After making this post about bumping into former pupils, I dug out my old class photos of my first two classes to see if I could remember all the children’s names. I’m pleased to say I could, even differentiating between the three Williams I had in my first year.
Later that day I took my family swimming and in the pool I saw one of the kids from the class I was teaching when I resigned but I could not, for the life of me, remember his name. I racked and racked my brain and it would not come, even though I was teaching him only four months ago.
I also decided that a swimming pool is not the best place for a 30 something man to approach a six year old child, especially as he was with his dad, who I’ve never met before and who looked a bit scary. It would just raise too many questions, the answering of which would not be helped by the fact I could say what the child was called.
As he was leaving, the boy and I nodded a nod of recognition but I think that was one of the times and places it was absolutely fine to ignore one of my old class.
I read this recent post on Leaving the Classroom about bumping into your old pupils and the respective emotional complication this can produce and it made me think of something that happened to me during half term.
I took my kids to a farm, and whenever we go there I think that it’s the sort of place I will bump into children from my first school (the one in the more affluent area, not the one I resigned from, you note). While I was thinking this, I looked over at the goats and, low and behold, there was the exact child and mum I thought I was most likely to bump into.
Feeling less reluctant than Leaving the Classroom, I did go and have a chat with them and it was lovely to hear how the child is doing now that she is in Y3 and growing up. It was interesting to have a chat with the mum too, as we didn’t always get on until I once complemented her on her hair, after which she liked me! The mum gave me the inside gossip on my old school (which seems to tally with what this parent said about it going down the drain). I had my photo taken with the child, to show to her Y3 teacher (who was also my NQT mentor) and it felt nice to catch up.
I would happily talk to any of the parents and kids from my old classes (with the occasional notable exception). I acknowledge that I didn’t leave my school in the best circumstances but I certainly don’t feel any shame about why or how I did it. Most importantly, I cared about all the children in my classes and it is lovely when you get to hear how they are growing.
Considering leaving your full time position to become a day-to-day supply teacher? Fancy a better work/life balance that day-to-day supply offers? Here are 9 don’ts of day-to-day supply teaching (all of which I have done or still do on a regular basis).
DON’T…believe what the supply agency tells you.
The supply consultant has a job to fill and needs to fill it, otherwise they don’t get paid. What you are good at teaching is secondary to that need.
In one instance, the agency called and offered me a ‘horrible Y3 class’ (my words, not theirs) for two days time. I said I’d prefer to wait and see if anything else less horrific came in (my words, not theirs but they agreed about the class). The following day they called back and offered me Y2 in the same school. On arrival, at the school, it was the Y3 class. I was the only supply teacher in school that day. That was not a mistake on the school’s part. That was the agency being ‘creative with the truth’ to fill a job.
DON’T…expect there to be planning.
There is usually some planning in place for you to work from or helpful colleagues to hand but you will occasionally turn up at a school with no idea what to do and absolutely no indication of what the class have been doing. In these circumstances it is perfectly acceptable to do ‘whatever you want to do’.
DON’T…think doing ‘whatever you want to do’ is a good thing.
Despite the potential to throw the rule book out the window and go off piste for the day, being able to do ‘whatever you want to do’ is about the worst thing a supply teacher can face. You’ve no idea what the class are like, you have no context in which to teach the class, you have to plan a day’s engaging lessons in 30 minutes (otherwise the kids will go off piste) before they arrive. I once had a Deputy Head tell me to do ‘whatever I want to do’ with her class and it just struck me as exceptionally lazy on her part, especially since she was in school that day. However, on days like this, feel no obligation to do anything that requires marking!
DON’T…assume that the regular teacher will look at anything you’ve done.
When I had supply teachers in my class, I’ll put my hand up, that I often did not look at what they’d done, especially if they’d not bothered to mark it. I once came back from a week on paternity leave to find big piles of work about The Gruffalo, that the supply had produced. Good stuff, I’m sure (story sequencing, labelling and so on) but I didn’t once look at it. As harsh as it is, I didn’t have time to dedicate to looking at and filing a load of work that wasn’t relevant to that term’s topic, especially as I then had the current work to mark. Similarly, a couple of moths ago, I found some work from three years ago that I kept meaning to mark because the supply hadn’t bothered. It’s probably not worth it now.
DON’T…think you will make a difference to the kids.
Admit it, when you became a teacher, you thought you’d be like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds or Vic Racine…(what do you mean, ‘who?’ You know, Vic Racine the substitute teacher in My So Called Life who is given a short term contract at Angela Chase’s school, tries to shake up the system and, completely unsurprisingly [spoiler alert], gets sacked).
The sad thing is, you are not any of these pillars of Hollywood education, and you will not be. It is not your place or ability to change the lives of the children in the class you are covering on a cold Thursday morning. And if you did, their regular teacher would probably be really pissed off to find that their class had completely changed while they were off on a training day about only using blue ink to mark.
DON’T…think the kids care about you.
At best, you are an interesting distraction who might come with the promise of getting a sticker for good work. Some kids will aim to please you, some kids will goad you for an angry response, some kids will be totally indifferent but when the regular teacher returns the next day, they probably won’t even remember your name. And I say this after one child said to me today “You’re the best boy teacher I’ve ever had.”
DON’T…think the school cares about you.
Even if you get a longer term placement, where you can begin to build some relationships with the children and staff, it’s dangerous to think that, as a supply, there is any guaranteed permanence. Until recently, I was doing a day a week in the same class and, in consultation with the regular teacher, I’d worked out a sequence of lessons for the children. I had been there for about six weeks when the agency sent me a text telling me my services were no longer required (due to cost, not quality, I should add)! Similarly, at the school I resigned from, numerous ‘long-term’ supply teachers were only given a couple of days notice to leave.
DON’T…get angry with the kids.
Of all the things on the list, this can be one of the hardest. While most kids will be fine and quite pleasant, very often there will be one or two (or if you go to one of my ‘regular’ schools – six or seven) children in a class who treat the appearance of a supply teacher as the opportunity to completely run off the rails. The worst thing you can do is take the bait and respond angrily: they get a reaction, you lose authority, feel angry yourself, and generally, since there is no real consequence, it makes sod all difference and they carry on.
I was very proud of myself last week, as I had a nightmare 9 year-old being a nightmare. Refusing to work, kicking chairs, crawling around the classroom floor and showing off. All of which he did with one purposeful eye on me, looking for the reaction. I refused to give it to him, calmly explaining consequences and expectations but at no point getting angry. He continued to be a nightmare but other kids didn’t join in and I finished the day feeling tired but not angry.
DON’T…take it personally.
The most important thing on the list. Remember, you are a supply teacher, it is your job to fill a gap; a sticking plaster on a cut. The kids might be horrific but that just reflects on their home lives and regular teacher, not someone who has taught them for five hours. The school just needs a short term solution – that is you. As soon as the short term is finished, it is not your responsibility to worry about it. A supply teacher’s job is to go in, babysit the kids (sorry but it’s often true) then go home and leave all the rubbish in the school. And that is the best reason to become a supply teacher.
N.B. The above 9 points might be don’ts for supply teachers but remember, every single one of them can become a DO for the long term or permanent teacher.
As a regular class’ teacher, DO expect there to be planning,
DO ‘whatever you want to do’ (because you know best what will work for your class),
DO think you can make a difference to the kids,
DO think that the kids care about you,
DO think that your school cares about you and
DO take it personally because then you will care. That’s what being a good teacher is about.
But do still try your best to not get angry with the kids, they’re just kids. Annoying, irritating, unsocialised kids. But still kids.