One of the best parts of being a teacher in a good school – and ‘good’ has NOTHING to do with league tables – is the camaraderie of a staff room where mutual respect, confidence in each other and in the school leadership and a love of the kids one teaches prevails. The hardest part of a temporary position is not being part of this and having to earn the right to be part of this. For the supply teacher, this seems almost unattainable.
In my recent conversations with colleagues and friends, I’ve explored what can be done to rectify this. The same phrases keep popping up:
“I miss the sense of community”
“I don’t feel looked after”
“I’d like to build relationships”
“I’d like to feel I belong”
The answer is partly in the way we as a company manage relationships with a school, and that means in some cases a degree of handholding. We know they want a supply teacher to be as effective in the classroom as is possible, but what do they need to do to achieve this, and what can we do to ensure they do?
For our part, at First Class Education, we are working hard to give our teachers the best possible chance of succeeding every time they enter a classroom. This typically includes as much background information as possible on the school including Ofsted reports, relevant curriculum information and so on and so forth. We also encourage our schools to be as generous with their own information about specific classes and any particular issues of which we should be aware. We are also trying to establish a “buddy” system in our schools to break down the isolation that a supply teacher can experience. Supply teachers are an essential part of school life, just as locums are in a general medical practice. But there the comparison breaks down. The locum GP deals with one patient at a time and has access to all medical records. The supply teacher will meet typically 5 classes of up to 30 in a day.
The world of supply teaching is changing. As the arguments about costs and mark-ups run their course, and assuming the recent tender achieves its objectives in resolving this, we have to focus on the quality of the teacher experience, and from this will follow a quality learning experience.
Peter Cobrin entered teaching by accident in 1981 to provide cover for a few days and stayed at the same school for 15 years first as a teacher of history and politics, then head of department and de facto head of sixth form. Later in his career he was a lead adviser in the Building Schools for the Future programme and now he is a key member of the First Class Education family, focusing on innovation and special projects.