Supply teaching: It's teaching without bad bits, right?

Whoever said supply teaching was the easier option hasn't spent a morning being shunted from one classroom to another, says Jo Brighouse

Worn-out teacher, leaning on cupboard

“Try supply teaching”, they said. “It’s teaching without the bad bits. No parents’ evenings, no long-term planning, no admin. You get your weekends back.”

While this is theoretically true, what they don’t tell you is that supply teaching comes with reams of added X-factor, which non-supply staff simply don’t have to deal with.

While I still haven’t done enough supply to claim to be even vaguely experienced, on a particularly trying day I’ve found it can go something like this: 

4.55pm: Phone call from supply agency. “Can you teach Year 3 in X school tomorrow? The teacher’s ill, so you’ll need to bring your own planning.” Spend 90 minutes planning suitable activities and an extra half hour persuading our volatile printer to recognise the laptop. 

7.40am: Arrive at school early (I don’t trust the traffic on this route). No one’s there. After five minutes of waiting, the door is opened by Derek the caretaker, who says no one is in yet, but finds me a visitor’s badge and deposits me in the Year 3 classroom. 

7.45am: Spend 15 minutes wandering around the classroom, getting my resources out, looking in exercise books to see what they’ve been working on and hunting for clues that tell me which children are on the SEND register.

8am: Year 3 teacher turns up, clutching a packet of Lemsip and sneezing violently. Have short discussion, during which we mutually agree I am surplus to requirements. Gather up worksheets and follow directions towards deputy head’s office. 

8.05am: Spend five minutes tracking down deputy head, via four wrong turns and one unscheduled trip to the PE cupboard. Finally find her by the photocopier, simultaneously stapling booklets and discussing after-school club times with the office manager. Hover nearby until she’s free, then explain who I am.

Receive apologies for mix up and a mug of tea, and am escorted to Year 2 classroom with explanation that it’s writing moderation today, so the morning will be here, and the afternoon with Year 5, who have a visiting cricket coach, and do I have my trainers with me? Brandish trainers smugly and discuss planning with Year 2 teacher, who gives me her photocopying code and departs staggering under the weight of 30 books.

8.15am: Wait behind two staff at photocopier (one of whom seems to be copying an entire maths textbook). Finally get access, enter code and immediately a “code invalid” sign flashes up. Am about to set off in panicked search for Year 2 teacher, when kindly and benevolent Reception teaching assistant comes to my rescue, enters a hashtag in front of the code, and all is well again. 

8.30am: Sit in Year 2 classroom, feverishly scanning planning and locating exercise books and pencils. First lesson requires slides one to four of a PowerPoint display. Figure out how to connect teacher laptop to whiteboard. Fire up laptop to find it requires a login and password of provenance unknown. Am about to seek help when student arrives to say she’s now going to take Year 2 this morning, and could I please go to Reception, where the teacher is owed missing PPA.

8.40am: Relinquish planning, gather up belongings and find Reception class, to be greeted by lovely, kind TA who instantly spots my fear of teaching four-year-olds and assures me all is under control. Help her lay out tables with Play-Doh and coloured card, and check I can pronounce all names on register.

8.45am: Deputy head rushes into room. There’s been a change of plan. Writing moderation now also requires the literacy co-ordinator from Year 6. Would I mind going to Year 6 till lunchtime? Try not to bang head against the wall as I gather up belongings and reach the Year 6 classroom a mere 97 seconds before the children.

8.50am: Wonder why they ever said supply was the easier option. 

Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym for a primary teacher in the West Midlands. She tweets @jo_brighouse

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