How would I sum up this past year of Covid? I'm feeling rather disillusioned, if I’m being honest. The pandemic alone was going to be a large enough worry for anyone, but add to that the uncertainties of being a supply teacher. This past year has been tough on everyone, of course. But, after in-school teaching was paused for a few months, it felt like supply teachers had been forgotten about. Or worse: that we were disposable.
The optimism I felt when John Swinney, the deputy first minister and education secretary, announced that more money was being injected to help the Covid recovery soon dissipated when there were very few jobs advertised. There were not even any calls to come and help on supply.
To be frank, I feel like trying to land a permanent teaching post in Scotland is like going on the quest for the Holy Grail – the option to do supply was not by choice. I think there is a myth that there is lots of supply work. On finishing a maternity contract shortly before Covid hit us, a member of the school's SLT (senior leadership team) confidently remarked that "you could easily make a living out of supply". This could not be further from the truth. Even in more rural areas, there is limited supply to be had – the reason being financial, as schools have to continue tightening their budgets.
Supply teachers: The struggle to find work during Covid
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Even before the pandemic struck, trying to land that elusive permanent post was a constant worry. You could lurch from year to year on fixed-term contracts, and that’s if you were lucky. There have been times when there has been nothing, and that's the situation right now. Teaching unions have urged schools to utilise all available teachers in the aim of helping pupils to "catch up" on learning after lockdown. This isn’t happening. Schools have been known to readvertise posts, despite having enough candidates to interview. Then, if and when they do interview a leet of candidates all day, some schools will not appoint and they readvertise instead. Surely it’s better to have someone in post ASAP to give much-needed stability to pupils?
The impact of Covid on supply teachers
I feel like competing for a teaching job is like battling it out on Britain’s Got Talent. Getting past round one of landing an interview is a feat in itself. Round two can be brutal, as not all great teachers shine in interviews – they tend to reflect well those who can "perform". Just like the pandemic has exacerbated all the inequalities in society, it has further emphasised the problems in recruitment in Scottish education.
The repercussions on mental health are stark. The damage to self-esteem may be irreparable. And the financial strain is harrowing: nobody can build a life on a zero-hours contract. Despite helping pupils to attain great results over the years, it’s still not good enough to help the likes of me to land a job. And in this state of employment limbo, how can we give our all if we are anxious, deflated and disheartened?
We can be cautiously hopeful that there is an end in sight to the Covid-19 pandemic, but will we ever see an end to the epidemic of unemployment in the teaching profession? Sadly, I fear not.
The writer is a teacher in Scotland