Back-to-school blues? Not for the supply teacher

While permanent staff listen attentively to cliché-filled welcome-back speeches, the secret supply teacher sits serenely


Coronavirus: What's it like for supply teachers going into different schools?

The happiest moment of my life occurred a couple of years ago on the first day of the new school year. If that sounds like a strange thing for a teacher to say, let me explain. 

It was the beginning of the autumn term following my resignation from a permanent teaching job. For virtually the first time in my life, I wasn’t the one going back to school. The feeling of sheer, unadulterated joy lasted at least a week. Even now, when I think about it I get a warm glow inside. 

For teachers the world over, the first day back after the long summer holiday is a time that generates complex emotions: the excitement of facing new beginnings and new challenges, the formidable prospect of moulding a fresh crop of young minds. But mostly, let’s be honest, anxiety and dread. 

On my own terms

I didn’t manage to leave the teaching world behind entirely and, not that long after I quit, I found myself back at school as a supply teacher. I still like teaching, but now I get to do it far more on my own terms.  

Having jacked in my full-time post and transitioned to the world of the supply teacher, I’ve been delighted to find that back-to-school blues are virtually a thing of the past. Yes, I’ll still technically be going back to school along with everybody else, but it turns out that the misery and fear associated with this special time in a teacher’s year are generated by certain elements not present for the temporary member of staff. 

When the regular staff are having to listen to the head’s “welcome back” speech, complete with exam statistics, new policies and procedures (none of which are likely to make anyone’s life easier) and the various ways in which the budget deficit is going to be managed (again, not likely to be good news), I will be sitting at the back of the hall, not giving a flying fuck. 

Best of all, when the headteacher trots out their new vision for the school – a vision they’ll have spent hours during their summer honing and crafting to make sure it includes the most inane platitudes – I will be chuckling quietly to myself. 

Daft edu-twaddle

Call me a cynic, but these “inspirational” speeches are usually little more than meaningless cliché and daft edu-twaddle. One head I worked under spent the first-day-back assembly telling the staff she wanted to know whether we were all going to be “on the bus or off the bus” from here on in, accompanied by a PowerPoint slide of a bus, just in case we weren’t too sure what a bus was. I still have no idea what she was on about. 

While the regular staff are populating Excel spreadsheets with aspirational targets, analysing exam results to identify students requiring intervention and scanning the new term’s lesson-observation rota to find out how long it will be before someone will be breathing down their neck, I shall be checking what time the school day ends, tweaking a lesson plan here and there, and catching up on some relevant reading. Whose time is being used more effectively, I ask? 

I don’t say all this because I care any less about teaching or about the students, but because, as a supply teacher, I’m gloriously free of the multiple levels of bullshit that teachers are forced to endure in the name of…who knows what exactly? The eternally looming Ofsted? The head’s paranoid whims? Certainly not the students.

For me, there will be no need to draw up an insanely long list of all the things that have to be done over the coming days and weeks just to keep afloat in the roiling sea of administrative nonsense, before all that business of teaching gets in the way. Released from the shackles of a permanent post, unconcerned with office politics and immune to the invidious scourge of the SLT’s pettifogging judgements, I’m free to just get on with my job. The job of teaching kids.

The writer has recently taken up supply teaching after 20 years in a full-time teaching job

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