- Written by Jenny Smith
November / December 2014
Last night, we put up our Christmas tree, and this morning we brought the toddler in to see it. The look on her face was a picture. It brings back memories of last year, with a tiny newborn staring in awe at the lights and the colour. A few short weeks ago she turned one. How much she has grown, and how quickly she has changed. This year, the decorations were well and truly investigated.
Yes, my delightful baby has grown into a toddler already. All legs and arms and awkward attempts to walk. A vocabulary that increases daily. Exploring everything all at once. Life's a great adventure and I feel privileged to be sharing it with her. I'm ready to learn and explore with her. I'm ready to help her on her way, and support and guide her progress.
One word. Progress. Is it a dirty word? Or a fad? It's certainly the one on every teacher's lips. The children need to make progress in every lesson. Push, push and keep on pushing. Engage them, keep them motivated, make sure they all achieve to their full potential. Take on board government policy or not, I think most teachers would agree that, in an ideal world, all children should make some progress within a lesson.
Schools rise and fall based on the levels of progress the children make, and teachers, parents and kids are all constantly being told that every lesson counts. They need to be in the classroom, learning, making progress.
So, why is it that things can be so different when a supply teacher is in the classroom?
Other people's expectations can be so low for a supply teacher. Really, there should be no distinction. We're all trained. We all went to the same universities and colleges, and we all have the same qualifications. And yet I often hear myself being excused by others because I'm “only” supply. Right.
I never excuse myself. I'm always looking for ways to ensure I add value when I'm in school, even if it's only for the day. Granted, some days I don't make as much of a difference as I would like, but I feel it's always important to try. Progress, for me, might look different to the regular class teacher, but I always try and see it. And record it for the teacher.
What is progress when you're a supply teacher, then?
Well, it might be the child who is really nervous and insecure at the beginning of the day, but by the end is chatting to you like you're an old friend. Or maybe it's the child the TA tells you can be a bit of a handful, but you find a way through to them and they don't cause you any real problems. What about that one in the corner who does some quality writing, and when you look back in their book, they often don't. Maybe it's that kid who hasn't really understood a concept but grasps it when they hear it explained a slightly different way. Or the one who always needs support writing a whole sentence by themselves. Or the child with SEN who copes terrifically with the changes in routine even though the teacher's notes say they won't.
That's not all. I look at the big picture, too. Working with a lot of classes means you know when the children are really putting the effort in. And long before the children do any written work, you get a sense of how well they really understand what you are teaching. Wherever I can, I try not to just plough on regardless, but think about how I can change things to meet the needs of the children. In the long run, I'd prefer them to understand a concept, and I always assume their teacher would rather they were secure in something than move on before they are ready. I would, if I was their teacher, at least.
And how does progress look for me? Here I am, ten years into my career, and it looks for all the world as though I have never done anything different, but I have. I've taught Nursery to Year Two. I have worked in any number of different schools and situations. I've job shared, I've worked in failing schools, I've been through Local Authority observations and Ofsted. I'm getting to the point now where I'd like to be able to draw on that experience and use it to help other people.
With January comes a whole new year, and a new start. It's time for many more firsts. First steps, first sentences, first drawings, first conversations. And I want to be here to see them and hear them. I've said all along that I don't want my job to come before my family. When the going gets tough, and the money gets tight, when the work doesn't come in, or a long term comes up at the wrong time, I have to remind myself that this is progress too. It's the progress of parenthood. And it's worth every sleepless night and every day with no pay.
And that's that.