In support of National Supply Teacher Week (17th – 21st June), Farah gives an insight into what it was like switching from teaching full time to working on a supply basis through Smart Teachers.

After being a full time teacher for almost 15 years it was a daunting task to adapt to becoming a supply teacher; especially as it was not something I had planned for! I was initially reluctant. The idea of going into a new school every day made me slightly uncomfortable and I was feeling apprehensive about being completely out of my comfort zone.

I decided to take the plunge, ‘man up’ and go for it; taking whatever was thrown at me – the good, the bad and the wholly unpredictable.

I am a secondary specialist but, as a lot of supply work is based in primary schools, I have been gaining a lot of my experience in a primary setting.  It’s been quite an eye opener to say the least.

With the little ones your patience is stretched and you have to bring your expectations down a notch; particularly with the curriculum and dealing with behaviour management. You suddenly realise you are managing younger minds and various ability ranges. The same sternness you may get away with on older pupils is not going to work with these little darlings.  Once I figured this out I learned to be more patient and gentle with the classes.

My first experience was with a Year 3 class, adorable but challenging. Over time I was thrown into Year 1 to 6, who were even more adorable and even more challenging!

The most challenging experience I had was with my first reception class. They were fidgety and noisy and very needy but after a while I managed to settle them down, as well as myself, and complete the tasks at hand. Even at that age there was a range of abilities and the pupil’s potential really showed. I was definitely mentally and physically exhausted by the end of that day.

In time, after several primary placements, I began to understand and value the role of a primary school teacher. My snobbery as a secondary school teacher was brought down a peg or two.  I realised the challenges primary school teachers face on a day to day basis are quite different to those at secondary level. Teaching the older pupils involves dealing with more hormonal and adolescent behaviour; quite different in all respects.

I believe it would be of benefit to primary and secondary teachers to spend a short period of time in each other’s schools. This would help us all to appreciate and develop a better understanding of our roles and the various challenges the other faces. It might also help to develop ideas in order to establish a smoother transition from primary to secondary for the pupils.  Implementing liaisons with feeder schools could allow the Year 6 pupils to participate in chosen secondary school lessons and familiarise themselves with their potential secondary school choices.

Overall, supply teaching has been a positive experience; it has put things into perspective for me and I have been able to see the other side of teaching.  Working with primary pupils and using my knowledge and understanding to help improve the transition to secondary school for them is a highlight.  The world that they will be going into is not black and white; it does contain shades of grey.  The transition from primary to secondary is just that!

Farah Cockar
Supply Teacher 2013
Smart Teachers