For schools across the region, supply teachers are a lifeline when a member of staff is absent. To find out more about the invaluable contribution of supply staff, Educate magazine caught up with Dawn van Alwon, a former Support Centre Manager with over 25 years teaching experience. Dawn has undertaken an assortment of long and short terms placements since registering with School Improvement Liverpool Supply in 2016.
By Christine Toner
Having worked for other agencies, and being in regular contact with other supply teachers, she feels SIL Supply is unique in the way it supports and invests in its workforce.
How did you come to be a supply teacher?
After taking voluntary redundancy, I decided to work as a supply teacher for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to reconnect with mainstream practice as I had spent many years in Special Education and secondly I wanted the ability to choose which days I worked so that I could make work fit in with my life, rather than my life having to fit in with work.
What’s your favourite thing about being a teacher?
It is difficult to choose one favourite thing about being a teacher, but the thing that gives me most satisfaction is working with children who have issues that can make school a difficult place to be, for example, autism, low self-esteem/confidence. Gaining the trust of such pupils and helping them to feel safe and secure usually results in children who blossom. The feeling this gives is indescribable and gives me the highest level of job satisfaction.
What’s your favourite thing about being a supply teacher?
I enjoy visiting a variety of schools and meeting many different people. I also enjoy seeing examples of good practice and learning new ways of doing things. For example, in one school I learned new ways of approaching PE lessons, in another, I learned about ‘mini mentors’.
What challenges do supply teachers face that other teachers may not encounter?
Apart from the logistical difficulties of learning the geography of schools and their rules and routines, there is also the issue of being an unknown quantity to the staff and children. Another challenge faced by supply teachers is teaching from other people’s planning. It can be a very long time since you have taught certain concepts but the planning process gives you the opportunity to revise your knowledge.
Is it difficult not being able to develop relationships with students? Have you developed skills for getting to know students quickly?
I find that introducing yourself properly, telling them a little about yourself and smiling a lot puts children at their ease. Another way to help children to feel at ease with you is to try to learn their names as quickly as possible. This can be quite difficult, but is worth the effort.
How do students respond to supply teachers?
Pupils’ response to supply teachers varies from child to child. It is not an age, gender or school issue, but rather how each individual child responds to having a stranger in their classroom. Some see it as an opportunity to try and push the boundaries, some children find it quite daunting while others take it in their stride.
What advice would you give to other supply staff?
Never be afraid to ask if you are unsure of something. Better to ask a question than to get something wrong. Chances are that you won’t be the first person to have asked that question. If you make a mistake, apologise and be willing to try to put it right. Everyone makes mistakes, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
If you feel that a school is being unreasonable in their expectations, contact your supply agency. Never try to deal with an issue on your own. Remember that you represent your supply agency and so they will be judged on your performance. Always finish your marking before you go home and leave a note for the teacher about how things went.
To find out more about SIL Supply, please visit www.schoolimprovementliverpool.co.uk/Supply
Guide for Schools | Things to consider when choosing a supply agency
Ask for recommendations from other local schools of agencies they’d be happy to work with. Are their fees reasonable?
Are they open about their rates and do they charge temp-to-perm fees?
Do they offer a tailored service? Do they listen to your needs and offer a dedicated consultant?
Are they accredited? For example choosing an agency who is a REC Audited Education member, means they have undergone specific checks relating to the supply of staff into the education sector.
How do they pay their staff? Remember that some supply staff can get charged additional fees for working as part of an umbrella company.
Do they invest in their staff? Do they offer their staff fair rates of pay, access to a pension, as well as career support and CPD opportunities.
Is the agency managed by sales people or staff with an education background who will ask the right questions?
Ask about their Safeguarding and pre-employment checks? Do their staff have enhanced up to date DBS certificates?
Are they driven by the desire to make a difference to the lives of children and support the wellbeing of schools?
Lastly, do you like and trust the agency? Do they have an ethos that compliments your own?