Why some supply teachers now prefer Universal Credit

Overlooked, forgotten and exposed to Covid in multiple schools – spare a thought for supply teachers, says Paul Read
10th December 2020, 1:47pm
Paul Read


Why some supply teachers now prefer Universal Credit

Coronavirus: Overlooked, Ignored & Exposed To Covid In Multiple School Settings, Supply Teachers Are Having A Tough Time, Says Paul Read

The other day, a supply teacher at my current school took one look at what was expected in a maths lesson, screamed "I don't do algebra!" and fled the building, never to be booked again. 

I dread to think what his day had been like before this moment broke him, but he'd clearly been pushed to his limits by something. Probably the same something we've all been pushed to our limits by. 

I see the stress in the winces on teachers' faces as they hurry about their schools. Teaching is harder than ever. It's not just the logistics of "bubble groups" and getting work home to isolating students. The job, by and large, has never felt this dangerous before

Coronavirus: When supply teachers are forgotten

On top of challenging behaviour, work uncertainty and limited chances to follow up on learning, supply teachers are used to being forgotten about. I supply for a couple of schools in which I feel welcomed and appreciated (yes, I'm obliged to say that because my name accompanies this article, but it also happens to be true), but I've also been to places where I wonder whether or not I've momentarily discovered the secret of invisibility. 

I'm used to the children thinking I'm irrelevant: one of my most memorable supply moments was when a Year 9 student saw me slide into the room and loudly declared, "Oh no, not this dickhead again," and promptly leapt out of the window - despite my never having taught him before in my life. But it's disheartening that 2020 has rendered me almost transparent to some members of staff, too. 

With all that's been going on this year, I understand why the odd teacher might be so preoccupied that they don't return my nod in the corridor. I have to have thick skin to do this job. 

But I must beg all classroom teachers: please remember, among all the craziness in your own day, to make sure the children's books are in the right classroom after a last-minute room change. And kindly inform me about that room change. Also, check the work's there, that it's enough for an hour, is sufficiently challenging and isn't always "differentiated by outcome". Most of us don't have access to your school's staff emails, so we rely on being aided by a human being at the coalface.

Letting the phone ring and ring

The logistics of the day-to-day job notwithstanding, coronavirus has hit supply teachers in many other ways. When a school closes for a "deep clean", for example, we find our work opportunities reduced. There simply aren't the same working-from-home options available for cover teachers.

The new NTP tutoring scheme is being offered to many of us. And, although it provides more work options in the classroom, and guaranteed income, it pays roughly the same as supply teaching while also expecting tutors to prepare their own material, for hundreds of children. And that's after hours and hours of online assessments and modules to achieve eligibility in the first place. 

I know some supply teachers who've started to see Universal Credit as more appealing than an early-morning call that drags you into schools where Covid cases are high. I've never turned down work, but the thought of teaching at schools in coronavirus hotspots has led many supply teachers to let that phone ring and ring. 

It's tough. For everyone. And after Christmas it will probably, for a while, get even tougher. 

But please remember the cover teachers who help you out from time to time. Not all of us are one algebra lesson away from fleeing through the school gates, and most of us enjoy working with your students, even - on a good day - the ones who are tempted to swear at us before diving out of a window. 

Paul Read has been teaching for 15 years, and currently works as a supply teacher in East Sussex

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