Dear Ted

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

I work full-time in an area where jobs are scarce. I've always wanted to teach here, but I'm starting to hate the job, and am thinking of going supply from September. Am I mad?

Ted says

You can't put a price on job satisfaction. There are people in industry earning six-figure salaries who have to drag themselves to work. It is an odious situation, as the money cannot compensate for the misery. If you really dislike teaching, the security of a full-time job may not offer much relief.

The first question to ask yourself is why you hate your job. Teaching itself is just as satisfying as it has always been. But what goes with it has changed: the box-ticking bureaucracy, the aggravations, the blame culture. Has your school altered in some way, or your own programme? Or are you just feeling jaded and need a change?

Supply teaching is not an automatic solution to your woes. If jobs are scarce where you live, as you say, supply work might be equally elusive.

You could find yourself filling in for teachers who work in difficult circumstances and have collapsed under the strain, so it would not be a rest cure.

Supply teachers have to be aces, as they are constantly facing new settings and permanently having to manage first encounters. They can easily get ripped off, and many complain of being treated like dirt.

If you are feeling jaded, try experimenting with some new ideas, rather than merely going endlessly round like a carousel. Throw the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority schemes of work in the bin (good therapy anyway).

If your pupils get on your nerves, talk to some on an individual basis, when they often behave differently to the way they behave in the mass. Ask what they like and dislike in your lessons. If you came in as an enthusiast there must be something sparky. It is merely waiting to be set alight.

You say

It's a challenge that has its rewards

For an enthusiastic, energetic and resourceful teacher, supply work can be liberating. It provides you with the opportunity for professional development, as you learn new skills to cope with a variety of situations.

You have flexible working hours, and can leave an uncongenial school as soon as you wish. Your workload is also considerably lighter - no parents'

evenings, reports, Inset, or meetings. The downside is lack of security.

I have happy memories of the year I spent on supply, and the one school from which I fled has at least provided me with an excellent setting for the vampire novel I am writing!

Sue Gedge, Essex

Does it fit your personality?

I faced a similar dilemma a few years ago. I had a permanent contract but needed a change and so started daily supply teaching. After two years, I'd gained valuable experience and managed to get another permanent job, to which I was more suited.

You need to consider certain factors: are you the type of person who is prepared to take a risk and would you be happy to work with a different group of children and adults each day? Are you likely to be able to make the amount of money you wish to and do you have a longer-term plan if you decide not to continue with supply teaching for the rest of your career?

Don't rush into resigning. Talk to supply teachers in your area about their experiences, and the positive and negative aspects of the job. When you have considered the options carefully you will be in a good position to make an informed decision.

Tim Parkes, Birmingham

Examine your motives

It depends on why you hate your full-time job. If you are averse to the bureaucracy and the mountains of paperwork, you may find supply teaching more to your liking. But if you find class control tedious and stressful, supply teaching is unlikely to solve the problem.

Anthony Ireland, Lancashire

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