What an experienced teacher needs to know about supply teaching
7 minutes to read
I’m a supply teacher – now what?
After 15 years spent full-time teaching, I thought I had the lesson openers, funny stories and assembly stares down to a pat. I thought that I had seen it, done it and got the (P.E.) t-shirt to prove it. Then I joined a supply agency, and was proved wrong.
My nine months of supply teaching in primary schools has been an eye-opening experience. I have learnt a lot about the teaching world, that I had previously thought I knew inside out. It has been funny, nerve-wracking, frustrating and enjoyable all wrapped into one – a truly exhilarating and varied rollercoaster of a ride that I have never, ever, found dull.
Even if, like me, you are an experienced teacher, there are some things that you need to prepare for to make your time as a supply teacher the most effective and enjoyable it can be for yourself, your agency, colleagues and most importantly, your pupils.
Like a good little Scout, be prepared….
As an NQT, I remember my mentor saying to me, ‘Always prepare for the unexpected’. In supply teaching, that should be embroidered onto your pencil case (although, don’t – it won’t look cool). This is the first rule of supply teaching – the mantra which would be advisable to live your working life by (and, in my experience, life in general!).
Pack your bag wisely – alongside your trusty whiteboard pens (always like gold dust in most schools) and your rainbow of different marking policy approved pens, it would be advisable to have some metaphorical tricks up your sleeve. Even if planning has been promised, it may either be missing or worryingly scant.
Crossed fingers, I have never yet had to delve into my ‘book of photocopiables’ or use the 30 miniature dice that I have squirrelled away for a quick maths mental starter. But just knowing that I have something to fall back on should the need arise, gives me a feeling of renewed confidence. And of course, there will always be that one unexpected time that you will need a lesson – so have that bank of resources for all age groups at your fingertips.
And a cup! Don’t forget a cup for those staffrooms that are more ‘particular’ about their precious crockery.
You may have been booked to teach a certain year group and you may even have prepared materials to teach that particular age, or have read up on an element of science that you were not altogether familiar with… but there is no guarantee that you will, upon arrival at your school, be shepherded into the classroom that you were expecting.
It was about my fourth assignment, when I felt that I was getting the hang of teaching new pupils in an unfamiliar setting, that I was told, upon arrival at the school, that I was not teaching the year group that I had been booked for. I was actually needed elsewhere to teach pupils three years their senior. Instead of complaining, I plastered a cheery grin upon my face, and smiled. No problem.
Because, really, it isn’t a problem.
You have been booked for a day through your agency, and even if it is not the year group that you are used to teaching, chalk (no pun intended) it up to experience and get on with the job. The inner panic that I initially felt soon wore off, and I ended up having a great day, that felt even sweeter as I had not been expecting to work alongside that age of pupils.
That cheery smile will go a long way in the world of contract work. You have been selected by your agency to take up an assignment and it is up to you to make a success of it. Even if you encounter some frustrations along the way (like no passwords left for the computer!) a cheery attitude and smiling face will give your temporary colleagues a positive impression of you and may lead to a repeat booking.
In my many different roles and assignments, I have met some fantastic children and experienced incredibly rewarding days. But, on occasion, I have also felt let down or somewhat unsatisfied by either what has been expected of me or the niggling problems that I have had to face. However, I have reminded myself that I am there to do the job to the best of my abilities and have approached any difficulties in a proactive manner, which has often resulted in a satisfactory outcome.
(I’m thinking of the challenging class of 38 year sixes playing Tag Rugby all afternoon, which I dreaded. But, with a firm hand and a positive approach, it resulted in a great session and a sea of smiling faces with cries of ‘when are you teaching us again, Miss?’)
Sometimes, you will be surprised by the days which you were expecting to be tough, but turn into the most rewarding.
…but yourself on a really good day. One of the toughest aspects of supply teaching, I find, is the near-constant feeling of ‘First Day-ness’ (yes, I have made up this phrase).
As with all teaching, there is an element of performing in our job: we present, we entertain, we hold an audience’s attention. Upon standing up in front of a class for the first time, it is necessary that you impress right from the start, with boundless energy, drive and clear expectations, and hold this firm stance for the duration of the day.
In a long-term role, when you have the benefit of having taught the same class for a longer period of time, the pupils are familiar with your expectations, style of teaching and classroom management. Since supply teaching often means that you are new to the school and the children, I would advise you to find out the behaviour policies and systems of the school and make the class aware that you will be using them throughout the day, just as their own teacher would.
Also, set out your own outlook for the sessions and class behaviour – they are in your class for the day, and I would not be afraid of sticking to your own vision of how you would like a class to operate to facilitate a successful day. It will benefit you, and your pupils, if they know from the start that you have high expectations and that you are not a pushover – an unfortunate downside of the job is that certain individuals will sometimes test your boundaries, so make them clear from the start.
Equally, you are new to the school and your colleagues – you may just have that one day to prove that you can do a good job. All teachers have ‘off days’ (we are human, after all!) but try to give the best version of yourself in your new position, just as you would on the first day of a new long-term role.
Why I love it
Since taking on the position of supply teacher, I have had varied reactions from my teacher friends which range from ‘I couldn’t do it: you are so brave,’ to ‘lucky you: no late meetings and assessment!’ Personally, it works for me and my family; the flexibility it affords me means that I can attend my small son’s school events if I want to, and my hours of work suits my childcare arrangements. After so many years spent full-time teaching, I know the pressures of daily teaching and right now, I am happy not to have them to contend with. I love the varied nature of the job that I do, which I find exciting and unpredictable in nature – not everyone’s cup of tea, but one that I enjoy at this point in my career.
Above all, the experience that I have gleaned from teaching different year groups on a daily basis and walking into a wide spectrum of schools has, I feel, made me a more well-rounded teacher and professional.
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