Working Together, Schools and Substitute Teachers


We rise by lifting others." Robert Ingersol. It goes without saying, teacher friends, that the life of a teacher can be challenging at times. For full-time teachers with many responsibilities, the pressures of settling into a new school, embracing new initiatives etc there can be a lot to contend with - from dealing with new Covid measures to getting to know a new staff and school.

What About the Experiences of Substitute Teachers?

Recently, I spoke with a number of substitute teachers to get an insider's view into what it's like to be a substitute teacher nowadays.
Some interesting and common themes emerged. As we all settle back into teaching in these uncertain times we need to look after one another. These main concerns were Covid 19 regulations, teacher expectations and not knowing the school.

1. Covid 19 Regulations

This was the top fear amongst the substitute teachers that I spoke to. They reported feeling confused as the suggestions change from school to school eg regarding corrections, social distancing, break times (when they are, what the bells mean, and the restrictions for the children on the yard), handwashing (how often, where they wash hands and routines the class teacher has set in place) and home time procedures (staggered home times, homework etc).

When a teacher is absent at short notice, it would be very helpful to have some short guide - either a written document or a teacher/SNA who would clearly explain about school procedures to a new person.

Remember, most substitute teachers were never given any training in this area and a heads up would be beneficial.

2. Teacher Expectations

As a mainstream teacher or SET, what are your expectations from a sub teacher? If you've included a list of tasks to be completed, is it compulsory that all tasks are covered? Are sub teachers required to correct workbooks and copybooks or are they to be kept for 72 hours? This differs from class to class substitute teachers reported.

I find that when teachers know their pupils (names, personalities, how and when to help particular pupils etc) they can get more covered in a 40-minute class than a sub teacher can. John reported that he finds it hard to understand at times, what principals and teachers want you to achieve and occasionally he leaves the school feeling that he hasn't done enough. Ken also highlighted that it can be tricky for substitute teachers to know what work needs to be differentiated for some pupils in class if guidelines were not left by the class teacher.

Letting the sub know the minimum to be covered can really help put some parameters around the content and teacher expectations for a substitute teacher. Marie suggested that each teacher could have a printout of the classroom routines printed for teacher absences.

3. Not Knowing the School

Right from the moment teachers accept a job offer, it can take time to get to know a school. In larger schools, finding the location of classrooms, art presses, staff rooms, iPads, science equipment etc demands extra energy and headspace in the early days.

Knowing whom to talk to when you need support from laptop issues, soap, pupils in the classroom, school policies etc. are more challenges teachers face. Often sub teachers face the same challenges. Laura stated that this is the greatest challenge that she faces and even brings on anxiety sometimes when she first teaches in a new school. With so many new approaches and pieces of information, it's to be expected that for some people it seems quite daunting.

Ciara mentioned that even as a supply teacher she was never given any induction in some of her schools eg where the toilets or staffroom are or guidelines regarding yard duty, where the children line up in the yard etc in the various schools.

Working Together to Make Things Easier

Temporary and permanent teachers, we need you. Substitute teachers, we need you also.

Bearing these challenges for sub teachers what are some ways we can help them get informed quickly and easily?

1. Substitute teachers - create a template of the information that you need to know before you work in a new school and research the school before you go there - who is the principal? What can you tell from the school website? When in the school, ask perhaps, who to speak to regarding Covid regulations, routines etc and fill in your template above with the necessary information.

3. Full-time staff - It would be useful for subs to have a document that briefly outlines (along with the work to be covered), a class list, Covid safety precautions, whom to speak to, relevant passwords, phone numbers (for internal phones), photocopying code (if you are happy for the substitute to photocopy worksheets etc).
Secondly, having an emergency work folder would be very helpful for substitute teachers to feel prepared and make a great start to the school day.

Thank You to All Who Shared Their Thoughts

All of the wonderful substitute teachers that I spoke to were delighted to be working in the role and were excited to be experiencing the wide range of schools, staff and pupils in them.

As we enter new phases post-Covid 19 and the new school year continues, let's support one another in our education system and make the experience as seamless for all involved.

As Covid 19 continues to wreak havoc on our potential to give the students of Ireland the education they deserve, what are your thoughts regarding providing relief support for teachers this school year?

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