True Stories: Being ‘Supply’
By Eddie Gardner
On Thursday afternoon, John had agreed to take a week long contract for the following week. After a bit of haggling (during which his ‘handler’ tried to convince him that £80 a day was the best they could offer, take it or leave it) he agreed £120 a day. He needed the money and the agency needed him. The school was a huge (2000 pupil+) North London community school with a ‘good’ Ofsted grade so he was sort of looking forward to getting back into it. He had some experience behind him: 12+ years a PE and Business Studies teacher, was well-liked and respected. Firm and fair. His supply experiences so far had been various but generally ok. He’d learnt to be self-sufficient and always have a backup plan.
The agency duly sent through the school’s behaviour policy (nothing different about this one. They all look remarkably similar nowadays), and said they’d send more information and a timetable as soon as possible.
John had a couple of hours on Friday, so started his prep by doing a bit of research, checked out the school website – all very positive, enthusiastic Head’s welcome – thrilled and excited to be in the job it seemed, ‘High Expectations, High Achievement’, read their strapline. All the kids in the pics were smiling at their teachers if they weren’t all studying with total concentration – pictures don’t lie do they? He rang the school thinking “It’s a good idea to get as much information as possible (unlike some other supplies he knows who’ve been doing this longer – they just block out the whole idea until their alarm goes off on the day). He didn’t get any more info from the school apart from learning that his contact, Mr. Lynch, had left the school at the end of summer term and the management of supply teachers was now shared.
“Haven’t they (the agency) changed that yet?”
“Just get here early.” He was told.
Monday 5.30am… Alarm, snooze, snooze. Coffee … rucksack packed with lunch and GCSE syllabus, an old text book. The train was only 5 minutes late, bus connections worked. He arrived at 7.35. He felt nervous, but adrenalin had kicked in. He was mentally prepared for any challenges that might present themselves. Of course, he hadn’t accounted for the time it takes for somebody to let him through the school gate, then the main entrance door, then sign-in etc etc… Mrs. Hussain introduced herself to John and two other supplys in reception (both of whom had obviously been there before), gave them a set of documents each – John’s was more of a pile – and some advice (one worrying piece was ‘if they start fighting, don’t try to stop them. Call for help!’).
“Any questions? No? Good…” then she sent them off to find their respective rooms for lesson 1.
“Where will I find a photocopier?”, ventured John.
“None of them work – dispute with the maintenance firm apparently…”, came the reply. That was John’s first major setback.
“Room SC 104? – lets have a look at the map.” thought John. “Must be here somewhere… Wonder what SC means – can’t be science surely. I never said I could teach science!” John said to himself.
Lesson 1 started at 8.35 so he had a good 7 minutes to get there. Plenty of time! He couldn’t find the map, but there was a note saying that the lesson plan would be in the teacher’s desk drawer. John caught up with his fellow supply teachers who seemed to know where they were going.
“Have you been here before?”
“Yes” they both said.
“Is this the first time you’ve been here?”, one asked.
“Yes, what’s it like?”
“You don’t want to know!” was the reply as they both peeled off in different directions. He asks a passing group of students, boys.
“Can you point me towards room SC104, please?”
“Are you a supply teacher, sir?” was the instant response, clearly sensing fresh meat.
“Yes” said John, “can you tell me where this room is?
“What team do you support?”, they enquire.
“I don’t really support any team now but I used to support Leeds.”
They looked at each other, not knowing how to respond. Leeds were obviously no threat (at that time – they are now!) and John quickly became uninteresting. A booming female voice came from about 20 yards away.
“Keep moving, get to class, NOW”. John is still not sure whether it was him she was directing her order to.
“Do you know where the science block is, please?” John asked.
“Well I’ve been here 18 years so yes, I think I ought to.” she replied as if it was a ridiculous question. “Through the double doors, turn right, across the playground…” There were more lefts, rights and doors and something about temporary rooms but John decided to focus on the general direction then ask someone else if necessary.
“You’ll need to get a move on if you want to get there for the start of the lesson!” boomed the voice, as John scurried away.
The ‘start of the day’ bell seemed to shake every part of his body when John suddenly found himself, alone and sweating, in a corridor with busy, noisy classrooms either side. The rooms were numbered EN103, EN 104, EN107 – where the hell am I? thought John. A door opens,
“You can wait there until Mr. Watson comes round young madam.” an irritated teacher voice was saying to a girl, possibly year 9, who seemed quite happy to be ejected within 3 minutes of the start of the lesson – the week in fact. After the door had slammed shut, John asked the girl where the Science rooms were.
“You’ll find them through there, just across the yard.” she said in an unexpectedly posh accent and sympathetically pointing to a row of portacabins through the window.
“But they’re portacabins.” said John.
“That’s where we have science while they’re building the new science block.” she explained.
A teacher ‘colleague’, probably a senior one, was looking irritated at the portacabin door marked SC104.
“Hi, I’m John.” said John, trying to extend a hand that he didn’t have spare. “Sorry I’m late, I….” was all he could say before he was interrupted.
“Lesson starts at 8.35, didn’t you hear the bell? It’s loud enough for goodness sake. You can’t leave these characters in here alone, they’ll wreck the place.” John’s ‘colleague’ continued muttering as he marched away purposefully, in search of his next confrontation. He entered the classroom where a class of year 10s met his hopeful smile with mildly curious expressions.
He was afforded silence for all of 6 seconds. He failed to take the opportunity and never got another chance. He began the Human Biology lesson in the form of 6 copies of a colourful diagram of the male reproductive system with blank labels. The task was to work in groups of 4, label it correctly, then there was to be a test on what they had learned. He read out the lesson objective: To learn and understand the male reproductive system. Lessons were 1 hour and 40 minutes – this was going to take up at most 20 minutes. The students announced that they’d done this and knew it, organised themselves into groups of 12, 5, 2s and 1s anyway, then proceeded to talk then argue then chase each other, and occasionally go to the toilet – not ask, they just announced they were going. Some took out their phones, others food (one boy had a box of Favourite chicken. “My breakfast.” he explained). They literally didn’t take any notice of John. He’d tried his behaviour techniques, his personality, his jokes before taking to screaming for attention and threatening to call for help. There was a set of rules on the board at the side of the
room to which he drew their attention as best he could, and some did stop to read it.
“I remember them!” one said, as if they had no relevance to anything anymore. John decided to try the ‘tactical ignore technique’ which involved focussing on those individuals who were on task (there weren’t many). It did make him feel better – at least he was teaching and helping someone and managed to get two believable names from them (he’d already met Kylie Minogue, Thiery Henri and various rappers, singers and footballers). But the noise and movement around the room was just getting more out of control. There were chairs all over the place. Against everything his pride was telling him, he began rifling through the information to find the serious behaviour back up system. It was – call the office. “Fair enough!” he thought. “There must be a fast response team on call”.
Then, suddenly, there was silence. Every student went silently to their respective desk without a word spoken – some picking up a chair on the way. Miraculous. A petite, young but obviously powerful teacher with a big reputation had walked through the door and was just staring at them, arms folded. She had 3 boys with her who John thought were vaguely familiar.
“Sir,” she said, directing her stare at John. “I was teaching in the next classroom (also a portacabin) and noticed these young men running between my room and yours and making faces at the window – I think they belong to you. It seems that, during the pandemonium, these three adventurers had opened the emergency exit at the back of the room and just ran away. John had heard some tapping on the window but chose to ignore it, not even considering it might be students from his own class. Miss Faiz told John to keep the boys in during break and send anyone not behaving in the meantime to her room.
“Please don’t leave me!” he wanted to say as she left, but instead said, in a strong, manly voice, “I most certainly will! Thank you, miss. I’ll deal with these characters.” The class found this funny.
John tried a rant which included a threat to keep the whole class in after school, but this only provoked some bemusement.
“No, you won’t sir – they all say that – we just don’t turn up and nothing happens.” said a boy who’d been there all the time but who I hadn’t noticed at all. John knew he was right – he just wanted to get home as soon as possible. The rest of the lesson – a very long 35 minutes – was a full surrender on John’s part. The only thing that kept a lid on things was the threat to go and get Miss Faiz next door. He tried to send one girl to Miss Faiz’s class but half the class tried to leave with her. He managed to issue a few warnings to some students as they left the room, most through the emergency exit.
“That was purgatory!” John thought, reflecting that none of them had actually challenged him directly and none of them were in any way nasty to him or each
other. They just totally ignored him and had fun. He missed break by tidying up the room. “God what a start to the week. I hope I don’t meet them again” he thought as he approached BS107, where he was to supervise the tutor group he would meet everyday after first break. Th
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