When every day is an adventure

25th April 2008 at 01:00
Pat King can travel extensively, has no paperwork and sees the progress of hundreds of children. It's not a bad life being a supply teacher, as she explains

Pat King can travel extensively, has no paperwork and sees the progress of hundreds of children. It's not a bad life being a supply teacher, as she explains

Each day I wonder what the next 12 hours will bring. Will it be a fun, rewarding day or just a struggle? The phone call comes at 7.35am. "Pat, can you help us out today?" Class 4. I had planned to have a day off, go shopping, relax. "Please," comes the headteacher's voice. "OK, I'll come." I give in easily as I have always enjoyed going to that school and the dinners are good - traditional school puddings with custard.

At 8am I get another call and soon after I get one from the agency I signed up with. Sorry, I am already booked. Sometimes I get calls as late as 10pm to work the next day. I could teach in three schools every day. There's no shortage of work. Welcome to my world - I am a supply teacher.

How supply teachers are treated varies. Some teachers leave detailed lesson plans with group lists and notes on pupils with special needs. Others leave vague outlines of subjects to be covered. On rare occasions, usually due to illness, I am left with a free hand. I prefer concrete work where the children can be specifically instructed, rather than group work where they move around. I need to instil discipline quickly.

A timetable for the day is invaluable. You would be amazed at the variation in times for starting and finishing, break times and the most moveable feast of all, assemblies, which are often changed on the day. I need to know if part of my class swaps with another for numeracy hour and the level of the group I am to take. Some schools have children going to music lessons or reading recovery throughout the day, so the class can feel like Piccadilly Circus.

It's stimulating when a headteacher says: "I hope you can handle a difficult class." I try to greet the children in the playground before they enter the classroom. I emphasise that I like a quiet classroom and tell them it's because I am getting old.

It makes me feel valued when the teaching assistants say they have enjoyed the day with the class and me. I always make a point of thanking them, as without their support the job would be much more difficult. One day a headteacher phoned me just as I got home from her school. My mind raced. Had I done something wrong? No, she only wanted to tell me that a group of children had come to see her to demand that I should return. I think this had a lot to do with the pupils having enjoyed the silly songs I taught them and the firm order I had brought to the day.

Registers are a minefield. Apart from the pronunciation of difficult names there are others who are known by their nickname (for example I once met a Stephen who is known as Spam). I always make the children write their preferred name in big letters with a board pen on sticky labels.

This helps with discipline and getting children to interact with me. It's amazing how many pupils are not in the class at register time because they are doing jobs. And why are dinner registers in a different name order to the main register?

At most schools that I supply teach for regularly I am greeted by children asking me to sing songs with them or to tell them a ghost story. Songs and stories are my rewards for good behaviour and effort. I also give the older classes a mark out of 10 for each lesson and tell them how it compares with classes in nameless other schools. They now ask me for their score and react with pleasure if it is good or promise to try harder if it is poor.

Supply teaching is never boring. I have ended up taking whole-school assemblies on my own when staff have been called away. I have been given stickers in assemblies in recognition of my PE lessons alongside children who have excelled. I have also felt compelled to spontaneously congratulate children on their singing in assemblies and love the praise from headteachers who hear good reports about me.

Most of all I enjoy the lack of paperwork, meetings and hours of planning, though I do enjoy planning the occasional lessons if I have agreed to go to a school for a few consecutive days. I mark as much as I can but often have difficulty finding the right coloured pen and get frustrated by the number of children who do not seem to be able to find a pencil or a whiteboard rubber.

I never go to a school being Ofsteded and avoid the last day of term. I am becoming an expert at using a wide range of computer systems, although a teacher's careful lesson planning is often wasted if they leave it for me on the computer, but forget to give me the password.

My strengths are being able to think on my feet and having a sense of humour. My bag is full of resources for all ages. Busy children are good children. I also feel that, as a supply teacher, I can perhaps be a little more honest with the pupil who is missing out on their education by playing the fool.

I miss having a class of my own to nurture but I enjoy seeing the progress of hundreds of children. I really enjoy teaching and don't think I will ever give up completely.

I retired from full-time teaching at 50 to travel the world. I've spent three of the past seven years travelling with my husband Brian, going to 74 countries with some amazing adventures on the way. We spent eight months going from London to the Victoria Falls, and our latest foray is London to Sydney in nine months. We've also had 19 weeks in South America and a similar amount of time in the Middle East, China, Russia and America.

I've also got involved in a community education project in Nepal. Namaste Banepa provides economically disadvantaged children with uniforms, books and other equipment that their families can't afford.

My travelling experiences enhance my teaching. I have lots of stories to tell, pictures and artefacts to share with the children. On my return, I contact the schools I have worked for in the past and the phone starts ringing. It's a great way to work as I save for my next big trip . Japan and New Zealand

Pat King alternates supply teaching in Cambridgeshire with travelling the world.

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