Sucking the passion out of supply staff

13th January 2006 at 00:00
The call from the supply agency comes at 8.10am and I spend 30 minutes negotiating traffic with one eye on the A-Z. I arrive at reception where I am handed a timetable with "Supply 7" written at the top and a poorly copied map of the school. The classroom is filled with 30 shouting children and I discover that the school is on "keyboard" registration. I do not have a laptop. I produce a sign-in sheet which is barely halfway round the room when the bell rings for lessons. I find I have registered a host of footballers and half the cast of EastEnders.

I search for the portable classroom where I will be taking my first lesson.

Some pupils go looking for the key while I stand in the rain with the rest of the class. The search party returns with the news that only the caretaker has a key and he is not answering his pager. Caretaker finally arrives. The classroom is cold and empty other than the 30 desks and a wall-mounted board; no paper, no books, no work set. Were they set work last lesson? No. Can I see their exercise books? Sir collected them before he went off sick. Can anyone remember what they were doing? No.

In the best tradition of supply teaching, I have lessons in my bag. I also have paper and pens, but not enough for a class of 28. I send a pupil for supplies and after 15 minutes he returns with a note informing me that each department has its own capitation and I will have to get resources from the head of the subject I am teaching. I send a note asking where the department head may be found. Ten minutes later I receive the reply that he is off sick. Behaviour is deteriorating. I remind them of the discipline code, but they confidently inform me that if a supply teacher gives a detention it isn't enforced. The bell rings for the end of lesson. No teaching or learning has taken place. Variations on this scenario are repeated throughout the day.

An isolated experience? Sadly not. I set out every day to enthuse, motivate and educate. I complete virtually every day dispirited and demoralised. The solution appears to be to replace us with cover assistants. Consequently, most of the supply teachers I have worked with are retraining or have found jobs outside the profession. I am approaching the end of a one-year cover where I have been responsible for seven sets of GCSE pupils. If the supply teachers have disappeared, who will step into this type of situation and offer specialised knowledge? I am still caring and committed, but I doubt for very much longer.

Jo March is a supply teacher who writes under a pseudonym

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