Supply teacher Cheryl Maughan outlines the joys and pitfalls of selling your skills by the day.
Emergency supply teaching, once seen as merely the path to a permanent post, is now the lifestyle choice for many primary teachers. Versatility is essential, but the rewards are many. There's freedom when you want it for holidays, appointments or days off when you choose, and no nagging sense of a persistent workload. Your brain no longer swims in a sea of planning. You may even feel you can tolerate the curriculum being changed as often as Mr Blunkett's socks.
The first step could be to enrol with your local education authority. Checks on your background are then made, including any criminal record. You may be asked to attend a brief informal interview. If you have been out of teaching, you may have to do a period of voluntary work. You are then free to seek work.
Write to the headteachers of local schools, stating which age groups you are prepared to teach and your curriculum strengths. Follow this up by phone, asking if you can visit the school.
The demand for supply teachers has exploded in direct proportion to the workload placed on permanent staff. Supply agencies are springing up, but if your teaching is good you will find work on your own. Why pay an agency a substantial cut of your daily wage? If you do sign up with an agency, find out about repeat fees. Some agencies, on finding you work in a school, will then ask for a fee every time you work there, even if you have secured the work yourself.
Go in with a smile, as these are becoming a rarity in staffrooms, but don't overdo it. You should be told the school's policy on discipline and applying the curriculum. Ensure your name and telephone number have been added to the supply list on the office wall.
Get an answering machine. Most phone calls booking cover for teachers' courses are during the school day, when you may be working. Return calls promptly, because several teachers may have been contacted and the work will go to the first to respond. Always have your diary with you and keep a teaching calendar by the phone to avoid double booking.
Once you've got work, find out the age group, class size and whether there will be work set. To implement the national curriculum, most schools have teaching plans. If the teacher's absence was anticipated, it is likely work will be set. But if you have responded to an early morning phne call to cover illness, then you will plan your own day. You need to build up resources and books in the various key stages. This is where the photocopier is king - for creating worksheets. The Internet is also a valuable tool for reference, information and even lesson plans.
Always ensure you are first in the classroom. This gives you the advantage of looking established and the chance to meet any ancillary staff, who may work alongside you with special needs children. They are invaluable, so make them your allies.
Introduce yourself with confidence and tell the children to sit in their normal places. Their teacher has, no doubt, worked out the worst combinations and separated them. Ignore cries of "Can I sit withI" The first hurdles are the register and collecting the dreaded dinnerswimming tripsweatshirtphotographleaving present money! Give the children a simple task to enable you to sort out the administrative side correctly - you want the school secretary on your side.
I have the same speech for every new class. I begin by saying that every class has its goodies and baddies. The class immediately indicates the latter.
Outwardly I ignore this, while making a mental note. I then know who to watch, giving constant encouragement and lavish praise for their efforts. They often respond well to this.
Regardless of the work set, I always start by telling a story with great enthusiasm. That way I have my own input and put my stamp on the day. The children respond well and I find it a great way to stimulate imagination.
Go into the staffroom equipped with your own mug and coffeetea bag - and be positive and uncritical. Don't name nuisances: they are sometimes the offspring of resident teachers. Other teachers will be aghast at your faux pas while secretly agreeing.
At home time, leave a note for the absent teacher on what work was covered, any problems encountered and make positive comments on the class. This reflects well on the teachers who may be more used to being knocked than praised. Likewise, thank the head and be complimentary about the school. Remember to complete a form to ensure you will be paid.
I gave up a permanent teaching post 12 years ago and have "supplied" ever since. Every day is challengingly different. Freed from red tape and putting crosses in boxes, I really enjoy my teaching. Hands up permanent teachers who can honestly say the same!