Teaching is always a challenge; each day is different as well as each class you teach. We are all individuals and teaching is individual. Lessons that go well with one class may not work so well with another group. Factors such as the weather (rain; snow; wind; sunshine), or circumstances in your day or that of the pupils will alter how it goes.
It seems these days teaching has become more measured by constant testing. The PPA time allocated to help with planning and preparation has been filled more and more with Assessment and forms to fill. To be an inspirational teacher is no longer acceptable (although schools say this is) teachers have to stay on a safe measured path for fear of a false step. Inspirational teaching is now all about performing to the prescribed script.
Having taught for nineteen years in one school, which had gone through a series of problematic failures I found myself under personal pressure and losing confidence in the system. I had felt I wanted to leave the profession but retirement was a long way off and financially this was not a personal option. However, the new management style seemed to want to push out the older, expensive and more experienced teachers.
Advisors came in to show how to teach an ‘outstanding’ lesson. Theirs is a one-off show piece whereas the reality for all teachers is a 5-day week, with assemblies, play-duties, as well as all the other areas of the curriculum. I have planned a one-hour lesson with an advisor which took a morning or afternoon to plan and resource, but what about all the other lessons?
Eventually I found myself in situation where I knew I had no option but to leave. With the ‘National Union of Teachers’ and ‘Teacher Support Network’s’ support and understanding I realised I had to take care of myself and was able to leave the job with some cash settlement.
The timing of my departure was very scary; my husband had just suffered another episode of Cancer and in his job he was facing possible redundancy. It left me with fears as to how we would find the mortgage payments. It was a sad ending from a school I had put so much effort and time into. My departure did not allow me to leave at a fitting end of term; did not allow me to say a proper farewell; but I knew I was leaving with my health, if not my confidence, intact.
I had a part-time hobby as well as a book writing project to undertake so I decided to focus on this.
As I still had to pay the mortgage I decided I had to do supply teaching to make ends meet.
After a very slow start the supply teaching began to come in. I felt very nervous at first; I knew as a teacher, supply cover is not always welcomed or fully appreciated. I began very hesitantly but after a while began to really enjoy seeing all the different schools; all the different children and the opportunity to teach so many different ages in a week.
I began to realise that all children in the different schools were the same with the same problems; it was just their background experiences that change things. There are challenges in all schools and yes there are more in some environments.
Sometimes it is the environment which is great; sometimes the staff team; sometimes the resources or the planning; sometimes the management support; sometimes the Teaching Assistant support. But there were no perfect schools only different strengths.
In the beginning I would ask for feedback as I felt I needed the reassurance that what I was doing was okay. The Teaching Assistants, who had worked with me that day, would often look at me quizzically as I asked for feedback until I explained how I had left my job feeling so bad about myself. The feedback always came back positive and I began to feel more confident again.
I would arrive in a school early in order to make sure I received and understood the planning but I realised I could not do things exactly as the teacher had planned and would have to be adaptable. I did not know the children as well as the teacher knew them. I would need to draw on my wealth of past experiences. I knew I could not be prepared for every situation but knew my role was to make sure I could take control.
As my confidence began to return, I no longer said I had felt ‘bullied’ out of the job, but now said I had taken time out to ‘write a book’, which I did.
As a supply teacher it is amazing how often you can read the same book over and over again; I have some favourites which I now know by heart. I also found myself telling my own stories to capture the attention of the class. My stories have now grown and grown and are often a brief tale or instead of reading from a book.
My task/challenge at the beginning of every day is to learn as many of the children’s names as possible which I find I can do. I make sure I take the time to read each name in the register and identify each pupil.
- I tell them they have the easy job as they only have one name to remember - this is clearly on my badge
- I tell them ‘I can usually pick up children’s names quickly but not the adults’ – true.
- I tell them when I am not teaching at school I play with my Lego – they like this.
- I point out my Lego ear-rings which are my guardian angels, named after my two children (Tom and Elly), Elly now always sit on my left as she is left-handed, they smile at the children in case I forget to smile at them.
- I tell them that I write books about my ‘Playbus’. (I can show the Playbus book with the real Tom and Elly on the front cover – Yes, I managed to write it!)
- I can show them the story books too. (If time I read the story but I always leave a copy of the first book in every school I visit, just in case they want to read it again.)
- I tell them about magical rain-sticks which seem to really bring the rain! So we have to learn a sun-clap!
- I tell the children that I don’t know if I ever will return and seem them again – but have been surprised how much they remember when I do even if such a long time later.
Most of all I try to capture the imagination of the class and to gain their attention and make them think. It works. I am now known and remembered as the ‘Lego’ lady, I like that.
I do sometimes worry in the morning as to where I will go; which year group I will teach or what the school will be like. But once I am back in the classroom I relax and get on with the task set. I know I have the confidence to adapt and change the things I can and can get on with the tasks or thing I cannot change. I no longer apologise for being ‘old’ and expensive, I know I am older and more experienced, and it shows. I can adapt and take on whatever I am required to teach to the best of my ability and as the resources and planning allow.
There was once a time when I wondered if I would want to or to have to return to teach full time again but luckily with my hobby and my book and the amount of supply I have managed to cope and am enjoying teaching again.
I have also taken early retirement which, with other financial help, has helped to relieve the pressure the reduced payment from supply teaching gives.
The down side to supply teaching:-
- You are not part of the school and the staff team.
- You miss out on events and celebrations.
- You get given the planning sometimes the lessons the teacher doesn’t want.
- You get to teach lots or R.E.; P.E. and PSHCE.
- You don’t know all the children’s names – and they know it!
- You don’t know if you will ever go back to the school or class again.
- You don’t know who is who in the school or the systems and procedures in place.
- You are sometimes expected to over mark the children’s work and are criticised by the teacher for not doing it exactly as they wanted! (Not often)
- You might not get any work today and only get paid for what you do
The up side of supply teaching:-
- At the end of the day you can walk away. If the day went well maybe you will go back, if it wasn’t you don’t have to go back.
- Usually there is planning and resourcing in place and a great TA to help and support you.
- You don’t have to produce formal planning. (I have planned for longer cover but it is adaptable).
- No staff meetings.
- No assessments to write out.
- No formal observations. Phew!
- No responsibility other than to the class for that day, delivering the lessons as best as time, resources and clarity allows.
- Not knowing who is who within the school you don’t feel under pressure when someone walks into the room. You don’t know who they are or why they are there.
- You can take a day off or a break in term time.
- You don’t have to work today if you don’t have to. But I do.
Yes there is always a worry at the beginning and end of a term when supply days are scarce. Will I get any work? Will I get enough to meet the mortgage payments this month?
I have relaxed more and no longer feel under pressure. I know I do not want to be committed to one place or school I want to carry on my own life.
I feel an honour to visit so many schools and meet so many wonderful children and staff teams even if in passing and they don’t remember me. I am glad to be able to get back to my life, feel more like me again and spend quality time with my husband and my health.
There is still a worry about finances as I am not of retirement age officially, but fate has been kind and things have moved positively.
And yes, the Playbus book is written! This in turn to me writing children’s picture books based on the playbus and teaching tales and I can now say I am an ‘author’.
I was lucky to have had support and understanding during the dark days from friends, family, the union, Teachers support Network and my Doctor. But most of all I was lucky to escape with my health.
My teaching journey has continued and I now write a daily diary to remind myself of all the exciting and spooky events I have encountered along the way.
My husband said, as I started my supply journey, you have a funny look on your face these days: “A smile”.