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Supply teachers – Why schools should make them feel included

In some schools I feel invisible, says Michelle Casey, so to those that include me, it means a lot when you do...

  • Supply teachers – Why schools should make them feel included

I want to start by saying thank you. Thank you to the teachers who leave comprehensive plans and notes. Thank you to the LSAs who are supportive and make sure I can find my way to the bathroom. I’m so grateful to the staff who include me in their staffroom conversations.

Four years ago I left a permanent teaching role in north London to return to my hometown in Northern Ireland. I’d been teaching Y6 and co-ordinating literacy for a junior school and was in danger of burning out.

My husband, my then 18-month-old and I were in search of a slower pace of life and more family support.

However, it didn’t work out exactly as planned.

2020 finds us back in London, but this time round I’ve opted to do supply teaching.

This comes with so many positives: the freedom to teach the children and just enjoy it; no planning; no meetings; less pressure to meet targets; no exhausting parents’ evenings; no late nights marking; no weekend working; no endless assessments.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? However, such a role comes with its drawbacks.

One of the things I miss most is the camaraderie of being part of a school team. Even when the horror of a practice Ofsted sent many of us weeping into our cupboards as a result of the harsh feedback we received, there was always a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’. I miss that.

Please try to remember that if I’ve had a call to come and cover at 7am that morning, I may not know where the school is. As a relative newcomer to the area this is stressful, as is finding a parking spot if the school car park is too small, or non-existent in some cases.

Then there’s the experience of walking into the staffroom and not knowing where to sit. Some staffrooms seem quite segregated – there’s a clear division between teachers and teaching assistants so there’s always agony over where to position myself.

And when I’ve found a spot, how do I conduct myself? Eye contact and intruding on conversations: too needy. Constantly on my phone or reading a book: too aloof and unapproachable. It’s quite the tightrope I walk every lunchtime…

Please be supportive with behaviour management. As a supply, it can be difficult to mould the behaviour of pupils who, shall we say, don’t make good choices. Sometimes older children realise I won’t be there the next day so it’s difficult to follow through with consequences if behaviour is poor.

To the senior leaders in schools, it’s quite disheartening to have every piece of information communicated through the supply agency, especially when I’ve just passed you in the corridor.

I understand there are certain protocols to adhere to, but when I’ve been in the school on a regular basis, person-to-person contact means a lot.

As a supply teacher, in some schools I feel invisible at best, disposable at worst. The lack of communication makes me feel unimportant and undervalued as a colleague and a professional.

However, I must keep in mind the reason I am a supply teacher.

It grants me the freedom to just be in the moment with the children I teach, without always thinking about what comes next.

It allows me to spend time with my own family, without the constant feeling that I am spreading myself too thin.

It also affords me time to pursue interests such as yoga and writing.

For me, the more balanced life I now lead means I’m no longer ‘running on empty’. As a result, I feel I have more to give the children I teach, which can only be a good thing.

As a full-time class teacher, your time is precious. In the past, I’ve been guilty of not talking to the ‘disposable’ supply teacher in the staffroom so I get it. Why put in the time when you may or may not see me again, right?

However, please say good morning next time you pass the supply teacher in the corridor. It might mean more than you know.

From Michelle


Michelle Casey is a part-time primary teacher in Surrey.

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