What keeps me awake at night - Supply teaching demands too much

12th October 2012 at 01:00

What keeps me awake at night? Where to begin? I have developed a love-hate relationship with my job. I have been working as a supply teacher since I completed my PGCE in secondary citizenship education three years ago, mainly because I haven't yet found a permanent teaching position.

When I graduated, I didn't think I would struggle this hard to find a job. I met supply teachers during my training and viewed them with a kind of sympathy, imagining what it would be like not to be part of the permanent team. But I never thought I would be in the same position.

I often come away after a day's work feeling excluded. I am unable to take part in the things the permanent teachers are involved in and I feel isolated in the staffroom. Has it put me off teaching? No, because I'm addicted to the hormonal, disobedient and funny characters I meet in the classroom. But things are difficult.

Supply teaching is not what it used to be. For a start, the pay is not as good as is commonly believed. Agencies take their cut. You are treated in the same way as box of tissues: used and discarded. There are also too many of us. As far as the agencies are concerned, you can be in one door and out the other if you displease the "big boss". Putting a foot wrong on your first day can leave you blacklisted, with no way of making your case.

Regulations intended to protect agency staff make matters worse. After 12 weeks of work, employers get rid of you rather than give you employment rights; the law is an assassin rather than a protector.

And what of the little darlings at the school, without whom our days would be so uneventful and meaningless? The moment you walk in, they decide to have a feast in your honour. The wildness, the loudness, the we-don't-have-to-work-you're-only-a-supply attitude kicks in and you find yourself policing instead of teaching.

The lack of respect for supply teachers is a massive issue, especially as you don't have the opportunity to build a relationship with the pupils from which respect could grow. You're just one in a sea of faces.

Of course, there is a positive side: no planning, no marking, no need to take work home. You don't have to go back to schools you don't like. You choose the days you want to work. But the overriding emotion of a supply teacher is one of fear. The good points of life on supply may feel like freedom. But with so few permanent jobs, what option do we have but to keep going back?

The writer is a supply teacher in Bradford, West Yorkshire. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today