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A Day in the Life of a Supply Teacher

“This supply teacher mission Jim, should you choose to accept it…”

Before Tom Cruise took over the mantle of the Mission Impossible franchise I remember the original 1960s TV series. It had a funky intro track and the cool dude main secret agent listening to a message on a mini-tape recorder that would self-destruct. This was followed by the words, “This mission Jim, should you choose to accept it…”

However it was what he did next that would come to float back into my mind years later when I began my long apprenticeship as a Primary Supply Teacher. The top secret operative would sit on his sofa in his hip 1960s pad and look through a folder of photos showing potential agents he could choose for his next daring mission.

He would read their resumes, selecting carefully, based on their specific skill sets, experience and abilities. This always resulted in a successful mission outcome. The world was saved for another week and every one (except the bad guys of course) was very happy.

Now let’s spin that 1960s tape recorder forward to the present and have a wee look at the life of a typical supply teacher. First, to use another analogy, it really depends on the cards you are dealt in your fantasy gaming online app ‘Get through Your School Day in one Piece’ … multiple levels, fun for all, amaze your friends!


Your Best Gaming Card:

Your supply day is pre-planned (no lying on your bed by the phone yearning after just one more slice of toast). You arrive to be met by the regular class teacher – hurrah! who talks you through your day with useful hints about interesting children, etc., and then finishes with the gold standard phrase, “I’m around if you need me”. This is the teaching equivalent of a loo on a long distance coach trip. i.e. if there is one, you know you won’t need it, if there isn’t, cross your legs and pray.


Next Level Gaming Card:

Your day is planned, you arrive at your class room and the notes left by the regular class teacher are in a known European language and they make sense! Now for the cherry on the cake… the class TA (your new best friend) will be with you all day. Not to over egg the pudding here but I always make sure that I have a car boot full of freshly cut palm fronds, Belgian chocolates, wine, a small super cute furry pet, vouchers for a Weekend in Paris… you get the idea. OK, let’s move on to the…

Day of Doom Card:

Cue the opening scene to any of your favourite gothic movies. You get the call (make sure there are no toast crumbs on your shirt or blouse). You arrive at the school and realise that you have suddenly acquired an unwanted super power,you have become “Teflon Teacher”. In real terms, this means nobody actually has time for you. Everyone is dealing with the fact that the regular class teacher has phoned in sick and is currently boiling an egg on their forehead. The teacher in the class next door now has the unenviable task of sorting out your learning day as well as theirs. To be fair I have experienced wonderfully patient teachers who really go the extra mile to help you out. On other occasions I have been greeted as if I have personally brought over the Black Death to Merry Olde England on the ferry from Calais.

This is the moment when I am reminded of the supercool Mission Impossible agent choosing their fellow operatives with such care; it’s now that it really counts, the agent is the recruitment agency, you get the idea…

All teaching supply agencies exist to make money – that’s the real world – that’s OK. Sadly only some agencies have read the memo from Mission Impossible.

Supply Teachers are people just like everyone else. Some of us can cope and even thrive on the challenge of a hastily written note saying:

  • “This might be the password to the class laptop.
  • Teach maths then literacy.
  • The plans are on the teacher drive under Morning Work under sub file My Daughters Birthday, vie extension My Pets name” ,etc.

Other supply teachers find this a real struggle. Some people can cope with having a TA that has their name on the classroom door but mysteriously seems to have emigrated to a completely different year group, others find this extremely challenging and naturally not the best setting to really demonstrate their teaching skills.

Then let’s finish with the slam dunk scenario. You sit slightly battered in you lonely chair in the classroom, chomping on your stale petrol station sandwich, (nobody really had time to show you where the staff room or the staff bathrooms are and you begin to wonder if anyone will notice if you do something unspeakably awful into the neglected rubber plant in the corner).

A hastily written note arrives with the killer line, “This afternoon please go to the stock cupboard and link up the interactive keyboards for music before the dance class and the following hand painting activity. It is essential the classroom is left tidy”. You look at the clock, you have 15 minutes to put this perfect storm afternoon together.

So, back to our secret agent choosing his team. Yes the agent is the agency, remember!

Assuming that all recruitment companies carry out a vigorous and effective interview process, it can then be taken as read that they know their staff and have absolute faith in their ability to teach effectively. The secret must therefore be to make each placement as successful as possible for everyone by considering every teacher as an individual and then matching their unique skills to the right school on the right day.

Sometimes it’s not always about making money but rather attempting to form positive meaningful relationships with staff and schools.  We all know that manure occurs and that every now and then life just happens. As a supply teacher you should be able to cope with most of what is thrown at us, we are qualified practitioners after all

So Mission Impossible fans let’s remember that a recruitment agency that stays ’people skills sensitive’ and keeps this ethos at the centre of their business model is guaranteed to thrive!

This mission, should you choose to accept it…

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