On the supply side (CONTINUED FROM PAGE 12)
majority of schools make you feel welcome and look after you. They need you more than you need them!
You will be going into classrooms with pupils you don’t know personally or academically. You will often be greeted with “Where’s Miss/Sir?” or “Are you a proper teacher?” The worst is “You’re the third supply teacher we’ve had this week. When’s Sir coming back?” Very dispiriting, but get used to it!
Not knowing what the pupils can achieve or what level they are working at comes with the territory, but a good subject leader or head of department will be able to put you right. Search out department heads and find out as much as you can about your classes. If they are any good at all, they will be in and out of your classroom several times a day to make sure you’re still alive and upright.
It is up to the school to ensure you have viable work for the classes you are covering. Hopefully, this will be set out on a school pro forma with the lesson details, group lists, homework assignments and extension work. Be wary of the instruction that simply reads: “The class know what they are doing.” Believe me, they won’t!
Another bête noire of the supply teacher is the IT lesson. I always make a point of checking beforehand if there are enough computers for the class; if the internet is up and running; if there is a mouse for every computer, and so on. (There’s a whole new article on where computer mice disappear to in schools). As an experienced supply teacher, I always ask if there’s a Plan B for IT lessons, preferably one that is book- or paper-based, just in case someone ‘pulls the plug’ on the entire system. (It happens!)
Always get to know the school’s procedures and systems for dealing with bad behaviour. No matter how senior you were in your old school, as a supply teacher you are, to all intents and purposes, a nobody, without the clout you once enjoyed. Again, a good school should tell you all this on the day you arrive. It’s as well not to try to act as if you are in your old school, but it’s important to ‘set out your stall’ at the beginning of each lesson so that pupils are under no illusions. I have found that they respond much better to someone who has clear aims and who sets the boundaries of acceptable behaviour clearly and consistently, even if they are never going to see you again.
Of course, you’ll get used to teaching whatever subject the schools require you to teach. My specialisms are English, media and film studies but I have covered every subject on the timetable, including Year 9 sex education. (Don’t get me started on that one!)
What are the advantages? The biggest benefit I’ve found is flexibility. I decide when or if I want to work, and how far I want to travel.
Generally the money is not bad, but bear in mind what I said earlier about sick pay. I find I make most of my money in the autumn term. After Easter it tends to tail off a bit, with usually little or nothing come late June and July. September is generally fairly slow as well, so expect a nine to ten week hiatus in summer/early autumn.
As with all jobs you’ll have good days and bad. Some schools you will love and you will want to go back to them. Others – you’ll leave rubber tracks on the drive in your rush to escape!
Having been a supply teacher for three years I’ve found that, for the vast majority of the time, it has been very enjoyable and I’ve met some wonderful people. I’ve also found that I like teaching a lot more without the distractions of meetings, reports, lesson observations and so on. And you can go home on time every afternoon!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article reflects one NUT member’s experiences of supply teaching. Other members have told us they are having increasing difficulty finding work, or are only paid ‘cover supervisor’ rates. Please research the situation in your area thoroughly, and look at the implications for your pension, before starting supply teaching. The Union is carrying out a survey of supply teacher members in the autumn term. Share your experiences at www.teachers.org.uk/
Laurence French is a freelance writer and author. He has taught for over 30 years, including 23 at Campion School, Leamington Spa.
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