Fed up with teaching in just one school, why not try several?

21st July 2006 at 01:00
Any time, any day, Gary Burgham finds himself teaching in all sorts of schools. When the call comes he never knows whether he'll be teaching in the tiniest village school or a large urban primary; a class of 12 seven to 11-year-olds, spanning the whole of key stage 2, a bunch of reception children or a class of 35 Year 6s preparing for Sats. Whatever the challenge, Mr Burgham is up for it.

He prides himself on being able to walk in and teach to high standards - rapidly interpreting the mood of a group, their behaviour and culture, motivating them and putting in "a damn good day's work". Equally, he likes the fact that his responsibility stops at the end of the day.

What this 53-year-old ex-deputy head loves about being a supply teacher is that he can enjoy teaching without the burden of bureaucracy. He's found his worklife balance.

After stepping down from senior management due to stress, Gary Burgham thrives on being a teacher again and being appreciated for a job well done: schools regularly ask him back to provide supply cover.

A former telecommunications engineer for Plessey, Mr Burgham had been teaching full-time for more than 20 years in the north east, first as a secondary maths teacher, but mostly as a primary specialist. At one point he was seconded to his local authority to develop science and technology across primary schools, which led eventually to a deputy headship. But after five years the demands of being deputy proved too much.

Increasing bureaucracy linked to government reforms came at a time when Mr Burgham was also caring for elderly and ailing parents. He became anxious and insomnia struck. One day he found he couldn't face school at all. When he went to see his doctor he was met with the reaction: "Oh no, not another teacher!" He was signed off work for a total of 12 months but at the age of 50 was determined not to retire through ill-health. He retrained as a counsellor, a step which did much to restore his self-belief.

He only found himself back in the classroom after receiving a call from a head in a fix - and has never looked back.

He has signed up with Principal Teachers, a supply agency based in the Yorkshire Dales (See Friday magazine, June 16) and takes on as much work as he wishes, mostly working a five-day week, but not always, depending on family commitments.

Being on supply has sharpened his practice. "In my latter days as a deputy I had lost my self-confidence, lost that edge you need as a good teacher.

That's all come back. I see so many teachers who are worn out, lethargic, even cynical in the worst cases."

He will take on planning, report writing and tracking pupils if that's required and indeed is determined to extend his professionalism: "I don't just want to be a childminder. I want to go in and make a difference." But he's happy to know that ultimately, the bureaucracy is down to someone else.

Delighted to have become a grandfather for the first time, he's pleased to find that with supply work he can drop everything to be with his extended family. "We had a phone call from my daughter recently. She was in on her own with her baby, Holly, and wanted company. I could say: 'yes, I'll come'."

His wife is still a full-time teacher and by doing housework and cooking he's made their life together more comfortable. "I think our relationship has improved because we have more time, instead of both working flat out."

Although the money isn't as good - he takes home about pound;90 per day on supply - his quality of life has improved and he starts every morning feeling "fresh as a daisy".

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