latest lesson you will never be a proper teacher. There will always be the faintest whiff of fake that all the perfumes of arabia could not sweeten.

But what does being a cover teacher actually involve. Well, there are benefits to the job, to be sure. If you are doing day-to-day cover you arrive at the start of the school day and leave at the end, there is no marking, no meetings, no parents day or letters home, there is no sense of obligation to join in with after school activities, and no detentions to supervise. The job is simple. Turn up, attend lessons on time, set the work, explain where necessary and be available to the students if they need you. Behaviour management can be problematic, but remain cheerful about whatever you are facing, keep your wits about you and the worst you'll face is an hour or so of unacceptable classroom behaviour that quickly passes allowing you to move on to better things. The pay is not great, but as a means of obtaining experience in a variety of schools at the start of a teaching career it has the added value of allowing you to try before you buy so to speak.

So, what actual learning takes place in a cover lesson. Well, worse case scenario is none. This view, however, is unduly negative as even when the lesson has gone out the window the children will be learning something about themselves, those around them and the wider world; a cover teacher always brings into the school the mystique of the world outside and when pupils push the boundaries they inevitably realise that they finally have to construct some boundaries of their own. At best a well prepared cover teacher can be an inspiration. The pupils will see a teacher moving out of their specialism to teach across the curriculum, they will develop a respect for the versatility of the teacher and they will be inspired to engage more in all their subjects. A great generalist with one specialism will always receive the favour of students to a greater degree than someone so immersed in their subject that they neglect the other disciplines. A great cover lesson is therefore eclectic, it incorporates knowledge from other lessons and brings something of the real world into the classroom.

Top 10 things heard during a cover lesson.

  1.  Hairspray is great for keeping your makeup on.
  2.  Our teacher always lets us ... (insert ridiculous thing here, eg. set fire to rizla papers)
  3. Are you the dad of Mr. Smith in the English department.
  4. Sir, are you a proper teacher.
  5. We did this last lesson. (So helpful when it happens to be true.)
  6. This IS where I usually sit.
  7. It's not a condom it's a balloon from the art department
  8. Did you buy your shoes at Oxfam.
  9. You flies are low (this one happened to be true despite my refusal to listen.)
  10. The bell has gone already. No, seriously Sir, you can't hear it in this block.

Despite the sheer variety of the day, one thing can almost be guaranteed, and that is that an absent teacher will set their class a poster to design. Yep, the first idea that comes to the mind of most teachers that have phoned in sick is, let them design a poster. There's paper, there are the pens, now a poster on photosynthesis, Spanish festivals, Greenhouse gases, anything. Let them be creative.