Empowering the Freelance Economy

Supply teachers: how to cope before you even set foot in the classroom

Supply teachers are in high demand as staff shortages and strikes continue in 2023/ Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko via Pexels
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Being a supply teacher has its benefits, like flexible working. However, the role often has its share of problems. Resolving them is no walk in the park, either.

This article takes a look at the concerns of supply teachers at a time when some educators are ready to strike and some even prepared to throw in the towel. Teacher Katie Pierce provides an inside look at what supply teachers that work through agecies are up against and shares some pointers.

By Katie Pierce

There are times when teachers need to take time off work. To save the day, supply teachers come into play. They are the often unsung superheroes, that ensure a class’s education will continue while the teacher is absent for a day, a week, or more due to illness or other obligations.

Supply teachers are in high demand thanks to an imminent teacher shortage. According to Gov.UK, fewer teachers entered the education system in 2021 compared to the pre-COVID years. That’s why almost one in 10 registered service teachers is taking the supply teacher role.

While there are agencies that provide appropriate training and induction, it is not guaranteed, especially for supply teachers.

There should be solid collaborations between schools and supply agencies with support from the government to ensure that all teachers can rely on a support structure to advance their professional practice and expertise.

Lack of Teachers’ Professional Training

Most supply teachers struggle with providing quality lessons to classes outside their area of expertise or preferred age group. They are not to blame since they still perform a significant role despite the staffing shortage. Supply teachers work in challenging circumstances and need professional support to provide children with the best education.

When faced with an unknown class without solid topic expertise, issues like lesson preparation, differentiation of instruction to meet diverse learning requirements, classroom management, and dealing with disruptive behavior become much more difficult. It can be highly detrimental to children as poor teaching can significantly impact their development and the academic success of the entire class.

Their agency sets their compensation, and agency pay rates are typically far lower than those for supply instructors employed directly by schools.

While there are agencies that provide appropriate training and induction, it is not guaranteed, especially for supply teachers. There should be solid collaborations between schools and supply agencies with support from the government to ensure that all teachers can rely on a support structure to advance their professional practice and expertise.

Salary

In general, supply teachers who work through agencies are not employed by the local authority, school, or academy. Their agency sets their compensation, and agency pay rates are typically far lower than those for supply instructors employed directly by schools.

Pay rates can vary depending on the assignment’s length, depending on the subject, and undoubtedly vary by region. Some schools support this by attempting to negotiate with organisations. The agencies decreased the salary of the supply teachers rather than lowering their profits. As a result, many  supply teachers find it impossible budgeting their hourly paycheck. In most cases, the lack of compensation pushes supply teachers to look for a second job in order to stick to their budget and sustain their expenses.

The Absence of Cover Work

One of the issues that supply teachers run into often is showing up to a session and discovering that there is no supply work left or they will be working for an entirely different class.

Don’t trust that the lesson plan and seating chart you discover in the classroom are the right ones; instead, try to confirm with the school beforehand what the cover work will be.

  • Make sure to read the cover work as soon as you get it, so you have time to ask questions about anything unclear and prepare for any challenging parts rather than diving in headfirst at the beginning of a class.
  • Additionally, it’s a good idea to keep a supply of generic lesson plans on hand for emergencies.

Encountering Challenging Behaviors

Keep your cool, first of all. Losing your cool will make the situation worse. Having a strategy in place before an event is the most effective approach to ensure that you can maintain your composure.

Ask for a copy of the school’s behaviour code when you initially enroll, or at the very least, find out if there are any systems of rewards and punishments that you should be aware of. Additionally, find out who to contact if a situation gets out of control. It would be best if you didn’t believe you were all alone.

Second, choose a few students you can turn to for assistance in case of difficulty. You would need to seek counsel from a schoolmate regarding a dependable candidate. Finally, as soon as you can, try to isolate the issue. If you stop an incident in its tracks, there is less risk that it will spiral out of control because lousy behavior can be contagious.

Bottom Line

As a supply teacher, you are faced with many unexpected issues and concerns daily. While some are out of your control or resolving them can take some time, your responsibility is to handle each situation with grace. Then, you’ll see that overcoming these serves as a learning curve for the development of you and your students.

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