Diary Of A Supply Teacher: 'We are advised to tread carefully and avoid trouble'

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The Independent Online

The morning phone call is late, so I miss most of the head's mid-week briefing in the staffroom. Joining the other latecomers in the doorway, I catch most of the final item. Simon, in year 10, has been behaving unacceptably and is now on a final warning. However, he feels he is being victimised and that staff are against him. We are advised to tread carefully, avoid confrontation and report any problems directly to the head. I have never knowingly come across Simon, and in any case regard treading carefully and avoiding confrontation as part of the job description.

First period is PE in the library. The task is to research a sport online, and the group settles down happily, mostly on the Manchester United website. I'm not sure that this has much value, but the librarian is satisfied, so I'm not about to complain. Only one lad is otherwise occupied, and he is investigating designer sportswear; I venture to suggest he should direct his attention elsewhere. As he demurs, I realise that this is the notorious Simon, and do not press the point. We discuss it amicably at intervals, as the librarian is threatening to turn off his computer, but he does as he pleases and causes no obvious disruption.

At the end of the lesson, I have to fill in his report card. "Worked well, not necessarily on the topic required..." He glances at it, grunts, and shambles off after the rest. Things could have been a lot worse.

Last period is RE, and so far the day is going smoothly. The department head looks in. "Everything OK?" he asks.

"Fine," I reply, as books are handed out and we contemplate parables.

In the confusion of the first few moments, I fail to realise that Simon is with me yet again. We read a couple of parables, and a few of the group settle to their written work, but Simon is not interested, and his mates are busily attempting to wind him up. I do not fulfil my declared intention of helping anyone who is trying to work, and spend the period in an ongoing discussion as to the pros and cons of doing something even if one can't immediately see the point of it.

Ten minutes from the end, I suggest that I have to fill in his report card, and if he could bring himself to do some work, I should be able to write something positive about him.

"Sorry miss, don't see the point," he responds, demonstrating that whatever he lacks it isn't a quick wit. As the lesson draws to a close, I write: "Civil but uncooperative. Not helped by his friends," and hope this will do. The bell goes.

I hand the report to him, and he studies it briefly. "Fair enough," he says, and shakes me by the hand.

On my way out, I pass Simon with the head, contemplating his report card. I pause beside them. "It did seem hard on Simon that he had a supply teacher for two periods on a day which was obviously going to be difficult for him," I suggest.

"I think Simon should be mature enough to cope with that, don't you?"

"Of course," I agree, though actually I thought that the whole tenor of the morning's briefing had suggested the opposite.

I hope I'd managed to make him feel a bit less victimised.