Monday, 20 April
– the start of the school term and my supply teaching career
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” Georgia O’Keeffe
The next three days went by very quickly as I had my first taste of life as a supply teacher. Not a pleasant one to say the least… Perhaps it’s because I’m not used to the lifestyle, perhaps it’s because I come from such a different culture and schooling system or maybe it’s the temporary nature and context of the job. Whichever way I look at it, I don’t see too many good angles going on here, but time will tell.
Interestingly I was sent to primary schools for my first substitute days, that idea alone was rather scary because I’m a qualified and experienced high school (that’s secondary school in England) teacher and not a primary school teacher. InEngland, however, if you are qualified to teach high school, then you automatically qualify to teach primary school too; but if you are a primary teacher, then you can’t teach high school. I was thrilled that the number of schools I could work for had doubled without my having to do anything. A frightening thought, but I was going to go with it.
A general supply day works like this:
Call the agencies at 07h00 and they tell you if they have work for you or not. If they do, then they offer it to you and you agree to go; upon your agreement the agency will send you a text (an sms that you pray will arrive, because sometimes it doesn’t) with directions to get to the school and the school’s details. If they don’t have work for you, then you need to wait until they call you back with work for the day. Once you have work it’s time for an expedition on London’s public transport system starting with a walk to the tube station or bus stop (Traveller’s tip: make sure you are on the correct side of the road so that you catch the bus going in the direction you need to go in. The information on the bus stop pole is very helpful in this regard) in order to travel to another station or stop and then take another trip if necessary, and another and so on, until you are at the final stop; then it’s time to use your A-Z of London (this book shall be my lifeline!) to figure out where you got off the bus, what roads you are next to and what direction you need to move in. Then it’s a race against time, depending on how erratic the public transport modes have been that morning, to get to the school by 08h30.
Upon arriving at a primary school: some may welcomingly greet you, others will blatantly wish they didn’t have to ‘deal’ with you. You may meet the head or deputy of the school, you may not. You may get a map of the school, you may not. You may get a list of the rules, or not. You may be given the school’s discipline procedures and rewards system, or you may be left to your own trial and error system of classroom management. You may get a lesson plan / timetable, or not. You may have a full teaching day, or you may be blessed with a break. You may be given work that you have to do with the children (from someone’s barely decipherable scribbles to typed pages of explicit instructions), or not. You may have to do break duties and stay an extra hour or so to complete marking everything the children may have done, or you may not. You might get to stay with one class, or you might have to move between numerous classes (without walking or orientation time). You may be asked to release the children at the end of the day and make sure that they only leave with the right person (bearing in mind you have no idea who the child or their parents are; I still don’t understand this part of the job and I never have any idea who the children are leaving with), or someone may help you send them home… You never know what you may get, until it arrives. Looking at it like this, I guess you could say it’s a great analogy for life: You never know what you’re getting, until it arrives. Nevertheless, that pretty much sums up all the possible combinations of my working day as a supply teacher. It’s when you throw various degrees of insane children into the mix that it gets exciting, or life threatening, depending on how you look at it.
At the end of the day if you are someone who stresses easily and needs to be in control all the time, then I strongly, potently, absolutely, do not believe that this is a job you should consider taking up. Seriously, just don’t go there.
Naturally each day offered something new and interesting and a story that should be told. My first day, God and the blessing of a great teaching assistant (T.A.) got me through it! One learner was causing so much friction (shouting out, wandering around, and irritating others etc.) that the T.A. wanted to remove him. He disagreed with our opinion that his behaviour was bad and went to the back of the classroom to hug the wall. I spoke to him, he wouldn’t join the group, or move or leave. The T.A. then went back to him again to try and negotiate him into leaving. I then made the HUGE mistake of losing my cool and simply saying:
“If you don’t stop misbehaving and move away from this wall, then I will have to move you myself!”
The class of 9 year olds, who had been watching all this in eager anticipation, erupted: “Miss you can’t touch him! Miss you aren’t allowed to! Ahhhh Miss, you can’t say that!”
Right, a group of 9 year olds telling me what I can and can’t do; I remembered from my haze of jetlagged interviews that the agents had said that I was under no terms whatsoever to touch a child. I stepped away from the child, like an angry criminal stepping away “from the gun” or ‘from the guy I wanted to give a good beating to’, and went back to sit on the carpet in the “sharing circle”. The T.A. tried another vein of negotiation saying she was going to fetch another teacher. Obviously it was a big deal, because all the other 9 year olds made big eyes at each other. The culprit didn’t budge. The T.A. left and came back with another teacher who could’ve been ‘The Negotiator’ for the SWAT team; he didn’t touch the learner and managed to make it the learner’s decision to leave the classroom. The learner left, only to return later with slightly nullified behaviour, and that was it. It must have taken 10 to 15 minutes to get this child to leave and I was the only person who thought the whole scenario was ridiculous! The rest of the class lost all that learning time too. I didn’t touch him though; I learnt my first of many lessons of phenomenal patience. Like I said God was with me.