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A Common Question

Emma is a Teaching Assistant who works for Protocol Education in Wolverhampton. Her second ProtoBlog reflects on how the beauty of being a supply teacher is that it allows her see the very best and very worst in schools and learn to adapt to both!

A Common Question

One question that I get asked a lot at the schools I work in is "what is it like being on supply?" Swiftly followed by "do you enjoy it?"

I suspect that those who’ve worked in the same school for decades would find my job perplexing. What must it be like to be working in up to 5 different schools a week? Nursery and finger painting one day and Year 6  working towards the dreaded SAT’s the next .

I guess one of the best qualities of the supply worker is the ability to adapt and refuse to stagnate. By working in different schools I get to see the very best and the very worst. I recently worked alongside a supply teacher from Protocol Education. We soon got talking and she realised that we’d worked together before in inner city West Bromwich. The pupils were mainly ethnic minorities, with a high proportion of EU immigrants and almost all free school meals.

I was shocked to hear her describe it as the worst school she’d ever worked at, while I thought of it as the happiest 3 years of my career. Isn’t it odd? One person’s Hell is another person’s Heaven. I’d found great fulfilment in watching those children flourish, despite the odds stacked up against them. And whilst my long term positions have provided me with stability, a regular set income and the opportunity to become a team member, unfortunately unless you are given a contract, all good things come to an end.We both agreed that one of the perks of being on day to day is that if you don’t like a school, you can agree never to return.

Sadly, as much as I have had many great and varied experiences not every school has been a welcoming haven. My mind wondered back to an experience I had four years ago that I still think of to this day. It is one of those anecdotes that I laugh at now, but back then was a different story. I’d been sent to a school in Birmingham and was working with a supply teacher. We’d been left with a note from the teacher and a work sheet to photocopy for the class. So, using my best navigational skills I found my way to a photocopier. But it needed a code and I didn’t have one! So I went to the office and asked the large, severe face that greeted me if I could have the code. No, she said, I wasn’t allowed. Fair enough, some schools guard their codes as preciously as the location of the holy grail. I asked if she could photocopy it for me, a little wary at how long I’d been gone. She told me stony faced that she required a week’s notice to do any photocopying! I laughed. She wasn’t joking though and I left with my tail between my legs and a single work sheet for 30 children.

So what is it like working in supply? That is not a straightforward question to answer. There’s the excitement of not knowing where I’ll be from one day to the next, the stability and comfort of a long term position and the heart ache of leaving. There’s the joy at working at a school that welcomes the unique contributions and experiences of the supply worker and the frustration of those that see us as a necessary evil. Incidentally you can recognise who the supply staff are in those schools, they’re often found huddled in a corner reading a book and pretending not to care that they’re being ignored.

Do I enjoy the job? Yes and no. Yes, I have worked in some amazing, supportive environments and helped to find the spark in the children who have been long since given up on by jaded teachers. No, because not every school sees my unique contributions and value, but hey, that’s their loss!

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Tags: EmmaH, Teaching Assistant, Supply Worker, Teach in Wolverhampton, Protocol Education

Category: Australian Teachers

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