Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Supplyman

Superhero

David Fitzpatrick sees schools in a whole new light as a supply teacher.

"Are you supply?" asked the man, coming up to me. He was wearing a shabby suit and looked tired and stressed out. The bags under his eyes suggested two weeks' sleep deprivation.

"Yes," I replied. "Good morning, my name's..."

"This way," said the man.

I followed him down the corridor. I tend to take the old-fashioned view that a smile, a handshake, a good morning and, in my case, "Are you David?" are polite ways to greet someone, but perhaps I was being ridiculously out of date.

Are you Supply? Yes. I am Supply. My Christian name is erased and I am now a verb. Not David. Supply.

"Please could you tell me if any work's been..." "It's taped to the desk," rapped the man. "The room's locked. I can't show you it. You need to register Them electronically."

No thank you for coming, this is the staff room, do help yourself to tea and coffee, there's the loo. Never mind. Poor chap was obviously overworked; he looked as though the world and his wife were out that day.

Actually, he did show me the staff room. He whacked the door open and strode in, not holding it open for me or checking to see if I was following.

"He's Supply," he said to one of the teachers. "He's covering Pete." A young female languages teacher came up to him. "Chris," she said (so that was his name!), "you've put me down for cover period 6. I can't. I've got to get the year 8 French trip finalised. I'm just too busy."

"WE'RE ALL (EXPLETIVE DELETED) BUSY!" roared the man. Chris, I mean. Staff froze, startled. "I was working 'til TEN O'CLOCK LAST NIGHT!" he shouted.

Hum. I was a deputy head until the end of last term, when I decided I'd had enough. I am starting my own business, but I need to pay the bills until I make my squillions. Thus for now, I am doing supply. Sorry, Supply (capital S).

I know I'd never talk to a colleague like this, even when I'd been working 17 or 18 hours the day before. Ten o'clock? Peanuts. Mind you, looked like this guy might do well to de-stress a bit.

As Supply, you see all sorts.

Sometimes, Supply imparts a transparency to the human body. Some people look straight through you, paying you no more attention than if you were a dirty coffee cup or the photocopier. Others smile at you, ask if you've had a drink yet, check you've got everything you need to teach. Still others (whisper it silently) sit down next to you and... talk to you.

Some schools, you get packs with photographs of every child, all work set in detail on smart A4 pro formas, a map, your key to the toilet, a complimentary Kitkat, a shower cap and soap tablet in your Welcome Pack.

Other times, it's: "I don't think she's set anything. The classroom's over there." (waves vaguely). Interactive whiteboard? Broken. Whiteboard? Intact, but no pens. ("What? Dunno. Steve, we got any whiteboard pens? No, sorry.") No rubber either.

"Can you teach netball to year 4 today?" What? Me? Last time I played netball was when I was in short trousers in the late 60s. The girls laughed at me because I always missed the basket. At secondary school, I was always the kid the captains picked last. (Do we have to have Fitzpatrick, sir? Oh, come off it, sir). "Of course I can teach netball."

As supply, you get to see all sorts of schools, of course. It's great for benchmarking. I've taught in posh independent girls' senior schools, where some of the girls still have accents straight out of Brief Encounter. I've taught in primary schools in areas marred by urban poverty.

I've designed a cardboard Anderson Shelter for the year 4s and taught the powers of the US president to upper sixth politics students, about which I know a little more than I do about netball.

Yes, never a dull moment for supply. Maybe we're the new breed of superhero, like Monty Python's Bicycle Repair Man, ready to fill any hole in the cover list. Just one call away! Maybe I need to swap my chinos for tight-fitting lycra leggings, wear my grey M&S underpants outside them, and get a big blue shirt with a giant 'S' emblazoned on the front. "Your troubles are over! Weep no more over that hard to fill cover list. It is I: Supply!"

David Fitzpatrick is a pseudonym. He requests that everyone who knows who he really is keep it to themselves. But they probably won't admit to knowing him anyway.


Want to have the last word?

The Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you'd like to share your humorous observations of school life, please email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk ASCL offers a modest honorarium.

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