Now, I’m by no means a lonely man – I have more children than I know what to do with – but substitute teaching is often seen as a lonely role.
This is thrown into sharp relief when staff at the school you happen to be teaching at meet for the classic termly “drinks in the bar”.
It's a chance for geographers to rub shoulders with mathematicians and art teachers to rub noses with their counterparts in the gym department. It's a real social minefield.
As a temporary teacher, this can lead to a number of dilemmas: if you are invited to attend, should you go? Is the invite genuine or just a “sympathy invite” that you really aren’t expected to take up?
Worse, you might not be invited at all. Should anything be read into that?
If you’ve been working at a school day for a few days, it’s hardly surprising. But if you’ve been there a few months, do you invite yourself along and assume you were missed off the list by accident? Or do you just have terrifying body odour?
The fear of feeling like an outcast
Clearly, the lot of the substitute teacher will – quite unavoidably – be that of a second-class citizen who is occasionally sniffing his underarms. But thankfully, I have rarely been made to feel like a social outcast.
Most of the schools I have taught in have very welcoming staffrooms and the other teachers are very supportive of myself and each other – even if I have only been in a school for a few days.
I have been invited to food sharing events and socials within hours of meeting people in schools, and can plug into conversations quickly. After all, we are all teachers fighting similar battles.
More and more though, I come across schools that require special keys, access codes or electronic passes to get into bathrooms or staff social areas.
It can be tough kicking off a week timidly asking someone if they can help you get into the bathroom. It is a shame that some schools are now either too out of control or too paranoid not to leave doors to basic facilities unlocked.
My colleagues also tell me about new schools built without central staffrooms – an efficiency measure, apparently.
It's a foolish person who denies teachers to mix across subject areas out of fear they are discussing union rebellion or – the cardinal sin – “wasting” time. The best ideas that teachers ever had emerged over a coffee and a packet of cookies.
Thankfully, I have not experienced these schools and I have found substitute teaching to be a sociable experience, confounding my expectations. I had expected to be treated like the invisible man, but teachers are such a good bunch in general, and I almost always feel welcome.
There is definitely a comforting “Blitz spirit” among classroom teachers that I am grateful for.
Whatever terrifying misbehavior or plummeting exam results we might have to confront, we will always have each other.
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