- Written by Jenny Smith
January / February 2014
It has been a long couple of months. Our baby girl finally arrived and the past few weeks have been spent adjusting to life as a family. The dog has made the transition from adored family baby to beloved family pet with minimal grumbling and only the occasional betrayed look. She watches over the baby jealousy, and barks more loudly than ever when there is someone at the door. In short, we have become more of a team than ever, supporting and leaning on each other.
There is something about having a baby that means everyone gets involved. Granny has visited umpteen times since Tiddler was born, and my fellow knitting enthusiasts love nothing better than a chance to baby sit. I’ve made so many friends and met so many other mums and mums to be since having a baby that I have a ready-made group of friends. I’ve started going to a post-natal group, and the idea behind it is that it gives us the opportunity to develop a peer support network, and a wealth of experience we can draw on. That’s the thing; when it comes to babies, everyone knows something that works, or has worked… everyone comes up with suggestions and solutions. Everyone wants to help.
When I was starting out as a supply teacher ten years ago, the thing I struggled most with on a daily basis was the feeling of isolation. Sometimes I’d feel completely out of my depth and at sea, and I didn’t know of any other supply teachers with whom I could get together and have a gossip – discuss everything from what I took with me into school to how I dealt with a “chatty” class or share any funny stories or terrible failures. Inexperienced teachers are often insecure about the skills they have, and logically, often look to their more experienced colleagues to give them the support and advice they need. It’s not always advice that’s needed. One supply teacher I met, who is now a close friend and willing babysitter, couldn’t drive, and was working in a school an hour and a half away from the area we both live. Having passed my driving test long after becoming a supply teacher, and remembering well the sinking feeling at the thought of waiting for a bus after a long day with an unfamiliar class when all I wanted to do was sleep, I offered her a lift after school. That lift turned out to be a small step on the road to helping her to get to grips with a first long term position, and supporting her through a trying and somewhat traumatic Ofsted inspection, and offering interview advice when she began searching for another job at the end of the academic year, when, as is so often the case, the job was no longer available. And I was there as her friend to console her at the thought of starting all over again after a very challenging, but also rewarding year in which she learned a great deal, and felt like part of a team.
It’s something that every teacher takes for granted. The staff room is where you talk things over. On a basic level , it’s a place to join in professional discussion and debate, and on a personal level, somewhere to build and maintain friendships, share life experiences and let off steam. Supply teachers don’t have a staff room. We are reluctant, sometimes, to discuss problems with our recruitment consultants for fear of being unprofessional or looking bad to a school. Often supply teachers choose not to share problems or issues with regular staff in a school because they are worried about being judged or not being asked back. And sometimes, it’s the trivial things you want to share. Things like no one told you to mark in green and you have no green highlighter so you have to rummage around in the felt tip box until you find a green felt tip that “will do”. Or the behaviour management system you can’t follow because no one bothered to explain it to you. These are the meat and potatoes of supply teacher pet peeves, and sometimes the only person who understands how you feel about them, is another supply teacher.
It was a few years ago that I discovered a then little known website and forum, after randomly searching Google for “support for supply teachers” and became a member of the community at SupplyBag. Getting to know other teachers whose job was the same as mine, and talking with them about everything from how to teach a lesson on the interactive whiteboard without the whiteboard to how to make tasty puddings from After Eight mints was an important part of my growth as a supply teacher. Talking to colleagues, who swiftly became friends, people I now share parenting and personal stories with as well as teacher related anecdotes took me from seeing supply as a necessary evil on the road to becoming a “real” teacher…to a permanent way of working. Back in those days, SupplyBag was a pretty small community. It has grown enormously from what it used to be, but still the same old people drop by from time to time and catch up. I’m sure I’m not the only one who came to rely on SupplyBag support before and after interviews, with difficult classes, and through the odd unpleasant experience. And I always used to feel for those teachers who hadn’t discovered it, tell them of its existence, and smile when they popped up on the forum a few days later, making friends and realising it wasn’t just them. They had found a little place on the internet called home.