For those who want the job satisfaction of teaching without the long hours and stress, working as a supply teacher can be an ideal compromise. While the profession has taken some serious knocks in recent years, supply teaching can reduce workloads and help to achieve your ideal work/life balance. Here we talk to Jeff Blackwell, a teacher with over 40 years teaching experience, about life as both a full time and supply teacher, and how the profession has changed over the years.
Could you tell us a little about your background – how long have you been working in education and as a supply teacher?
I started teaching in 1980 and my subjects were technology, maths and ICT. After 34 years I retired as assistant head of a secondary school. In 2015 I began working as a supply teacher with timetabled maths lessons, but I also provided ad hoc cover for other subjects.
How do you think the education system has changed since you started teaching?
These days teaching is much more data orientated and less about the pupils. Teachers don’t have the same freedom in the classroom and that means you can’t have as much fun with the pupils. Trying to make everyone teach in the same way doesn’t allow teachers to play to their strengths. I’ve also found that there’s more of a culture of fear within schools because of targets.
What do you think some of the major issues in education are today and how do they affect your day-to-day work?
There’s too much emphasis on uniformity and not enough on consistency. Yes, everyone should mark and give feedback, but it should be appropriate to style and subject. Senior Leadership Team (SLT) teachers assessing lessons aren’t always subject specialists and might not be correct in their assumptions. For example, a PE trained assistant head isn’t necessarily qualified to assess how an English teacher delivers their lesson.
To what extent do you think education can help to address wider social issues that might affect a child’s behavior and their ability to learn?
Too many ills of society are lumped at the feet of teachers. Teachers aren’t trained social workers and a results-driven system allows them even less time to talk to students. Taking some of the pressure off students and teachers to meet targets might help, but parents also need educating about how issues at home can impact on children at school.
The head of Ofsted has encouraged budget cuts in creative subjects, stating that children are better served by academic subjects – do you agree?
This is a load of rubbish, these subjects can motivate children and make them happier – consequently, they’ll work harder. I wasn’t good at art or music, but it didn’t stop me appreciating them and becoming me a more rounded person because of this.
The teaching profession is losing staff because of more pressure and longer hours with no extra pay, what are your feelings about this?
There’s no doubt that too much paperwork is killing the profession. Nobody trusts a teacher to do a good job anymore. Marking should be done to inform the pupil and the teacher, not as goal in itself. This adds too much pressure as it’s time that’s the real problem rather than money.
What are some of the benefits of supply teaching over full time teaching?
You can teach and not get bogged down with mountains of marking and report writing. All parents really want to know is how their child is doing and if they’re giving their best. As a supply teacher you also get to meet a greater variety of pupils, which keeps things interesting. One of the greatest advantages has to be the increased freedom over when and how much you work – for example, the ability to take time off if you have other commitments.
Typically, do you find that schools support supply teachers with ready prepared lessons, introduction packs etc.?
It varies a lot, not just from school to school, but between different departments and even between teachers. Some teachers are excellent, which makes life easy, but sometimes there’s nothing, and bored children can cause problems.
Do you have any tips for supply teachers and those thinking of going into the teaching profession?
Make sure you’re consistent and follow through on things such as disciplinary issues. It’s important to establish standards at the start by showing pupils that you’re going to make them work hard. This will make life easier in the long run. It’s also useful to cultivate relationships with school staff and to have a stock of work at different levels that you can use if there’s none left for you.
At Amaze we offer a friendly and reliable FCSA accredited umbrella service that that takes the stress out of getting paid for your supply work. Speak to a member of our team today on: 0161 464 8993