The lies we tell ourselves.

I wondered aloud on Facebook today why negative thoughts appear so much more potent that positive ones. A few chums posted some responses but I’ll expand here why I raised the question. I’d been wondering this for a while but today’s supply placement prompted me to write.

Today’s placement was shit. At the end of the school day I felt defeated, a failure and was questioning why I bother to do this job. That sort of experience affects me and my view of myself. Why, I wondered, do I not feel such a strong emotional reaction when I have a good day’s teaching?

To lighten the mood, here is a happy child with some broccoli.

When the kids are lovely, they try hard and do their best to behave and learn I’m happy but tend to say it’s because their usual teacher is awesome or their routines are well embedded. If it’s a crap day, I immediately tell myself it’s because I’m a bad teacher who can’t manage a class and isn’t an effective educator. How stupid is that?

The class today were a nightmare (in the afternoon, after I produced a perfectly good morning’s teaching) because they’ve had a load of different teachers, there has been no consistent routines, they are well behind where they should be academically, with an extraordinarily high proportion of children who don’t speak English and therefore really didn’t have much of a clue what I was saying to them. There was also no planning or resources (so I was making up the day as I went along), the school did Read Write Inc incorrectly (it should not be taught as a carousel), there were insufficient activities for the free-flow children, staff only get 25 minutes for lunch and on arrival I only had 15 minutes to get my head around what to do before being told to come to the 15 minute whole-staff briefing (supply teachers really don’t need to attend them).

Of course the class were going to act up. I’m amazed we got to lunchtime before they all kicked off (and each other).

I’m not saying I’m perfect because as soon as I raised my voice I knew I’d lost them (then I was pissed off at myself for doing so, so the cycle was exacerbated) but what I am asking is why does my brain focus on the negative and steamroll over, not only, the positive but the reasons behind the negative? It’s stupid, irrational and emotionally exhausting.

Bob montage final

Does anyone else out there feel the same?


How do you spell schadenfreude?

Connexus left me a voicemail today, asking that I call them because a school needing supply had asked for me by name.  This is the first time the agency have called me this year.

Before calling back I was wondering which school it would be.  It had to be the school I did a load of work with at the end of the summer or the one I got on really well with before then, right?  No.  It turns out that it was a school that I had no recollection of and where I did one day at, back in October.  One of the 6.5 out of a possible 24 days that Connexus booked me during the first term.

meta-chart 1
I spent ages on these graphs: I’m going to squeeze as much use out of them as possible.

However, I couldn’t do the placement as Versatile already booked me for an afternoon elsewhere. Some of you may think that is foolish, passing up a full day’s work but to get to the the school in question, I’d have to leave before 7am and do a round trip of 44 miles.  That alone makes the sacrifice worth it.

I also felt a sense of pleasure in turning Connexus down, since I phoned them so many times only to come up against a continual wall of nothing from them.  Then, there they are, asking me to do a placement for them because a client has specifically requested me.  Proves that they’re getting work at least, it doesn’t explain why they stopped calling.


Going back to the booking for a moment, I miscalculated the date and thought that I’d originally visited that school after the October half term.  If that were the case, I was going to get all data-focused and explain that it actually meant that 100% of the Connexus schools wanted repeat business, while Versatile’s repeat business requests stood at a limp 14.28%.  Surely Connexus sounds like the better agency now and it’s Versatile that should be heading off the cafe…or it just demonstrates how you can warp data to suit a certain point of view.  At some point in the future, I’ll expand that concept out into a longer post…



Goodbye Mr Chips: Does supply teaching create anything permanent?

My dad, although ostensibly, is retired, seems to keep working. He appears to be as busy as he was when he was employed but I guess the difference now is that he can pick and choose the work he wishes (his problem being that he finds it very difficult to ever say no to anyone who asks – probably also a reason that for three years in a row, he agreed to come to talk to the children in my classes). The other day, however, out of the blue he was called with a new position that he describes as ‘the cherry on top of his career’. For anonymity’s sake, I’m obviously not letting on any more details but it made me wonder what does a supply teacher look back on, when they eventually retire?

Wait a minute…that’s the wrong Mr Chips.

Like many teachers, I went into education to make a difference, help the children, create an impact upon 100s of little lives etc, etc. When I was working as a full-time teacher I felt – for good or bad (but mostly good) – I was making that impact. Having been back as supply for almost a year I do wonder what I’d look back on after a lifetime of day to day supply.

There’s no regular classes or schools, the supply agencies certainly aren’t that bothered about you, you’ve not got any regular colleagues and, perhaps, most sad of all, you’re not making anything of lasting impact. The kids might remember you for a few days but after that, you’re gone.


Three Greatest Hollywood teachers
Any excuse to reuse this picture.



I’ve said before that it is not the supply teacher’s job to be Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society or Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. The best you can hope for is to be Vic Racine in My So Called Life – and he ends up getting sacked. And at the end of his episode? [Spoiler alert] You discover he is a family-deserting bastard.

Really, the ending should be him on the phone, apologising to his supply agency for messing up an otherwise good placement.

Having gone – with very noble intentions – into teaching as a career, it can be hard to reconcile what that means with the realities of how teaching is now just a day-to-day job. At the end of the last summer term? There were no thank you cards or grateful parents. The kids won’t have remembered me and the parent’s didn’t recognise me. When I look back at this part of a teaching life, what will I say I achieved?


2016’s spelling test, tested.

Sue Cowley drew my attention to 2016’s upcoming KS1 English grammar, punctuation and spelling tests.

I was bored on a supply placement so I thought I would administer the sample spelling paper to my class.  I’ve scanned one child’s answer sheet in for you.Spelling page 1

Obviously, one child’s paper is not representative of a whole year-group but as you can see, it got a mixed result. The child got some of the harder words right and some of the easier ones were way off.Spelling page 2What do you think of this year’s spelling tests?

Which supply agency deserved to be fired?

As the new year and term begin I thought I’d look back on how my respective supply agencies have fared since September. For the sake of anonymity we’ll call them Connexus and Versatile.

apprentice cast
Britain’s finest supply agency.

Connexus were the agency I signed with when I returned to supply teaching and, from February to July last year, provided me with a steady supply of work, three days a week thanks to a guaranteed work agreement. However, despite promises in July, August and September that there would be another agreement, this didn’t materialise after the summer and pretty much neither did any work. After a very dry few weeks and empty promises with Connexus (and increased concern about paying the mortgage), I signed up with Versatile and was on their books following the October half-term break. I did not take up a guaranteed work agreement with either agency as I was wary of burning bridges and dumping all my eggs in one basket again.

My employment options.

People in education love a bit of data so let’s look at some numbers.

meta-chart 1

During the September to October term, lasting eight weeks and with a potential 24 working days, Connexus secured me 6.5 days work; a total of 27.08% of the potential working days available.

I was not with Versatile during this time.


meta-chart 2.jpg

During the October to December term, lasting seven weeks and with a potential 21 working days, Versatile secured me a 13 days work; a total of 61.9% of the potential working days available. Connexus secured me 1 day’s work; a total of 4.76% of the potential days available.

You can practically hear Connexus heading off to the Bridge Café for cold coffee while Versatile get to play football with David Seaman or watch Myleene Klass play the piano.

bridge cafe
I’d like to think that this was their Christmas meal.

I’m not totally sure of the reason for this drop off from Connexus, I was calling them regularly and staying in touch but it was a one way conversation, begging for scraps: the offer of an odd half day here or there, a Year 4 class or a placement at the worst school I’ve ever taught at.

Beg for scraps

Talking to other supply teachers, it has been a quiet two terms but the dramatic difference in bookings from October to December speaks volumes. Clearly there is supply work out there but Connexus have decided not to send it to me. There were a few changes in the branch, so that might have something to do with it but it’s nothing that should mean work was not available.

A couple of months ago, I got called by the Connexus branch 50 miles away, asking if I’d work with them, the nearest schools they cover being about 25 miles from me. The request did make me think that times might be hard for my local branch and in recent months I have worked at a number of schools that Connexus used to book but now Versatile have priority agreements with.

The most likely reason I think Connexus have stopped calling, however, is because they got pissed off that I continually refused work at the aforementioned worst school ever. This is a school that EVERY class has been a nightmare in from y1-Y6, I’ve had kids biting, throwing chairs, running out of class, plain rudeness to myself and each other and petulant tantrums.  To get me to take placements there, Connexus have previously omitted information from me, fudged the truth and outright lied about placements.


Citation needed.

If it is the case that turning down work pissed them off, that still doesn’t explain why there was such a drop off up to October half term, before I was being offered work at that school. And to be honest, if the reward for accepting horrific placements is more work in the same awful school, is it such a loss?


Irrespective of the actual number of bookings, there is a world of difference between the two agencies. Connexus was previously the only agency I knew but Versatile just seem to care a lot more about their teachers. So far Versatile have been honest about bookings, they respond to emails, they provide feedback, offer CPD and chase up timesheets. Five things that Connexus regularly fail to do.

Because of that, I’m happy to prioritise Versatile over Connexus, even if some slightly crappier work comes in. There’s a lesson in there somewhere…