This time last year I was nervous. I had been a teacher a long time, yes, I had tried to leave the classroom once before but only lasted 6 months until I ran back to it, missing the children and the camaraderie amongst the staff. But I was looking to leave the school I was in come summer. I was going to become a supply teacher. What drove me to this and was it the right move?
People think teachers have it easy, they work 9 to 3 and have a ton of holidays. If only that were true! The last couple of years I had worked part time, just 3 days a week in school. This meant 3 days of working 7.30am to 5.30 or 6pm, with a 20-minute break to quickly inhale a lunch. This alone was roughly 30 hours a week in school. These days were primarily filled with the children, during which a teacher makes more decisions per minute than a brain surgeon! But, these days were also filled with marking 30+ jotters for each curricular area that day (often over 100 pieces of work, each day), tidying, updating displays, looking out resources for lessons, liaising with parents, staff and other professionals, fighting the photocopier, determined it would work for the scant sheets I was allowed to copy and a myriad of other tasks!
Then one of my “days off” was generally used to do admin and other bits there was no time for amongst the hubble and bubble of the school day. This was when I would sit and try and plan interesting, stimulating lessons taking into a count the children’s likes and abilities. I would write report cards, complete reports for external agencies (if they were allowed to leave school grounds) and attempt to keep abreast of ever changing schemes of work, national changes to the curriculum and changing wider government policies. I would also complete my daily plans, weekly plans, termly plans and update the yearly overview and complete umpteen other pieces of admin all designed to prove I was doing my job to the best of my abilities, because being good at admin makes a great teacher, right?! And lets not forget I would often try and track down resources for school which I would buy myself as budgets were non-existent but they would improve the children’s learning experience. All of a sudden, my 21.5hour week was closer to 37hours. Add a school show, disco, parents night, curriculum evening etc and all of a sudden my 21.5hour contract equated to over 40 hours of work a week, squeezed into just 4 days.
Unfortunately, these working hours were not due to me being a workaholic. It is the norm within teaching in Scotland. It is suggested that teachers here in Scotland work an extra 11 hours a week on top of their contracted 35 per week. There are 39 weeks in an academic year. This means the average teacher is working 1794 hours within those 39 weeks. Compare this to your average worker, who works 37hours with 25 days holiday a year and 10 days public holiday will work roughly 1665 hours a year. A teacher is working, on average just 129 hours extra a year, not a lot. But when you consider this is squeezed into just 39 weeks you quickly see how teachers can become exhausted!
Added to this is management who get caught up in their roles and forget why they became teachers in the first place. They start believing council targets, test results and the budgets are more important than the people in the school, that is the staff and the children. Yes, they have difficult roles and are often not trained in how to manage people, but this should not mean they lose any sense of empathy, as I have unfortunately experienced first-hand.
These are some of the reasons which combine to lead up to 40% of teachers to consider leaving the profession in the next 18 months, clearly something has to change. It certainly combined to make me determined not to work as a full-time teacher and even made me question whether being “part time” was even worth it. My husband agreed with me and we decided it was not. I had tried to leave the classroom once before and I missed it too much. I decided this time to try supply teaching.
So how has this year been so far you may ask, do I miss the security and consistency of the same school? Well, no. I quickly ended up in a day a week contract in a school I love. I have management who care about their staff and understand working part time means being part time. Yes, like every teacher I will do a little extra, but it is just a little and for the benefit of my kids, my class. It is not to complete unnecessary admin or other such tasks which make no real difference in the classroom. I easily pick up more supply work when I want it, not a day goes by where I don’t get a text for it. Plus, once you are in a school they tend to like to keep your details as it is difficult for them to get supply staff.
My stress levels are greatly reduced which in turn has greatly benefited my health. I went from a vicious cycle of having caught bugs, infections and having flare ups with my hypermobility syndrome to being out this awful cycle and being healthy. I have energy to do things. I have recently started Korean kickboxing twice a week and Krav Maga once. To have the time and more importantly, the energy, for this before would have been unimaginable.
I am also a happier person. My family and friends would attest to this one. One thing teachers are bad at is negative self-reflecting. We often have management, the council and the media telling us we are not good enough or doing enough. Going on supply means I ignore this most of the time which makes me happier overall.
I get to socialise now! After a school day I was often too tired to do much with friends or family. My socialising was kept to weekends only. If they were going for a meal or to watch a film on a week night I simply didn’t have the energy to join them. Now I do have the energy. If one of my friends has a bad day I am now not too tired to pick up the phone or pop round to visit. I can enjoy meals with my family not thinking about what else I still need to do. It really is quite fantastic!
I also have time to do things I enjoy. I am now running my own business and I am half way through a Masters degree. Obviously all three things combined mean I am a very busy person who works incredibly hard. However, I am happier, healthier and a lot less stressed.
Clearly the hours I worked as a teacher were not the issue, neither was working with the children who, for the time I had them, were always “my kids”. The issue lay with ever changing goals and priorities forced upon us, constant change and paper work for paper works sake. Teaching isn’t an easy profession, but it can be worth it if you find a way that works for you. For me, that is being on supply.