“ Pros and cons of supply teaching, plus practical tips. „
I have been doing supply teaching for over a year now. I thought I'd write about my experiences and give some advice to those who might be thinking of supply work.
I trained to be a teacher in 2006-7. I had never wanted to be a teacher, it was never something I always dreamed of being. I had always planned to be a lawyer. However, after studying History at university I knew that I wanted to work with the subject. I went on to do a Masters in museum studies and thought seriously about working in that field but the money was really bad and there were a lot of people trying to get very few jobs. I took a year out to think and to earn some money. The ex-Mr Tart wanted to go into teaching (he was also a historian) and I thought that seeing as I wanted to work in History there were worse things I could do. Not a particularly promising and enthusiastic start I'll admit but it does get better!
As soon as I started my PGCE I knew that I'd made the right decision. My passion for my subject was never in questioned but I was really happy to realise that I loved working with young people. It was a great year. Jobs for the following September were few and far between, especially in the south-west where I live, so I took a maternity cover for a year.
Although I knew that the job would only be for a year I also knew that it would get my NQT year done and I'd be fully qualified by the end of it. The school was brilliant and I had a fantastic Head of Department who helped me get through my first year. It confirmed my belief that I had made the right career choice.
Throughout that year I applied for jobs. I had a couple of interviews but nothing came of them. The south-west is saturated with History teachers and of course fewer are leaving jobs now because of the dreaded (cue whiny voice) 'current economic climate'. Having no job meant going into supply teaching, something I dreaded but knew was a necessity.
The first thing you need to do when thinking of supply teaching is to join an agency. I was referred to an agency by the school that I worked in, in my first year, My old school said they were good and they were also their first choice so I hoped I might get some days working back there as I loved working there.
My agency is Teaching Personnel. They have offices throughout the UK and I've found them pretty good. To start with they phoned me as I'd been recommended by my old school. Over the phone my they asked me lots about my education and work history. We then arranged for me to go to their offices to register properly and meet my personal consultant. My consultant and I had a long chat about what sort of work I wanted and in what schools. She took some more details and photocopied my ID and arranged for a new CRB check. We also discussed payments. They offered me a daily rate which I was happy with so I signed the contract. I was made to feel very comfortable with the whole process and my consultant was lovely. After the meeting they then prepared a CV for me based on the information I'd given, which would then be used to send to schools who were looking for people.
Once sign up is complete the waiting game begins. For the first few weeks in September I set my alarm for 7, got ready for work and waited for the phone to ring.....it didn't. September is not a good time for supply work because everyone is making a concerted effort not to be ill in the first few weeks of term. However, eventually people got ill and the phone did ring. There are two ways that bookings happen. Sometimes schools know that they'll need someone in advance so the agency books you in advance which is better because at least then I can plan my day around working. Sometimes I'll get a text message asking me to call about a particular booking. This gets sent out to lots of people so it pays to be quick with the call back. At other times they phone but I'm often in work and again they will have phoned others as well so you can miss out.
The other way they book you is in the morning when schools phone round agencies after someone calls in sick. This is why I still get up early and get ready for work as they'll often be a last minute phone call.
Your bookings are all recorded on your online diary. You log in through their website and can see bookings, timesheets and payslips. The agency also send a confirmation e-mail whenever you get a booking which tells you the school's address and contact name at the school.
Although supply work isn't what I really want to be doing there are some advantages to it. The first is that you generally don't have to worry about planning and marking (although you will have to mark if you are at a primary school and plan and mark if you have a longer term supply job). As a teacher this can take up a huge amount of time. When on a day's supply the work will generally have been set and you just have to tell the class what it is.
Another good thing about supply work is that if you really don't like a school you can ask not to be sent there again. If you are employed permanently by a school you can't just leave after a day if you don't like it! You can technically walk out of a supply job at any time of the day but I never would as I'm pretty sure the agency would have doubts about using me in the future.
You also get to see a wide variety of schools. I've really enjoyed seeing how different schools can be as it's helped me make decisions about where I want to end up teaching. In the past year I've taught in comprehensive schools, faith schools, special needs schools and primary schools.
The money for supply teaching is pretty good as well. I haven't felt like I've gone without in comparison to when I was working full time in a school.
The best thing for me about supply teaching is that you can take days off whenever you want. It is so nice to be able to take a long weekend or to take a holiday in term time when the prices are cheaper! It's one of the major annoyances of being a teacher that holidays are restricted to the most expensive times. I've taken full advantage of this as I figure this could be my last chance to take cheap holidays for the next 30 years!! The problem with this is that you don't get paid for those days and you're obviously spending money if you are on holiday so you can end up doubly poor!
There is also the chance that supply may lead to something more permanent. Last year I managed to get a three day per week maternity cover position in the History department of a school through my agency. Although this meant planning and marking it was me properly teaching and not just covering, and that led to a higher daily rate which I was very happy about! It also meant that I have been able to keep up my teaching skills in my subject and have been able to get to know the students rather than just seeing them for one day. When schools need someone in a hurry to cover a long period (such as illness or maternity) they'll often use supply rather than advertise. Once a school knows you there's a much better chance of you getting any permanent job that may come up.
Supply teaching isn't my ideal job, it does have many disadvantages. The main one for me is the behaviour of some of the children. Some of the schools I've worked in have been a little 'challenging'! As soon as pupils see that their regular teacher isn't there they think 'supply - great we can mess about'. I don't really blame them as I did the same when I was in school. The good thing is that permanent teachers know this. When I worked full time I never set anything vital for a supply lesson (unless it was an exam class) because I knew that half of them wouldn't make the effort needed to do the work if they were taken by a supply teacher. I haven't had any behaviour that's been too dreadful but you learn to be thick skinned when you teach! I'm sometimes happy if I manage to keep some of the classes inside the classroom! The constant behaviour issues can get you down a bit. It's not that I've had a pupil threaten me and I don't get sworn at too often but it's the constant refusal to do work and constant low level behaviour issues that grate on you. It does mean, however, that my classroom management skills have been honed and this can only be a good thing for my future career.
Another big problem is that you don't get paid over the holidays at all. It's not such an issue over half term but over the summer holidays I did begin to struggle. Six weeks without money is a long time, especially as September is slow (I only got one day of work for the whole of September). I knew this was coming and made sure that I put money by when I was working but it's still a huge problem. Some people get other work over the summer but at the moment any work is hard to come by! Also, one of the advantages of teaching is the holidays, which makes me reluctant to give them up! Your weekly pay does supposedly include 'holiday pay' but this doesn't work like temping agencies' holiday pay which builds up and is claimable as a lump sum. Supply teaching holiday pay is included in your normal paycheque.
Being in a different school every day means that you lose out on the friendships and working relationships with colleagues. I've been lucky, having three days a week in the same school last year but at other schools you find that you eat alone in the staffroom (sob...sob...!). I do miss that aspect of the job. It was nice to go to Christmas dos and take part in staff outings and these just aren't really available as a supply teacher. Some of the teachers in schools do go out of their way to make you feel welcome and no one is unfriendly, it's just that you're not in a place long enough to really get to know people.
Supply teaching can also look bad on your CV (in my opinion). Last year I didn't have any interviews despite applying for quite a few jobs. I put this down partly to my CV not looking that great (one year in one school and then supply work). However, there are ways to make supply work look positive and this year Mr Tart helped me to restructure my application letter and I had two interviews within two days of each other! To talk up the supply work it's a good idea to reference the variety of behaviour management skills as well as the variety of subjects you've taught.
If you're thinking of supply teaching or you're left no choice like me then the best advice I can give you is to not let it get to you. Let the bad days wash over you and think that at the end of the day you can go home with the extra money earned. Also make sure that you go with a good agency, I've heard some bad reports of other agencies but I've been really happy with Teaching Personnel. Make sure that you take advantage of being supply rather than a full time teacher, take the odd long weekend and take comfort in the thought of the others sitting in the staff room. Also make sure that you put a little by every week to tide you over the summer.
I find supply teaching very much a mixed bag. There are aspects that really appeal to me like little planning and marking and not having to stay in a school that I dislike. The ability to have long weekends and cheaper holidays is great. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to do it long term. Supply teaching gets me down at times. The problem is that I'm a good teacher (one with a lot still to learn, but good all the same!). I worry that I'll become disillusioned and that supply long term will mean I loose some of my teaching skills.
I've recently got a job back at the school that I worked in, in the first year. It's another maternity cover but I loved working there so much that I jumped at the opportunity. I was actually offered the job at the school I had one of the interviews at as well but I turned it down because it was part time. The interview did reassure me that it is possible to get a job (I was loosing faith after last year). I'm now really looking forward to having a proper job again, one where I can do planning and marking, get to know the pupils and get paid over the holidays!!
Believe it or not these jobs are some of the top ones in demand because of too much teachers taking time off. A lot of recruitment agencies will offer you temp work at schools because of the lack of staff as most of them take a lot of days off. I had the chance to work as a supply teacher just sitting with kids and helping them out with in the subject of History and Maths.
Being a supply teacher I tell you what the pay is stunning but if you can not do the job then do not do it. I must admit I could not do the job and I did not have the experience either. So some of the questions the kids asked I had no clue about. I got in through a agency who told me the job was for a week and they needed some one straight away. It was the worst job I ever worked because I had no clue what I was doing.
The kids did hardly listen either and you can not say much to them either. This job is in demand though and if you can handle a school pressure with kids and a tough job then go for it.
During my last term in my PCGE, I was applying my every job going in my area, part-time, full-time, maternity leave, anything that would get my on the road my completing my NQT year. However, for every job I applied for, so did about 100 others. It was a terrifying feeling when I was suddenly faced with no job and no idea where to go. Supply teaching was always something at the back of my mind, but it was suddenly a viable option for me. I moved to a new area and started on my CV. I signed up with the usual suspect agencies, all promising that supply teachers were in demand and that I they would be in touch. Yeah, right(!) I didn't hear one word from them, so I took my new career into my own hands. Along with my CV, I had little business cards made up via Vista Print (there are always free deals for 250 business cards on their website), which I attached to my CV and sent out, with a covering letter introducing myself, to every primary school I could drive to within 20 minutes. This worked-I averaged about 3 days work a week in many different schools for a year before gaining my first permanent position.
Once you've got your foot in the door, make contact with the secretary (she'll be your key for future bookings), make sure you're registered with the GTC and register yourself with the local authority for a payroll number. Good luck-it's a tough job but you gain so much experience and ideas! Plus, the pay isn't half bad!
*Just one more tip. Buy 101 Lists for a Supply Teacher-perfect for those days when no planning has been left*
I spent a term supply teaching when I first left university and have to admit it was some of the best teaching I'd ever done. I worked through a supply agency (Teaching Personnel - brilliant company)
So let's look at the stuff out of the classroom first. Getting work. With the agency I worked with you book your availability online and then they ring you if they have work for you, now the catch to this is that it is sometimes the day before, the week before or on the day. It does leave it all a bit uncertain but then as you can be covering last minute sick leave that's not a big shock, and just a peril of the job rather than anything else, and that to me is the big downside to supply teaching - sadly there's never a guarantee of work - some weeks you'll have five day's back to back and other week's you'll get nothing. If it weren't for this the advantages would leave me wanting to work supply permanently.
When I got a job I'd usually receive this by phone and be given an address and time to arrive by. It was typically expected that you'd be able to leave by 4pm but this varied by school, and I found personally that if you put in the extra mileage, marking work, helping tidy etc etc, that you'd be more likely to get recurring work at that school.
As a fairly young teacher (22 at the time) I tended to have a fairly laid back attitude with the kids and you know something? Shocking as it may seem, kids respond well to being given freedom! If you go in as a supply teacher, usually a total stranger, and try to lay down the law then you'd often be laughed at, have jokes played on you and generally have the kids test you at every turn, and if heaven forbid you ever used the phrase 'Won't Mr/Mrs X be dissapointed?' you'd lost them forever.
I usually went in with a sense of humour about the whole thing "Hey guys, my name's Mr Y and I'm your supply teacher for the day, and yes I know supply teachers are usually a bit of a joke so feel free to try your best!" This way at least the kids were clear that you knew about what a supply teacher was usually like. Treating the kids like they mean something makes a difference, I usually tried to have a skim through the kids books before a lesson so I could get a vague idea what they'd done before so that rather than coming out with something as a one off session I could link it to what they'd already done, meaning that it was a more valuable experience for them as a whole.
Integrating with the staff body is also valuable - if allowed go into the staff room at break, if not do say hello to people in the corridor, do make friends with the secretary (they're usually the ones who call the agency and may even ask for you by name the next time!), and if asked to do a break duty don't grumble, but instead ask for any rules about break times (are kids allowed in the building? Who do I see if I need help? Who is the first aider?)
What else is worth considering? Time sheets. Always go prepared and take a blank with you, be cheeky and ask the secretary if they can fax it off to the agency (and then be cheeky and check the agency received it!) Time sheets are the key to getting paid on time so never leave without being sure it's completed.
Regarding planning I usually found that schools had work prepared, if I was in a school for more than a few days I was asked to prepare work and did so with gusto, as a new teacher I loved the chance to put my imprint on these kids to have them remember me for their lives, doing this for a few days got me a four week placement with a group of kids who when I came back a few weeks later for a couple of days were so excited I couldn't believe it.
Overall I've found the experience very rewarding, and I'm sure I'll add to this review as more memories and thoughts come to mind but that's it for now. All I'll say is that the lack of guaranteed work is a big downfall, but I loved the rest of it like you wouldn't believe.
Update: I'm tacking this onto the end of the review so that if people are re-reading they don't have to look through it all again.
Pay: It's worth noting that as an NQT I earned £100 a day before tax, though when sent further afield the company boosted my pay to cover travel expenses, a particularly nice gesture I felt as it was quite a generous amount (20p per mile approximately - not extravagant but more than our car worked it out to)
As an alternative to full time teaching you might like to consider supply teaching. This can be due to having taken a career break or because you want flexible hours, or because you want to gain experience in working in different schools. Or it could just be that, despite there being a shortage of teachers, you have been unable to find a permanent job.
Supply teachers are in demand but unfortunately they are often more in demand in the worst schools, due to the high level of absenteeism by regular staff who have to take time off due to stress related illness.
However, there are other reasons for schools to have a supply in, it could be to cover for maternity leave, training courses, or for non contact time.
It is certainly good experience for anyone to do several stints on supply. The kids will hate you if you are in a secondary school and groan "oh no, not you again" but in the primary sector you are likely to be greeted with "oh good it's Ms...."
Make sure you ask the rules and regulations before you go into a class, the kids will try it on, as young as they are they quickly learn they can get away with things from a supply teacher that their regular teacher would never allow!
The pay is good, but do bear in mind that you only get paid for the days you actually work, not for any preparation etc. And a good supply teacher will always have some work prepared as often the regular teacher will not have left any, either because they have gone sick at short notice or because it has been mislaid or for other reasons is not given to you.
You don't get paid for holidays or sickness, and there are times of the year when supply teaching is not required as much. The prime times are in the autumn or winter when teachers are off with winter ailments. In the summer, particularly in secondary schools, there are teachers who can cover for absent colleagues because their own classes are on study leave.
Do make sure you are in a Union if you work as a supply, the kids are often very difficult and can be hostile and not all Heads will back you if things go wrong.
I think I have covered most things here, but no doubt if I have forgotten something then someone will tell me!
Ooops I thought I would forget something - thanks for pointing this out in the review.
The qualifications you need are the same as for a regular teacher, i.e. QTS. You can register with the local education authority, but a "back door" way is to ring the schools you would like to work in and ask to be put on their list. You can also register via an agency as many schools use these nowadays, but try the other two ways first.