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Supply teaching - is it for me?

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There are many reasons for becoming a supply teacher, each different depending on your own personal circumstances. For some people, that reason could be a lack of finding a permanent job once qualified. This may even be a deliberate decision as a recent graduate may just not feel ready to own a class or want more experience. For others, it might be wanting a better home/work life balance or even that they just don’t enjoy ‘owning’ their own classroom. The one thing that no one should do though is to choose supply teaching because it is easier than ‘normal’ teaching. There are many things to consider before taking the decision to become a supply teacher, and this blog post will hopefully give an insight into the sorts of things you need to consider before taking the next step into the world of supply.

The biggest myth which needs busting is that supply teaching is that easier than traditional teaching. This is just not true. A good supply teacher will work just as hard as one who owns their own classroom. The harsh truth is that a supply teacher who doesn’t work hard will probably find they don’t get much work. Although at this point I should say that there is never any guarantees of work- regardless of how hard you work or not. I’ll come back to that point at some other time.

The unfortunate truth is many supply teachers end up working just as long a day as those based in a classroom but without the benefit of a stable, regular income. The majority of schools expect the supply teacher to turn up, deliver lessons, mark any work, write a decent handover note for the class teacher and leave the classroom in a tidy state (or as tidy as when they got there anyway).

There are two types of supply work- either emergency daily cover or pre-booked. For the regular cover, the supply teacher is usually supposed to be up and ready to go by about 7:30 am in the morning, although realistically it is generally more likely to be between 8 and 8:30. Once you get ‘the call’ you are expected to leave immediately and head to the school. For some, the rushing from home to a potentially unknown school and then preparing to teach can be quite stressful. If this is you then perhaps it would be better to only do pre-booked work although this might be less work overall, particularly at the start of the academic year.

Many supply teachers have issues with regards classroom behaviour management. They report that they had good behaviour management on their teaching placements or permanent roles, but this hasn’t transferred over to their supply work. This could be for various reasons. Firstly some children don’t like change. A new teacher will upset their routine which in turn can cause difficult behaviours. For others, particularly upper KS2 or secondary, children like to push the boundaries of what they can get away with. They know that the supply teacher is new and want to see how far they go with regards their behaviour.  Therefore a successful supply teacher either already needs good behaviour management or be prepared to work on it and not let an unsuccessful placement put you off teaching. It’s worth noting that EVERY supply teacher has days which are a complete nightmare and make you question whether you want to teach any more.  The key for a supply teacher is to reflect on what went wrong, learn from it and try again. It’s also worth remembering that, as a supply teacher, if you really don’t like a particular school because of the bad behaviour there then you never ever have to go back again!

There is no doubt that supply teacher can, for some, be great. The freedom from working during holidays and weekends, the ability to pick and chose when and where you work and the lack of classroom ownership to worry about means, in theory, a better work/life balance. Of course, the flip side is a lack of job security, lack of benefits such as being able to pay into the teacher pension and, generally no work meaning no pay which can be a particular problem during the school holidays.

To make the most of the supply work you need to know what you want to achieve from it. If supply is a temporary measure, then use the opportunity to get as much experience and possible and reflect on each placement focusing on both the good and bad points without ‘beating yourself up’ over things which might have gone wrong.

If, on the other hand, you want supply teaching to be your primary job then work on becoming the best supply teacher you can be. Focus on what you think makes a good supply teacher and don’t be ‘talked into’ accepting a long term or permanent position if that’s not what you want.

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