After a week of unpaid leave, I returned to my supply post to be told that I was no longer needed. Nobody had told me, neither the school nor the agency. I was suddenly, and without warning, given the freedom of the city. Fortunately, I got the chance to say goodbye to some pretty decent human beings whom I had worked with since Christmas.
Regardless of that, I left feeling pretty shitty; my self-esteem all hissed out.
Since the recession, and since our newly found obsession with austerity, British workers have yearned to work more and more hours, averaging around 45 million per week, before falling down to an eye-watering 35 million (some 10 million up on pre-Big Society Britain). Compared to our soon to be ‘ex-neighbours’, we are not work shy in the slightest. Last week German workers voted to supply no more that 28 hours per week if they did not want to do so much. I can see their point.
Work, although sometimes enjoyable, often proves itself to be a stealer of lives.
In the last decade or so, I have noticed that the demands placed upon teachers have been increasing and increasing. I first came across this whilst working in a brand-spanking new academy in Leeds. It was one of those places that marketed itself as an educational base for flights into the future. The management had seemingly read the Tomlinson Report on vocational education and had married its core ethos to the built environment. Its clients were from the poorest areas of Leeds and one initiative regarding employing a proper chef who could make restaurant quality food, had a very obviously beneficial effect on its grey skinned students.
This was a step into the socially responsible twenty-first century.
There was an evangelical bowl of gruel that was served to all who worked there.
Constant sermonizing about the need to ‘love, unconditionally’ their charges and a strict uniform policy for some staff, combined with a clocking-in and clocking-out machine, meant that it was more Dickensian than anything I had ever seen before. Oh, and the day was longer.
It started earlier and finished later. All in all, this was designed to steal souls and rob teachers of their family lives. Those who stayed longest had more chance of brown-nosing their way into positions of responsibility and consequently further embedding the philosophy of control and conformism. The Head would frequently invite politicians and theologians along to rubber-stamp her wonderful approach to saving the poor of that northern city. In not time at all, she became what was known as a ‘Super Head’.
That all happened before she was finally forced to resign for ‘cooking the books’, somewhat more crudely than her restaurant quality chef.
In my new capacity of ‘super supply’, I have had no books to cook with or to cook from. On a daily basis, my knowledge and experience has allowed me to teach difficult groups, provide intervention for struggling students, generally know what I was doing, and become invisible to all those who did not believe that mere ‘supply teachers’ needed to be acknowledged’. So, it was with my return from half-term that I was given no notice to find alternative employment because I was no longer required.
That’s how it goes. That’s how it has always gone. And that’s the point from which it will continue to get steadily worse.
The way that the academy/agency model works means that supply teachers often feel they are getting a raw deal. The salary varies from agency to agency, and in different areas with some paying as little as sixty pounds a day. Supply teachers get up each morning and sit by their phones; it’s like being a modern stevedore waiting at the dock gates. There is no sick pay, nothing for the days when no work is available, little continuing professional development (CPD) and a poor pension scheme compared with the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. If I had not had my breakdown, I would have gone nowhere near this type of work.
And yet, like so many other teachers who have broken down or burnt out due to the relentless pressure of results and time ownership (they own our time), a number of us choose to do supply.
Wages are poor, conditions are poor, student behaviour towards supply staff can be extremely poor, but it comes back to the German workers and their desire to have the choice as to how long they work on a weekly basis.