Interview with... JT Griffiths

The Sewer Rats - JT GriffithsJT Griffiths, supply teacher and author of The Sewer Rats, give tips and advice for supply teachers.
Why did you get into supply teaching?

Long story - I qualified after doing a PGCE in 1983. Then after a short spell as a secondary RE teacher I did a Post Grad computing science course and spent many years as an analyst/programmer. When my mother suffered a series of strokes I became her carer (for about 5 years). Meanwhile the computer industry moved on and I had always enjoyed training new recruits so jumped at the chance to complete a return to teaching course. Once my mother died I saw supply teaching as a means to get back into teaching.

How did you get into supply teaching?

As a keen dog walker I met the headteacher of a local primary school whilst out for a walk. She suggested I went and helped out and very soon was doing a regular day a week supply via the county, plus many extra odd days. I tried signing on with agencies but was rejected until I had 2 referees from 2 different schools. I had to do half a term as a volunteer in another school to get that reference. Approaching several agencies I found two that now give me regular work (and a further two that never found me anything.)

What do you take with you on assignment?

I have a selection of folders I have compiled marked year R up to year 6 - full of resources for that year. I also take a separate bag (usually kept in the car boot) with track suit and trainers and an assembly ideas book - hoping I won't have to use them. I usually take a John West Pasta & Tuna ready meal that can stay in my bag until needed. I also take spare pens, pencils and pencil sharpeners (all needed in the school I was at yesterday). Perhaps my most important tool is the satnav I got for Christmas, making the journey much easier. Most of the time I don't need the resources, but you can guarantee that when I am told by the agency that all the planning is set there will be no work left. I also take a large diary where I can note down where I was, what was taught etc.

How do you ensure you'll be called back to work at that lovely school / by your recruitment consultant?

If I like the school (and luckily it's most of them) I always try to find the secretary, administrator or headteacher to let them know. Funnily enough those schools where everyone has disappeared by the time I have finished my marking are usually the schools that I am not too bothered about. I usually ring my recruitment consultant on a Friday afternoon to let them know my availability and tell them then if a school has been very good.

What have you learned from being a supply teacher so far?
Organisation. When I worked in the computer industry I was very disorganised. Supply teaching requires a high degree of discipline, from having everything ready at a moments notice, to thinking on your feet when you enter the classroom having been called late and the TAs ask you what you are going to be teaching that day. 
Many supply teachers don't feel they earn enough money, and some seem to have a lot of time on their hands. What have you been doing in your spare time?
My big project over the last year has been writing an ebook. On the many days I was left twiddling my thumbs after 9:30 in the morning, I wondered how I could make a little more money - and enjoy myself. I had worked in several schools that used Berlie Doherty's book 'Street Child', where the children have to guess what comes next at the end of each chapter, and I thought it would be good to write a sci-fi story that could promote class discussion. I set the story far in the future but tried as much as possible to keep to the possible rather than fantasy. The story follows two young sisters escaping from a gang of bullies and finding themselves on an adventure with two young brothers and their bio-computer tattoos. The children stowaway on the skylift into space earning themselves the name of 'the sewer rats.' Escaping from the authorities that want to destroy them they must use their wits and tattoos to foil both a military coup and some strange bugs that we learn are out to destroy humanity. One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing the book was taking it into different year 5 and year 6 classes and testing out ideas. Publishing an ebook on the Amazon store for the kindle is quite easy and hopefully if I sell enough eCopies I will be able to approach publishers to see the book in print.
Do you have any words of advice for those wishing to be a supply teacher?
Don't be nervous, most schools are very supportive. Remember that everyone, even those in permanent posts, learn new things and new ways of teaching every day. It's a dynamic not static profession.
Story time!

I've only once been to a school and had to leave half way through the day, and it wasn't because of the children but because a member of the staff kept coming into my class egging on the children to misbehave. When I first started teaching the occasional child would accidentally call me 'dad', now many years on I get called 'grandad'. Recently a 5 year old boy asked me my age. I replied 53, he said 'you don't look it' and I thought how nice, until he added 'I thought you were much older!'

Who would be the ultimate supply teacher and why?

Well the obvious answer is 'anyone but Michael Gove.' But having said that I would love to watch him try! Otherwise I would choose David Attenborough who I am sure would captivate the children with his knowledge and memories.

And finally, what is your favourite supply teacher resource?

My favourite resource is 'Always Eat Your Bogies' a collection of poems by Andrew Collett. One year 6 boy described me as an adult Horrid Henry for reading a poem about cowpats with gusto.

JT Griffiths' book, The Sewer Rats, suitable for upper Key Stage 2, is available from Amazon here.

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