Supply and Demand

The real life of a Supply Teacher

The flexibility of being self employed as a tutor allows me to build my life around my teaching commitments, using supply work as an opportunity to supplement my income as my business builds. In truth it has been a slow burner gathering the references and the various documents for my carefully selected agencies, but also due to Covid-19 schools are clearly trying to avoid encouraging too many visits from strangers, plus September is traditionally a slow month for supply work.

I am currently on my second placement as a supply teacher and in this reincarnation I find myself teaching English to secondary school students, even trusted with Year 11 as they revise An Inspector Calls ahead of their exams next summer. I have already taught Drama, Maths and Computer Science as the school responds to needs. In truth I am finding this fascinating and a real eye opener to how a school operates from an outsiders point of view, but also how different curriculum demands are met and the pressure not only ordinary teachers but also middle leaders face daily. Planning, target-setting, assessments, and meetings are all part and parcel of a teacher’s daily work. But supply teaching can provide relief from these onerous tasks, allowing a to press the reset button on what is important in schools.

1. School improvement

As a former Head of Sixth Form and Head of Faculty I have been in countless school improvement meetings, where school senior and middle leaders attempt to implement processes to help support students achieve the very best they can. being on supply it allows me to see those strategies at first hand, which work and which do not. I have always advocated for any Headteacher to know what is happening on the floor they ought to teach a class, to get a true understanding. As a supply I have a list of school improvement priorities which I have highlighted to the senior leadership team and they have arranged a meeting for further discussion. Another avenue here is that the students are much more open about the strengths and areas for development within a school environment, always worth engaging with students to discover what the experience is like for them on a day to day basis.

2. Behaviour

From what I can see, there has been no change in the way students deal with supply teachers in the past 40 years, they play up for them. In my previous roles I have had no problems with behaviour, mainly due to my status in school but also as I have a number of strategies which I like to deploy based on consistency and fairness. As a supply I have had no opportunity to build that momentum. Heading into the classroom armed only with the school behaviour policy and a board pen, I do not even have the log ins for the school computer, a recipe for disaster. And, it has been I have really had to go back to basics to get the routines right early in each lesson and to set the right standard form the off. This has meant a return to traditional values and core teaching skills and abilities.

Making a good first impression with the students is incredibly important for a supply teacher; those initial interactions with a group of pupils can strongly influence the chances of successful relationships being established. consequently, I have had to think strategically about how to ensure pupils’ initial perceptions of you are positive. Having resources and materials set up in advance of the start of the lesson is ideal, hence why arriving early at the beginning of the school day is crucial. Meet students at the door, greet them positively and have an activity ready for them to complete as they enter the room.

3. Variety

Most teachers stay in schools for years, in fact, some never get to experience life in any other school. While this may offer familiarity, security and other benefits, some supply teachers feel that they could be missing out. The schools I have been to include a purpose built academy school based on a brand new housing estate and a faith school based in a warehouse on a trading estate. Two completely contrasting schools yet aiming for the same objectives which are success at both GCSE and A-Level.

As part of my Masters degree in teaching and learning at the University of Reading, I looked at the reasons why so many white British boys underachieve, from this particular placement I have been able to draw direct comparisons with the relative success of the faith school. The changing job market I fear will highlight this discrepency further. The BBC goes as far to say

If the modern version of working class means being caught in low-wage, fragile employment, predated by debt and insecurity, what does that mean for children growing up in those communities? Who do they look up to? What does this do to people’s health and the well-being of family life? Outflanked by the financial muscle of the middle classes and by education-hungry, ambitious immigrants, it doesn’t leave much left.

Add in the impact of Covid-19 on these communities and you get a real sense that white British boys spent those six months on the playstation, whilst the more ambitious immigrant population were striving to get ahead of the pack. I am stereotyping of course, but there is a large truth to this and successive Governments have achieved very little progress in this area.

4. Lessons

Photo by slon_dot_pics on

Today I’m teaching French, yesterday English, the day before that Drama, I am getting ground level exposure to a wide variety of lessons and curriculum experiences. I am super excited about teaching French, but fear my knowledge is limited, however the lesson plans are good and the kids are really engaged. Yesterdays English lessons were less successful and the behaviour reflected this, it’s not the students fault they are just bored and have an opportunity to play up. This is a salient lesson for school leaders to ensure that the cover work set is of a suitably high standard to minimise disruption and ensure that medium and long term plans are kept on track, long term supply can cause serious disruption to any planning.

5. so why supply?

As Castle Tutoring builds its momentum, supply is an excellent way to ensure October’s mortgage payment is made. However I am also quite enjoying myself, I have just received feedback that most supply teachers wither leave in tears or shout loudly, apparently these year 10s are enjoying my approach and are responding accordingly. A great start to the day ahead of my tuition clients a bit later on this afternoon.

7. will I Return to teaching?

Most supply teachers have had some time out from the classroom after having children, or perhaps have tried their hand at a new career and are now thinking of making a return to the classroom. For any school to take me seriously, I will need to show that I have up-to-date experience and are aware of current developments and initiatives in education, so time spent in classrooms to update and refresh my skills is crucial. Not only that, but I also want to make certain that returning to teaching is the right decision for me and supply teaching can provide me with this opportunity. On that last point I am really not quite sure.

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