Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Is my life going down ‘The Tube'*?: Despairs and Delights of Supply Teaching in London

Year 9 Student: Miss, why didn’t you aspire to do more with your life?

Me: Uhhh (awkward) like what?

Year 9 Student: An actress! There are heaps of acting jobs in America (of course she assumed I was American).

Me: Hmmm good suggestion, but I don’t act…?

Year 9 Student: Well, didn’t you say you could play basketball? You could be a professional basketball player!

Me: I was an ok player, but not THAT good. It is pretty hard to make the WNBA. I actually like teaching you wonderful people.

Year 9 Student: That’s bollocks. Who would actually be crazy enough to want to teach US?

Meanwhile the rest of the class is cheering because another student successfully hit a pigeon with a paper airplane he threw out the window. This was a few minutes after some boys put a condom (out of the wrapper) on a girl’s assignment.

Not all of my classes have been as crazy as the one I just described. In fact, most of the students that I have taught have been pretty well-behaved (although I have to keep reminding myself that I would probably be acting like a complete goofball if I was a thirteen year old boy and had a supply teacher).

Supply teaching isn’t an easy job, but I wouldn’t describe it as that difficult- you simply have to be able to “go with the flow”. Most mornings I wake up not knowing where I am working (in a city I don’t know that well) or what I will be teaching. However, I always manage to come up with something for the students to do (teaching them about Canada is a great time-filler, and they are actually very intrigued by it…they ask many questions about the cold, winter, and our “national animals”- ex. penguins and polar bears! I was also asked if I could say something for them in “Canadian”)

Of course, like all jobs, supply teaching does have its benefits:

1. No prep or marking:

I usually get to school at 8:20 am (most schools I’ve worked at start at 8:40) and leave by 3:15 pm. Regardless of how wonderful or miserable my day has been, I have the rest of the day to do whatever I want. This means being able to enjoy being in London and take advantage of all the city has to offer!

2. Exposure to a range of schools:

It is a great learning experience for me to see how different schools are organized and work with a variety of staff and students.

3. Flexible schedule:

I can pretty much take time off whenever I want. Right now, I am trying to work as much as possible so that I can afford to maximize travel opportunities…but it would be no problem for me to, say, take a Friday off to go to Paris or something…

4. Exposure to a variety of subjects:

Since I have been here, I have taught Secondary P.E. (one of my subjects), English (other subject), Geography, Food Technology, Religion, Math, Year 5 and Year 6 (Primary School), which has given me some great lesson ideas and taught me some knew information (ex. I taught a lesson about the population trends and demographics of Brazil…which went surprisingly well).

5. Each school is a new and different experience.

If the day has gone terribly, in most cases, I can quickly forget about it, because I’ll be at a new school the next day with a new group of students.

With the pros come the cons:

1. Each school is a new and different experience.

Often, it is hard for me to leave a class or group of students at the end of the day because I want to be around long enough to make a meaningful impact in their lives. Last week, I was lucky to be at one school for the entire week, which was great because I got to know the students really well, but I’ll probably never see them again.

Rewind to Friday when I told my class it was my last day:

Year 10 Student: “Miss, you are my favourite teacher. Can you work here?”

Me: “That’s nice. But I have to go to another school next week.
Why am I your favourite teacher?”

Year 10 Student: “Because you have pretty hair!”

See, not making enough of a meaningful impact…

2. The Unknown

I don’t know the names of staff or students, school and classroom rules, where classrooms are located in the school, school schedule, where I’m going to be working tomorrow…

3. Students abandon all behavior codes and social expectations.

I have been lucky in that students have been pretty responsive to me and I haven’t had to deal with any serious behavioral issues. However, I am alarmed that 13-year-old boys think that it is ok to ask their teacher out on a date?! After reminding them of the inappropriateness of their proposition, I usually tell them that they are 10 years too young and not hardworking enough for me.

4. I don’t know the students.

It is pretty hard to get students’ attention when you don’t know their names! Also, you are often completely oblivious to students who might need special attention. For example, last week, I had a student in my class who couldn’t speak any English and I didn’t even find out until the last 10 minutes of class! I felt so bad for the poor girl because she must not have had a clue as to what was going on.

5. Low expectations of your teaching role.

When I asked a staff member at the school for his opinion on what I intended to do with the class I was covering, he replied, “Do anything you want- as long as everyone goes home safe, we’re happy.” This was pretty disheartening, as it implied that the school was indifferent as to whether or not the students actually learned something while I was there. It is difficult not to perpetuate such attitudes by setting low expectations for yourself in the classroom. Luckily, I am abnormally positive and will continue to make an effort to at least teach the students something in each class I’m in!

To be honest, supply teaching is not something that I want to do for much longer. It is simply not enough of a challenge for me, so I feel that I am not really progressing as a person. Although it is nice to have so much free time (since I don’t have the responsibilities of a regular classroom teacher), I am someone who loves to be over-involved and over-committed. I guess I had anticipated that living in a new country would be harder than it is…but I haven’t lived at home for 6 years, so I suppose I’m used to living on my own.

This being said, I am itching for a more challenging role while I'm in London. Hopefully, a permanent position will come up in the next little while…I still LOVE being here and get excited at each opportunity to explore…but I’ve realized that it’s not enough for me to travel for the sake of travelling. I want to feel more useful.

Oh well, at least if this teaching thing doesn’t work out, I’ll still have my acting career, or the WNBA to fall back on.

*My brother, Pat, made up the clever title. I am not going to pretend to be that witty.


Meg said...

Hahahha Shan - this was GREAT!

"You have pretty hair" - bahaha!!!


Glad it's going well.... -ish. :p

Anonymous said...

Loved the post Shannon! Sounds like you're having a great time over there. I'm still thinking of heading that way to sub after I'm done in the north. Some 8-3:15 action would be great after lesson planning here!

Or maybe I'll try out for the WNBA...


Jodi B said...

Well the main PRO here that I see, is that you're working! I'm still not, so consider yourself lucky in that respect - traveling or making a meaningful impact is still a dream of mine in London.

Jodi B said...

and I AM very excited that you are teaching because that means soon the work will come for everyone else... just realized I maybe sound a little bitter in the past comment :P

I'm sure I will need your tips/advice when the time comes, so this is very helpful!

Bryn said...

Hi Shannon
I'm tagging you for the Classroom Canada blog game:

You rock! I love your blog! Come to the Maple Leaf Pub on November 3rd at 6pm to celebrate your awesomeness with Classroom Canada. Can't wait to see you there!

Please pass this on to another blogger you'd like to see there. Thanks :)

Lauren said...

Love it! "I usually tell them that they are 10 years too young and not hardworking enough for me."

Unknown said...

Awesome blog Shannon!

It's so great to follow you on your adventure! I'm really glad you're teaching (even supply) and getting the experience, now you know that you can handle WAY more, and that's got to be motivation in itself! I'm looking forward to reading more! Keep them coming!


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