I often wonder whether supply teachers, those rare and elusive valuable commodities, might not be more readily available if they were made to feel a little less like spare parts at times.
A supply teacher is often left to feel lost and unwelcome, like an intruder in schools, instead of a gallant knight in shining armour, rushing to the rescue of some poor, harassed headteacher.
I do not speak only of my own experiences, but also of those related to me by colleagues in the same position. Some of their comments range from sad to simply shocking.
"No one spoke to me in the staffroom."
"I got lost and couldn't find the staffroom."
"Everyone had their own tea and coffee and no one offered me any."
"I'm not going back there to be treated like a second-rate citizen!"
"If the fire alarm had gone off, I wouldn't have had a clue."
"It was a real struggle as no proper planning was left for me to follow."
"I stepped in at short notice but experienced no warmth or appreciation."
"I think it was when the chocolates were offered around to everyone but me that I decided not to go back to that school again."
Raising awareness in schools, where so often thoughtlessness prevails, is imperative if goodwill between staff and supply teachers is to be salvaged and preserved. Following extensive consultation with fellow supply teachers, and taking their views and suggestions into consideration, the solution appears relatively simple.
My first proposal, and one which I have advocated for some time, is to have a simple welcome pack presented to supply teachers when they go into a school, whether they are there for a day, a week, a month or longer.
Amended versions of the pack, booklet or laminated sheet could be used for other visitors, such as peripatetic teachers, parent helpers, visiting specialists or representatives from external agencies who are there to support the children. However, the points which would be of the most help and encouragement to a supply teacher are: a friendly cover, perhaps including the word "Welcome" and a smiling face; a "Welcome Visitor" badge to be worn during their stay; a simple plan of the school clearly indicating the main door, office, headteacher's office, staffroom, toilets, classrooms, gym hall, fire doors and anything else relevant to a particular school; school times, including starting time, breaks, lunchtime and the end of the day for pupils;registration procedure, including whether dinner money or tuck money is collected and anything else relevant as this varies from school to school; information about line duty and wet playtime procedures;l the name of the headteacher, depute, secretary, and anyone else as necessary;fire drill arrangements;tea and coffee arrangements;and not least where to obtain a claim form.
In addition to providing this information, it would be helpful if certain aids were obvious in the classroom. The daily diary should be up to date (at least for day one) and on the teacher's desk and a class timetable should be overtly displayed.
In what can be a long and lonely day for a supply teacher, it would be a generous gesture on the part of the headteacher to arrange for him or her to be taken under the wing of an allocated member of staff. It is an uncomfortable feeling to sit in a staffroom during breaks and lunchtime and be totally ignored. It happens far too often.
A selection or variation of these suggestions could make a supply teacher's visit to a school so much more enjoyable and memorable. Surely a little consideration is not too much to ask in return for a valuable service?
Brenda Jennings is a supply teacher in central Scotland