Everyone knows that students save their worst classroom behaviour for supply teachers. We do our best, but we cannot be familiar with the various discipline policies of all the schools we work in and we have no relationship with the children. I recall a retired deputy headteacher on his first day of supply teaching who was positively traumatised by discovering that he had lost the innate authority he thought he possessed.
Hence, as a supply teacher, if I want the classes I am covering to get some work done, there is no point in me being confrontational and I generally try to encourage them without being heavy-handed. Thus, I probably allow more talking to go on than I should. The students, aware that I am ephemeral and unlikely to follow up on anything I hear, often make jokes at the expense of others.
The overweight children fare the worst. The other day, in science, no one would sit by one boy because he was so "lardy". He made out like he thought it was funny, too. I wonder what was going on in his head. Then some girls were loudly discussing the upcoming birthday party of a student in another class, mocking the fact that she was having a beautician come along to do the nails and make-up of her guests. When I intervened to ask them to focus on their work, I couldn't resist remarking that it sounded like a very nice party to me. "God, Miss, it's so babyish," these 14-year-olds responded. I thought about this afterwards and wondered if their cruelty had gone on to ruin the occasion.
And that's the problem. I leave the school and then question whether I should have reported what I heard. To whom, though? Permanent staff are too busy to listen to supply teachers worrying about classroom prattle.
The trouble is, every time I read yet another story about a teenager committing suicide, I think back to these classroom incidents of bullying. As a supply teacher, I have few routes to report what I hear and, yet, if I say nothing, one day I may read about a student I heard being bullied but did not step in to help.
The writer is a teacher from the West of England
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