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Going it Alone

Miranda is a Primary Supply Teacher working in schools  through Protocol Education in Manchester. Today she tosses up the pros and cons of going it alone - as a supply teacher. 

Going it alone can be good for the soul

One of the best and worst things about being a daily supply teacher is that you have no colleagues to speak of. If you’re working within the same group of schools, there may be people with whom you’re on nodding acquaintance. But even so, we teachers spend most of our time as one-man- bands, our dedicated TAs increasingly to be found out in the corridor, working with children requiring interventions or extra support to meet a dizzying range of  targets.

I moved house recently, so my patch has changed, wearyingly, I am still a new face wherever I go. From my days of working in press offices, I do sometimes miss the chance to brainstorm, swear openly and go out on regrettable (well, just the one, go on twist my arm) drinking sessions with colleagues on a Friday night. Sometimes when I see Curry Nite. Put your name down here if you’re in…written on the staff room whiteboard, I can get quite wistful. 

I also feel that it would be good for someone, just one person, to know me well enough to take for granted the fact that I have certain skills that sometimes make me good at some aspects of my job (maybe). It would also be great if there was someone around who knew that the reason I am perpetually grey of complexion, is that I have a teething child with a cry that could wake the dead.

Every time you enter a school as a supply teacher, you’re having to prove yourself. Mostly to the children and the TAs, and perhaps in the more careful and less over-stretched schools, to the head teacher as well. To the rest of your temporary ‘colleagues’, if you don’t do the staff room thing, you might as well be Ruby from Year 5’s  mother, wandering the corridors looking for a fight.

On the other hand, there are some real positives about not having a support network or colleagues to take you for granted. Not being able to take for granted the success of your lessons, your teaching style, your relationship with the children or even your knowledge of where the light switches are, keeps you on your toes. There may be less scrutiny but there’s also less information on which someone can make a judgement of your teaching. Should an adult walk past your class and find the children disengaged or disruptive, they will think you are a crap teacher. They will probably not hire you again. It can be like performing a constant series of those sample lessons they make you do now as part of a teaching job interview. It’s good training for interviews, and makes it almost impossible to become complacent. I write notes on how I think my lessons went, which make Ofsted look like a room full of kindly grandmas. 

Lacking colleagues, with whom (let us be honest here) a sly undercurrent of competition and one-up-man-ship is as much a part of the job as a beer and a laugh at the Deputy’s new hairdon’t, sends me off in different areas in search of inspiration for my teaching. I meet a lot of retired teachers at dos. You can spot them a mile off; they can spot you. It’s inevitable you’re going to end up talking. I find these women (they almost always are women) invariably incisive, witty, supportive and softly cynical  -  exuding a good pension and a thousand and one good nights’ sleep from every pore. Best of all, they are able to cut through to the nub of any teaching challenge issue you might care to throw at them.  And they love to dole out the advice. They’re teachers, of course they bloody do… After a glass of wine, I corner them and force them to help me. 

I also talk to my friends’ smart kids about their best and worst teachers. They are also invariably incisive and witty though normally harshly cynical. I do not ask them for their advice. But they will tell me about amazing maths games or how the teacher’s cartoons helped them to learn literacy rules, and what they love and loathe about different teaching styles.

Working without the support of colleagues means that nothing is off-the-peg. You’re forced to seek out your own networks to discover teaching practices, courses, resources, ideas, and inspiration that are entirely bespoke and often the better fit for it.

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Tags: Miranda, Supply Teacher, Colleagues, Staff, Primary Supply Teacher, Teach in Manchester, Protocol Education

Category: Australian Teachers

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