The Advantages of Supply – A Personal Story

By Anne Thompson

I follow the TES on Facebook, but sometimes I wish I didn’t.  I worry about the constant stream of negative posts about workload, the number of new and experienced teachers leaving the profession….and so on.  I do wonder, sometimes, if we teachers talk ourselves into being fed-up.  There are those trite postcards that state things like, “Don’t let other people’s negativity bring you down…”; “Share a smile with someone, not a frown”…

But then I stop…and I reflect……..

I am one of those people being talked about in the TES articles.

I started teaching in 2005 – a single mum to a seven-year-old daughter at that point.  I gave up a career in care management to do my PGCE in 2004; I was bored (!!), and if I had stayed, I would have had to take further qualifications to keep up-to-date with a changing landscape.   Therefore, I decided that retraining was the option, plus it would fit in with my daughter’s school holidays…and provide a decent income (after several years working my way up the main pay scale, to achieve what I had earned previously.)[That actually took me five years, I seem to remember.]

So I set out as an idealistic 35-year-old NQT, and the first year was tough.  I taught at a Middle School in Redditch, a town of 85,000 people just a few miles to the south of Birmingham in Worcestershire.  My specialism was upper Primary with English, and I was employed as an English specialist.  The school serves a ‘disadvantaged’ area.  The kids were hard to engage and had significant gaps in their knowledge and skills.  So from the start, I didn’t teach the full curriculum, because Middle Schools teach with specialists for PE, music, French…and so on.  But it turned out that I was pretty good at teaching English, and year 6 was my niche.  I like the banter that can be had with older primary kids, and I loved being able to teach Shakespeare, etc. to year seven children.  ‘Setting’ was right too, as far as I was concerned, because you could target learning the skills that the children lacked.  I was happy doing that for more than ten years, weathering the storm of many Govt. changes, changes of Headteacher and the dreaded academisation’- but I supported things and carried on.  Until I didn’t support things.  Any more.  I got fed up, of changes that I didn’t feel had been discussed adequately, or considered properly.  I quit…a middle leadership and UPS2 permanent post…notice handed in at the end of September 2015 for Christmas.

Stupid?  Brave?  Maybe… but necessary.

Then, friends to the rescue, I was offered a maternity cover at another middle school, which I accepted happily and gratefully.

Seven months of being a ‘temp’ – where I did a successful job but was not under the same pressure or scrutiny as the permanent staff.  I relaxed, gained more free time, began to enjoy just ‘teaching’ again and thought, “I can do this.”  So I applied to do supply via an agency…who very quickly got me an interview at a primary school not far away.  I decided to ‘give it a go’ and was pleased to be offered a full-time, permanent contract back in year 6, with a large, London-based Academy chain.

From the start, things were not right.  No information about curriculum…about anything.  Lots of promises but emails not responded to questions not answered.  I had my doubts and shared these with my friends, but kept active….for several weeks….not sleeping….not eating.  Never, in my whole career, have I completed so much pointless paperwork…so much planning.  Even as an NQT I didn’t have to plan in detail expected.  For whom?  Why?  Every piece of work marked every day…??  Why? Is that helping the kids to move on, make progress…??  No?  So who am I doing this work for??

Every day, my other half left to go to work encouraging me to resign, and one day in December 2016, I did.  I could reveal more about this academy chain…but I had probably better not.  Suffice to say; things are not what they seem…

We, as a family, are lucky.  I am not a single mum anymore, having met my other half while waiting to start teaching.  His two boys and my daughter are now living their lives, at university or work.  Our mortgage completion date is within touching distance.  So I could have the luxury to enter the world of supply teaching, where a daily rate or a monthly salary were not guaranteed.

I spoke to friends and family – my health and sanity were worth more than a large monthly wage, so from 1st February 2017, I took the plunge!

Episode 2 to follow!

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