Q&A with a Supply Teacher

To help any individuals who are thinking of venturing into the world of supply, we thought we would talk to a handful of our experienced supply staff. In this particular Q&A we asked one of our lovely KS3 teachers all about her experience, and this is what she said…

How and why did you begin supply teaching?

I decided to get into supply teaching after having my first child and thinking about my options for going back to work. As my husband is self employed and runs his own business our schedule and our monthly income varies which means often I have to take on work make ends meet. As much as I’d love a permanent teaching role, at the moment the main problem we have is childcare costs – even if we both worked full time we still wouldn’t bring enough money in to cover the cost of childcare (or at least we’d have nothing left over!). This is the dilemma many modern parents have! Therefore doing supply work allows me to be flexible and fit my work around my family. I’m also now expecting our second child so it wouldn’t make sense to start a new job only to leave after a couple of terms. Eventually when the time is right I will look for a permanent role.

 What is your favourite thing about being a supply teacher?

As with all situations in life there are pros and cons. The pros of being a supply teacher are the flexibility in terms of which days you work and the hours are usually more reasonable. In a permanent teaching role I think a lot of teachers take on more and more tasks and put far more hours into their work than is reflected in their salary which means they struggle to have any sort of work life balance. I’ve seen many long-established teachers have nervous breakdowns as a result of burning the candle at both ends and grasping for the holy grail of ‘outstanding teaching’ status. As teachers one of our primary roles is to look out for the welfare of the children we teach, but how can we do this if we don’t consider our own welfare too? As teachers – whether permanent or supply – we have to prioritise our own physical and mental health because our own wellbeing will impact everything else we do. For me, the positive side of supply teaching is knowing that you turn up for the day, do the best you can, and then go home with your sanity relatively intact. That’s not to say there is no stress involved – it’s just a different type of stress. There’s the momentary stress of dealing with something like poor behavior in the classroom but this is dealt with and then dissipated. It’s our bodies natural fight or flight reflex. But the more insidious type of stress is the continual, ongoing stress of perfectionism, day in, day out. Luckily this is not something that I’ve experienced during my time doing supply teaching. When I first started teaching I remember an older, more experienced teacher telling me, ‘if you want to keep your head, you have to learn to say no sometimes.’

What have you found to be the biggest challenge?

The downside of supply teaching is the same as in many temporary roles. Firstly, there’s the uncertainty of how much work you’ll get. You might have lots of work this month, but what about next month, or the month after? It makes it very hard to plan things for the future such as holidays or even whether to risk splashing out on a pub meal or a trip to the zoo. It probably sounds silly but I’d love to take my daughter to the zoo – she’s never been – but in the back of my mind I’m thinking, ‘what if we buy tickets, but then a few weeks later we can’t pay the mortgage’? We still haven’t had a honeymoon – or even a camping holiday- and we’ve been married three years! So you end up living life week by week, feast or famine. The other challenge I’ve faced is once I start a placement, as a supply teacher you’re often not kept in the loop about things. Emails will be sent out updating the rest of the staff about key information but if you’ve not been given a school email address then you’re often the last to find out. Communication has been a big challenge, decisions might have been made, or meetings held, or schedules changed, but as a supply teacher none of this gets passed down to you and you end up having to adapt or change plans at the last minute.

How have you overcome this challenge?

The best way to overcome the problem of miscommunication is just to talk to as many staff as you can. Don’t be afraid the ask questions even if they seem silly. Sometimes you’ll find that you’re not the only member of staff who has been left out of the loop and then you’ll not feel quite so alone! Also I found that the more you stop and make time for other staff – chat to them, ask them about their day – they’ll be more likely to look out for you and offer you help or advice.

What has been a highlight of your career?

I can’t think of one particular highlight of my teaching career but overall I would say I have really enjoyed meeting so many wonderful people in all the different schools I have taught in. One of the many reasons I decided to go into teaching was that nearly all teachers I’ve met have been kind, warm hearted, down to earth people. Seeing as most of our working life we are surrounded by colleagues, we might as well work with people we like and get on well with!

What has your experience been like with agencies, and Opus Teach?

I’ve only been doing supply for a few weeks, but so far my experience of Opus Teach has been positive, the staff are very friendly and helpful and the web portal is easy to use.

What advice would you give to those looking to go into supply?

Do the best you can each day, research pupil information as soon as you start a placement especially for SEN pupils, talk to as many staff as you can, be friendly and helpful, don’t ever take anything personally. Keep a cool head and keep everything in perspective.

If you’re interested in anymore information about supply teaching, or are interested in registering with Opus Teach, please get in contact! You can either give us a call on 03301 242801 or drop us an email at [email protected], or alternatively you can register on our website by clicking here.

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