Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Don't Panic! How to Survive September as a Supply Teacher

We have our Fabulous Flexible 15 in London, ready and eager to teach any subject, any time. They're mostly experienced teachers, so they don't have the panic that a first year teacher has, but they're still nervous about teaching in London, England - a new city & country for most of them.

A few have gone out for trial days and weeks for full-time positions (yes!), and plenty are happy to supply teach until the work picks up and they land the job of their dreams. A few even have full-time jobs already. (Our teachers who arrived last year are mostly in full-time jobs, so they're in schools with their new classes excited to start the year.)

The new arrivals know the work is sporadic in September and wanted to give it a go anyway. We know they are amazing teachers, which is why I selected them in the first-place. So what happens now?

Well, I received my first "OMG Victoria! This city is expensive, and school has started and I haven't had a days work yet, so is it just me? Did I do something wrong?" email yesterday. Not in so many words of course, but that's the gist of the email. I get one of these at the start of every year.

So, I send a polite "Please relax, enjoy this free time, do free things in London, and the work will come" email back. It was only the second day of school after all.

Here are my top tips to help you survive as a supply teacher in September:

1. When you start to get that panicked feeling, ask yourself, "Would I be getting any work in ______?" Insert your home city and ta-da. Instant relief. Your friends are back home and not even on the supply lists (which are over-flowing with perfectly capable teachers desperate for work in most parts of Canada).

2. Do free things! The museums in London are free. Hyde Park is free. Camden Market is free. Jogging along the Thames is free...London is filled with amazing free activities.

3. Wake up early, just in case you get work for the day, and when you don't, just go back to bed
and enjoy the luxury of sleeping for a few more hours. Make breakfast at noon. You will miss these lazy mornings soon enough.

4. Remember, it's not you. It's September!

5. When your teacher friends tell you they got work for the day, be happy for them
. Don't immediately ask yourself "Why didn't I get that day?" My colleagues in London get one day and look at a massive list of teachers who are all desperate for that one day of work. It's tough. They ponder, fret, worry and finally make a call. They lose sleep when you don't get work - they really do. So please, please, please don't add more stress to their day by asking if it's you. It's not.

6. Always remember: The work will come.
It always does. London has a shortage of teachers, and that's not changing because of the financial crisis. Schools are tightening their belts, but they will always need good teachers. You're in the best city to be in for picking up teaching work.

7.Don't run around registering with a million and one agencies.
It happens. You get worried, so you think: Okay, well if this agency doesn't have work, then I'll register with a few more to increase my odds.

Why not? Well, it often backfires. For example - we had a trial day for a teacher on Tuesday, all lined up for an amazing job at a school I've personally taught at and would accept in a second. It's an ideal situation. Like I said before, we have plenty of teachers who would love work right now. So, we pick the right teacher (who we will call Teacher A) with experience in that year group, set up the trial day, and then find out that Teacher A has an appointment lined up already.

An appointment - now, that could mean they have a day out teaching with another agency but they don't want to tell us, or it could mean that they are registering that day with another agency and don't want to tell us, or it could mean they genuinely have an appointment that they could cancel but don't want to.

Regardless, we sent Teacher B, who had no appointment, wanted an interview and was ready, eager and more than capable. Teacher A missed a great opportunity. Teacher B is ecstatic.

So, yes, you can increase your odds by signing on with more than one agency, but that lack of loyalty will get you in the end. It always does. Lying doesn't work!!! Just be honest. If you're freaking out and need to sign up with another agency, be honest about your intentions and tell both agencies what you are doing. We don't like it, but we're not stupid.

With Classroom Canada, it's very rare that we ever lose a teacher to another agency, so I'm not worried about it. The truth is that I receive at least one email a day from a teacher who is working with another teaching agency and doesn't like them, and they've heard brilliant things about Classroom Canada and want to switch. The power of word-of-mouth works in our favour and that's just the way I like it. Thanks to all those who spread it - you know who you are! :-)

8. Make new friends. Get to know them, and appreciate that they are in the same boat as you. If you're one of our teachers in London, we have a great network of teachers for you to get to know. Take advantage of that free time & spend time getting to know your new community. These are the people who will travel with you, be your shoulder to cry on, and take you to the pub when you just need a night out.

9. Spend time outdoors in the beautiful autumn weather that will very soon change to rainy-London-winter-blues.

10. Take off! Go to Paris, or Barcelona, or Amsterdam, or Prague...Use that credit card and spend the same money you would spend in London over the weekend in another city in Europe. Sure, it's spending money you don't have (yet), but hey, if you've got the time, why not? You can stay at the cheapest hostels, or even camp-out, buy food to prepare yourself and pinch pennies as you go, but at least you can travel while the work is slow. If you don't get a call on a Friday morning, then you have 3 full days of adventure! Just be back in time for Monday morning in case you do get that important call at 7am.

11. Read, read and read some more. Read blogs about supply teaching, read about the UK curriculum, read about behaviour management and just keep reading. It will only improve your teaching when you do get work.

12. When should you panic? If not now, when? October. If you still don't have a steady stream of work and it's the middle of October, then yes, now you can start to worry. Ask others what you're doing wrong. Ask your consultant if they've had any feedback from schools about your teaching. Go to PD sessions and become a better teacher.

Any other tips you can share to make this time a little easier for supply teachers? Please share your thoughts below!

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  1. Great post! And one I think a lot of us need right now ;) thank you!! I, for one, am definitely enjoying the wake-up-and-go-back-to-bed routine! hahaha
    Yesterday it was 27C!! We went to Brighton today hoping for the same, only got 20ish, but it was still amazing.

  2. Thanks Amie! I figured as much :-)

    I love Brighton! Went there many times on a day off, and occasionally stayed over to go dancing all evening. There's a big music scene there.

    Did you write a blog post about it? Would love to see the pics! Oh, and what did you eat? ;-)

  3. Ooo sounds like fun! Thanks Victoria! It makes not having work sound exciting rather than stressful! haha
    Great post!

  4. So, what are supply teachers? Are they similar to substitute teachers here in America?

  5. Hi Mr Crawshaw,
    Yes - supply teachers are the same as substitute teachers, aka "day to day" or "TOC" (Teacher on Command or Teacher on Call) or daily supply teachers. Many names for the same thing.


Thanks for sharing your two pence!


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