Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to Survive September as a Supply Teacher in London, England

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about surviving September as a supply teacher in London.  September is the first month of the new academic year, and it's always a really tough month for new teachers.  This post was written specifically for Canadian teachers making the move to London, but this could apply to any supply teacher in the first month of teaching anywhere

I've adapted the post a bit to make it more relevant for 2012.

Read on to see my advice on surviving September as a supply teacher:

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 most likely 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 can't possibly change.
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 honesty 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.  The agency will always give out work to teachers they know are 100% available at all times, so you reduce your odds of being the first pick for the agency, but if you feel like you need 2 agencies then that's what you need to do.  Registering with 3 or more is bad form and pushes you even further down all the lists, so I wouldn't do it myself, but people do it all the time.

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. Sign up with your local library. Research is fun. Do it!

12. When should you panic? If not now, when?  November. If you still don't have a steady stream of work and it's the middle of November, 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!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for these supply teacher tips! I agree - the most important thing is not to panic. There is plenty to keep you occupied in London as you say - embrace the free tourist attractions and maybe a little window shopping.. or perhaps not - too depressing? Don't get disheartened. Something WILL come along. They key is being positive, pro-active and enthusiastic. Good luck!


Thanks for sharing your two pence!


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