- Written by Jenny Smith
May / June 2014
It’s funny. This is the time of year when all my teacher friends are winding down for the summer, thinking about a well-earned break from the classroom, and how they might do things a little differently, perhaps, tweak this or that, or change that area there around, for September, but essentially, their world will stay pretty much the same. They may be teaching in a new year group, or have new responsibilities, but they don’t have to worry about where they are going or when they will arrive. They’re cruising towards a fully paid summer with a job to return to afterwards. And always, at this time of year, I feel a little pang of envy.
It’s not that I don’t love my job. I love being a teacher, and most of all, I love being passionate about the work I do and the children I work with. I’m proud of the knowledge I’ve gained in all the different schools I have been fortunate (or less fortunate!) enough to work in. And I love putting that knowledge into practice in different settings, seeing one challenge through before moving on to another. Supply teaching gives me the flexibility to do all these things and the emotional space I need to do them well, but the one thing it doesn't give me is security.
At this time of year, I’m desperately trying, along with many other supply teachers, to line myself up with some regular long term work for September. I’ve resigned myself to a summer spending as little as possible and, depending on the money we have managed to save from any regular work I might have had, perhaps a couple of long weekends or a week away camping in the Lakes, and I’m hanging on to the possibility that something will turn up to pay for Christmas. This year, I’ve discovered, it’s not so much what work comes in, as when it does.
As I type, I have a small child balanced on one knee and a netbook on the other. Baby E is no longer a tiny newborn but a rapidly sprouting six month old, long and lanky like her father. She sleeps with her head snuggled into the crook of my arm, sprawled on my chest and legs either side of mine. It occurs to me that the last few weeks of my maternity leave are slipping away from me, as I wait to hear from my recruitment consultant before the end of July. Like any new parent, I’m not looking forward to going back to work, but at the moment I have no work to go back to. No stability. No work colleagues waiting for me to come back. No familiar children or parents. No guaranteed wage. No going back to work to get paid over the summer. Wherever I end up it will be another fresh start. It would be easy to allow myself to believe that I’ll be able to stay at home forever, but the truth is that if I don’t get work, we’ll struggle to get by and from a practical point of view, the longer it is before I find out what I am doing, the more difficult it will be to arrange good quality childcare…and as an early years teacher, good quality childcare is a highly emotive issue!
Advance planning and organisation are the key to being a good supply teacher, and even more crucial when you’re a working parent too. And to that end I’ve been asked by the lovely Sharon here at The Supply Teacher to take a look at The Cover Teacher’s Planner by Gareth Tanswell, a new diary designed especially with supply teachers and temporary school staff in mind. I’ve been giving it the once over, wondering if it will make my life any easier when I go back to work. Here are my thoughts:
There are several features of the Planner that I really like and I think would be very useful, although in all honesty, in its current format, I’m not sure how much use it would be to the average Early Years or Primary teacher. Each day is set out in sessions, leaving room to detail objectives and work set, behaviour and achievements. It’s a little too structured for my needs as is, although I can see how this would really work with a bit of alteration. With room to write the agency’s name at the top, this could be photocopied and left as a record of everything done, and I could keep a copy for myself: I like the idea of this for a number of reasons. Firstly, it gives me a bank of ideas to draw on. Secondly, it acts as a safety net, as I have a record of everything I have done on any given day, and thirdly, if I return to a certain school or class on a regular basis, I can use it to track the children’s progress during my teaching sessions, informing the class teacher’s judgements. I like that. It makes me accountable, and I’m all for we supply teachers being accountable. It means we get taken seriously.
The way it stands, I’d be more inclined to use this if I were a secondary teacher, I think. It’s a little rigid even for use in a Key Stage 1 or 2 classroom in my opinion, and it would almost definitely need tweaking to work effectively for Early Years. I’d be tempted to amalgamate the Student Achievements and Behaviour columns and perhaps, for general primary, to separate the sessions into Literacy, Numeracy and a more general section for other subjects. But these are just teething problems for a new product that the Planner’s creator might take into account in the future; it also looks as if planners can be customised when placing a batch order, so agencies ordering for their teachers could well place orders based on differing key stages and needs, thereby providing them with an extremely useful working document.
There is plenty of space in the Planner for weekend and holiday dates, taking into account that supply teachers often work during holidays and at weekends (although I’m not sure the holiday dates all need a page a day...I think that makes the Planner bigger than it needs to be.) Room for reminders and tuition/out of school activities, in addition to space for recording non work related activities make it comprehensive and useful for more than just work. There’s an impressive array of additions in the back; incident report forms, lesson plan forms, risk assessments, and a mileage and expenses log. There’s also space to record regular schools and agency details in the front. Of course, teaching Foundation Stage, I’d like to see space to observe particular children and record their comments somewhere, but then, the planner could be customised to accommodate that too, perhaps, if ordered and produced in bulk. Imagine that. The Early Years supply teacher’s planner…an invaluable addition to the supply bag! I’d also like to hope that agencies could be encouraged to include their timesheets as an “in the back” resource. Fab for photocopying when you realise you’ve run out!
I have only one main problem with the Planner, and that’s its size. It’s a hefty tome (sorry, I’m on maternity leave…I didn’t have the time to count the pages, but there are a LOT!) Just to keep it neat and tidy, and prevent pages being torn, I think it would be better produced with a cardboard cover. This could become an excellent working document for supply teachers and, as one who shoves everything willy-nilly into my supply bag and expects it to survive, I think it needs to be durable! It’s going to being generally manhandled, pored over, flicked through umpteen times, have random pieces of paper stuffed between the pages or post-it notes stuck to it, and yet it needs to remain in the sort of condition where you wouldn’t feel embarrassed about having it out in the classroom or when writing pre-bookings in, or at interview.
But all in all, I’m impressed.
And with that all in mind, I’m getting organised. I’ve enrolled on an Autism training course and I’ve been in and signed all my paperwork long before the summer so that my recruitment consultant knows I’m available and is actively looking for work for me as early as possible. It’s all a juggling act. Learning what work I may or may not have next year, and how I will organise childcare for Baby E when I am at work, has proved something of a headache over the past few weeks. Obviously a regular long term assignment would be easier when planning, but in the short term, day to day advance bookings would be an option. I’m lucky enough to be able to rely on Baby E’s granny in the beginning, at least. She’s agreed to travel fifty miles or so to look after the little one, and stay overnight, which has put my mind at rest. It must be worth it financially. My husband hasn’t opened his mouth to complain that it means his mother in law will be staying overnight every week!
It also means that now I can stop thinking about it all, and enjoy the remainder of my precious maternity leave. I’m looking forward to the six weeks holiday this year, and for once I don’t envy my teacher friends with permanent jobs at all. They’ll spend part of their summer planning for September, and I won’t. And this year, I feel just a little bit glad about that.