Today, Facebook threw up this memory from a year ago:
Yesterday’s logical Y3 guided reading filing system: Red group books: purple folder. Purple group books: green folder. Yellow group books: green folder. Orange group books: red folder. Green group books: orange folder.
Far be it from me to tell you how to do your job but that system is shit. What chance does anyone, supply teacher or otherwise, have with that?
If I recall correctly, this was also the teacher that left a (paraphrased) note saying ‘For the afternoon, talk to Miss Smith in class 3, she will tell you what the class need to do.’ Understandably, Miss Smith in class 3 had sod all idea what a completely different class were up to.
One of my semi-regular classes has begun giving out stickers for good behaviour and work. While this does seem to be making an impact with this class (I managed to convince a very ‘active’ child to sweep up all the sand he had chucked on the floor with the promise of a sticker), I have mixed feelings about stickers in the classroom. I first encountered them on my very first school work experience when the teacher gave them out for good behaviour, being helpful etc. It worked well but come tidy up time, I asked a child to put some games away, to which her reply was “Will I get a sticker?”
Another time I was on supply placement and gave some stickers for good behaviour, which prompted one child, during carpet time, to persistently say “Mr Thing gimmie sticker. Mr Thing gimmie sticker. Mr Thing gimmie sticker,” for about 15 minutes. My name is not Mr Thing. I could have given him one to shut him up but it would have sent out the message that they way to earn a reward is to use auditory water torture techniques until the teacher submits. That wasn’t the angle I was hoping for.
That’s my fundamental problem with stickers, in that the sticker can often become the end in itself, rather than the reward for doing the right thing.
Of course, some schools do employ sticker-based systems (including my first workplace) but I think they need to be handled carefully. I have bugbear with random dolling out of stickers when I child does one right thing. The child gets a sticker for tidying up, then immediately goes back to smacking another child around the head.
I prefer to implement a system whereby the children get themselves into a ‘sticker-zone’ (meaning they are eligible for a sticker on their chart at the end of the day) that they must remain in until home time. If their behaviour falters, they come out of the sticker zone and don’t get the sticker.
It is different on day-to-day supply, however. You need to get the kids on side from the off and, sad as it is, the promise of a sticker is one of the most powerful carrots you can have. When greeting the class and explaining my expectations for the day I’ll let them know about the possibility of a sticker if they impress me. I’ll then draw a smiley face on the board that the children can write their name under if they’re in line for a sticker (which doubles up as a helpful reminder of the kid’s names). If their name is still there at the end of the day, they get one of the hallowed stickers.
I tend not to draw a sad face for the kids that have made bad behaviour choices as, not only, is it publicly shaming the kids but, from a certain contingent, there will be competition to see who can get themselves under the sad face the quickest or for the most impressive reasons.
This system needs adapting, depending on placements and your feel for the class, in the morning. Children with specific needs are a separate case and if it’s a tricky class that needs lots of motivation, give the stickers at lunch and start again in the afternoon (with potential for some kids to get two stickers during the day). It seems harsh but when I get a really lovely class, I actually end up giving out less stickers as I’m so engaged with what they’re doing to think about behaviour motivation, which is lovely. On those rare occasions, I’ll often reward the whole class at the end of the day.
The main thing with stickers (or any reward system), is that you should aim for the reward to feel like it has been earned in response for doing something well, not just as the end in itself.
A strange thing happened when I was supplying on Thursday. The class were nice, the children tried hard and they behaved well. Ushering them to get ready for lunch I had the feeling ‘I’m meant to be a teacher.’ I’ve not felt that for a long time and it caught me by surprise.
I know that I don’t want to be a full time teacher but I also don’t have a clue what else I would do. Maybe this is my body telling me that I’m doing the right thing for me and my family right now.
I have a tendency to be cynical and wallow in the negative, so today I will celebrate and enjoy this positive and perfect note on which to begin the half term break.
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.
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…
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
People in education love a bit of data so let’s look at some numbers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…