At the heart of supply teaching is a question. Specifically, ‘what does it offer?’. I know this seems like a pretty basic thing to say and you may be surprised by me even asking the question but when it comes down to brass tacks, what are we expecting from supply work? What do we really want from our experience in supply teaching and how will it help us grow as an educator? Well let’s break it down, shall we…
Supply teaching is a great route for better work-life balance and flexibility. It provides freedom and mobility to travel, take in new experiences, or even work overseas. It may also help with your CV as well as providing a platform for you to gain experience across different styles of teaching. However, supply teachers need to be aware that there are some pitfalls that come with the job:
No guarantee of hours means no guaranteed income – this is a big risk if you rely on a regular income to make ends meet each month
You have little control over where you are placed – will it fit in around your own commitments? You may not like the schools/environment/students..This can create difficulties when placement does not turn out as expected so maintaining flexibility is essential for smoothing these risks.
Quiet periods can and will occur, so you have to budget accordingly and ensure you have savings in place for those times where work is hard to come by.
You get paid for work you do but, unless you have negotiated a fee per lesson you will not be paid for preparation time or prep. It takes time to build up good relations with the schools – it can take months before an agency is working at full capacity and getting regular placements. In some cases, this might mean that your first summer holiday of any length becomes a big question mark if there are no hours scheduled beforehand. It may feel like a tricky start financially if you need to dip into savings hard during those early months as well.
That said, with a great teaching agency that cares about you, has plenty of work because of their longstanding relationships with schools, you’ll certainly be in a good place, to take on as much or as little supply teaching work that you like.
How much is a good agency worth? In my view, it’s priceless especially when supply teaching Cambridge. If you’re working for an agency, they will pay your tax and national insurance contributions on any work you do for them – even if you only teach a couple of hours here or there, so you can end up doing very well financially. You do, however, need to choose an agency that sees you as something more than another number. A good agency will put their faith in you and take the time to understand your abilities and passions.