The Joys of Relief Teaching: The Tech Guy – Dr Al

Note from the Editor:
This article was kindly written for the SDC by member Alan G.

Interested in earning some extra income? Read on!

What is ‘Relief Teaching’:
‘Relief Teaching’ is also called ‘Casual Relief Teaching’ (CRT) or overseas: ‘Supply Teaching’. Some retirees who, in a past life, were teachers may feel that it would be ‘rather nice’ to get back into the maelstrom of teaching to become ‘relief teachers’. One would hope to have the life skills to ‘make a difference’, and besides, the extra money would certainly come in handy.

If you’re living solely on the Government pension, as we are, then you’re allowed to make a quite reasonable amount of money before it affects your pension.

I resigned from the Education Department in WA twice in my later working career, and each time, I have fallen back on relief teaching to tide me over. (You may ask why I resigned. It was because I started teaching in my 60s when Electrical Engineering positions were being filled by younger men. The bad manners and inherent disrespect of students in public schools at least, was something I found it hard with which to come to terms – I was probably just not adaptable enough, and still held on to certain values!) The Education Department usually welcomes back teachers for relief work, and the school (at least in WA) would organise the particular department code for you to get paid the first day you turn up for work.

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Have you ever considered becoming a relief teacher? Image Credit: Shutterstock

The Good Points:
Relief teaching has the advantage of not necessarily having to plan lessons and simply follow supposed instructions from the absent teacher. No marking – no lesson plan! Because of the nature of teaching in modern times, it has become a really tough job in many cases simply to manage the behaviour of students before any teaching can take place, so having a lesson planned for you with a set goal would be a distinct advantage if the absent teacher were to do his job. Of course, you do not necessarily need to spend any time marking – continuing a tough school day at home, as teachers do.

The money you can earn as a relief teacher is surprisingly good. Even though you do not receive any holiday pay, you do receive superannuation benefits.

The Not So Good:
The disadvantage of relief teaching, despite the higher pay rate, is that you are dependent upon openings being available. The first month or so of the school year – February – can be pretty lean.

It takes teachers a few weeks to realise how awful some classes can be and decide to take a day or so off here and there. Bearing in mind the school terms finish before Christmas, it means that you have at least two months at the beginning of the year with no work. To overcome this, I used to sign up with at least three or four schools.

Relief teachers can be accepted by the students or not, depending a lot upon the ‘class culture’ and the rapport the teacher may be able to quickly establish. Students will always probe for what they perceive as ‘flaws’ in a relief teacher and are always ‘testing the water’ to see how far they can go. Years 9 and 10 seem the worst in this regard. Only the strong – or adaptable – survive!

What happens in practice:
There are several things that a relief teacher has to keep in mind when trying to look after an unknown class. One would hope that a lesson plan had been left by the absent teacher, detailing exactly what could be expected by the end of the day. This does not always happen, and the relief teacher has to be prepared for it.

Depending upon what level of integrity you have, it may be a good idea to have an armoury of Word Games or some such to keep the little dears occupied, especially if you are unfamiliar with the subject you have been assigned to teach. It’s no good relying on the students to tell you where they are up to in a certain textbook or to front up with assignments they are supposed to have completed. They are generally not inclined to help you out, surprisingly enough! I’ve known about some relief teachers handing out Word Games then sitting back with their feet on the front desk, reading a book or newspaper and ignoring the missiles being projected about the room. St Trinian’s wasn’t a long way from the truth in this regard.

Of course, if one hopes to cultivate a good relationship with certain Deputy Heads, one has to make sure that, should his or her ‘esteemed self’, stroll past the classroom door, one is deeply involved in actual teaching or a semblance at least. One has to remember: It’s your job to control; it’s their desire to disrupt!

My ‘worst’ classes were those of Art and Physical Education. Art gave the opportunity for students to make as much mess as possible, and contrary to popular belief, most of the students I came across were not the slightest bit interested in sport – they spent most of the sports lesson – generally late in the day – trying to sneak out of the gate. I arrived at one school to be met with no lesson at all for an art class. I managed to contact the absent teacher by phone (a deputy had to look after the class – there were no mobile phones at that time), and he simply told me to let the class pick wild gum nuts off the trees outside, bring them in and paint them! Of course, as soon as they got outside, there was a minor war in which these same gum nuts were thrown all over the place. It was a complete disaster.

On another occasion, I arrived at a ‘quite good’ school to find that a student had put Superglue into all the toilet locks – especially those for the staff. On ‘yard duty’ at another school, I had to keep students from using the toilets to smoke!

I found many absent teachers had simply given the instruction to play a couple of videos that were left for the purpose. ‘Inspector Rex’ in one class and ‘CSI’ in another, I remember. This apparently passes as education. At least I didn’t have to do very much!

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There are pros and cons to any job. Image Credit: Shutterstock

There were very few deputies that actually organised a ‘kit’ for relief teachers. This ideally contained details of the school layout, classes required to be taken throughout the day, the student rolls, and any keys required. One piece of information I never received but thought would be really worthwhile was a note on the rolls indicating any student that had particular allergies (bee stings, etc.), medical priorities (epilepsy, etc.), and whether they had ADHD or were diagnosed Autistic. This information was not deemed to be relevant, for some reason, but would certainly have helped an unfamiliar teacher to understand some behavioural problems and to act accordingly.

Behaviour in schools was handled in a number of ways, depending upon the procedures put in place by some competent principals. For instance, a ‘time-out room’ was sometimes allocated supervised by teachers on a rostered basis. (They were not paid for this, despite the Teachers’ Union stating that any time in front of the pupils should be paid time. This may give you an inkling of how much extra unpaid work is required by teachers to manage behaviour since corporal punishment has been abolished and students ‘rights’ became of paramount importance!)

To give some idea of the behavioural problems in one or two schools, the police had asked that some students were not ‘expelled’ into the community – they’d get up to too much mischief! A ‘resident police officer’ could be found in particularly ‘bad’ schools, and in one school a student who had brought a knife to school had been allowed back only when allocated his own ‘security guard’ that accompanied him to every lesson! (I wonder how much that cost the taxpayer!)

I hope you can see that relief teaching is not everybody’s cup of tea – but then, I never regarded myself as a very good teacher anyway. I think I expected too much, such as ‘manners’ or ‘respect’. However, the pay was quite good.

My thoughts for improvement:
It is apparently illegal to film students in class without the parents’ permission. I firmly believe that many behavioural problems (that incidentally impact massively on the teacher’s ability to teach students) could be greatly alleviated by placing cameras at the back of every room and left on all the time. In this way, students’ faces are not shown and the teacher’s actions and teaching style could be monitored – I think that would be a win-win situation. Then on parent-teacher nights, if young ‘butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth’ Tristram was the one throwing the chair across the room – caught on video – the doting parents wouldn’t have a leg to stand on!

About the author: Having spent three years living in Australia in his youth, Alan returned to Australia in 1969 with his wife and young child. Holding a Bachelor of Engineering degree and a Doctor of Science Education degree, Alan has experience in flight simulations, Einsteinian physics, and inventing an ‘eye blink’ device that allows cerebral palsy patients to communicate. He even took a turn at acting, starring in a TV advert and landing supporting and lead roles in his local dramatic society plays. His short stories have been published in WA’s The Gingin Buzz for ten years, and his novel The Magic Hourglass is a work in progress. He and his wife have a lovely life in Brisbane and regularly visit their two children in Sydney’s West. You can read Alan’s full-length bio here.

Note from the Editor:

Members, would you consider becoming a relief teacher? Or have you already tried it in the past? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Love Alan’s writing and want to read more? You might also like to read:
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