TRT, CRT, The Temp, The Substitute, The Relief Teacher, The Casual. For many first year graduates, these are terms that will become your reality. I am by no means saying that you won’t get full-time work or contract work (many of my friends got contracts in their first year out), but casual work is the most common, and the most readily available work for graduates. I have found in my early teaching career that a lot of people look down on casual work like it is beneath them (I will probably refer to it as TRT – temporary relief teaching – as this is the standard in my state). First and foremost let me tell you, casual work can be very easy, require little planning, you are not obligated to any extra-curricular activities outside of your required professional development (i.e. for the renewal of your registration), and in my opinion, it pays well. You are also the person who comes in last minute when classroom teachers have a sudden illness or family emergency, so in part, you are the hero of the teaching world, swooping in and saving the day (Go you!).
For the purpose of this post to be as useful as possible, I am going to give you a little background on my TRT experiences, how I managed to get work in schools, and how I prepare myself for the casual relief day.
At the beginning of this year I was slow on getting my act together, mainly because I was totally clueless about what formal certificates etc. I needed to have in order to actually get out there and teach. You shouldn’t have this problem because I made this post. It wasn’t until my amazing mentor from my final placement rang me and said she had a half-day of relief available in week one, and asked if I was interested, that I finally realized I needed to get organized. I just want to emphasize how important it is to try and keep the avenues open with your placement school. I have gotten the majority of my relief work at my prac school because I have worked hard to make myself invaluable to the school community. If you go out of your way to make the other teachers like you, to make parents like you, and to be the most reliable person you can, the person that the school knows they can count on, then you WILL get relief days. Make it your business to know who coordinates relief at the school, and make yourself known to this person. Better yet, ingratiate yourself with this person, because at the end of the day, they are the ones who decide if you get work or not. At some schools it will be a person in leadership who coordinates relief, while at others an administrative SSO may take on that role. I was fortunate enough that I had established a relationship with the relief coordinator at my placement school during my practical experience tenure so I was comfortable in approaching her and asking if she could give me any days.
In South Australia relief comes in two forms, half and full days. While a half-day may seem like a waste of time, particularly to experienced relief teachers who can afford to turn it down for the promise of more work, they are a great way to prove your commitment and enthusiasm in your early days teaching. I accepted around 10 (or more) half-days throughout my first year of teaching, including several during the first few weeks of term one. There is a truth, universally acknowledged that a teacher in want of relief work, will not find much during weeks 1-5 of term one (thanks to Jane Austen for that one). Teachers are with their new classes, establishing routine, are rejuvenated from the summer holidays, and it is just that, the Australian summer… so the winter coughs, colds and flus are relatively dried up. The other thing is that all the internal coordinator roles are yet to be filled so all those odd days that teachers have off for administrative roles have not yet commenced. Do not take it personally if you get little work during this time. What you should do though, is accept ALL THE HALF DAYS!!!
After I did my first ever relief day for my mentor, I wasn’t expecting to be called again, however in week two the relief coordinator rang me and offered another half-day that none of the established relievers wanted to fill. I snatched the opportunity and I could not have been luckier. It was in a year 1 class, most of the students I had taught the year before as receptions while I was on placement, although the teacher I was quite unfamiliar with. Again, I was very lucky as we quickly bonded during the change over time (the great part about half-days is you can actually meet and talk with the teacher you are reliving for) and by the end of the week she had given me a whole collection of dates she needed relief cover for. Jackpot!
Term one was slow for work. This worked out well for me because I wanted to ease in to teaching rather than be thrown in to the deep end. By term two I started receiving more days from my mentor and the year one teacher, as well as a few odd jobs in other classes. I did consider taking my resume around to other schools, but as I was planning this I was contacted by a local school near to where I live, who were in emergent need of relief and had plucked my name from the relief pool (the list of all teachers registered as working relief – you don’t sign up to this, you go in automatically when you start working). They began to give me regular work, which worked perfectly as I was now employed from 3-5 days a week. Despite hearing a lot of negative remarks about work in term four, I have still maintained my 3-5 working day schedule until the final two weeks, which is understandable as most teachers are finishing up the year with their classes.
Basically, I found that only working at two schools been perfect for me. I am not saying it will work for everyone; each case, and each teacher, will be a different experience. I find that committing myself to only two schools has allowed me to have some job flexibility while still establishing permanent relationships with those school communities.
The first days of relief I had, I was terrified. Mortified. I thought I was bound to make colossal mistakes. The best advice I can give is to make sure you arrive at school REALLY RIDICULOUSLY EARLY (assuming you haven’t been called in last minute), and go and see the relief coordinator or deputy. They can go through anything you need to know: bell times, what to do during non-contact time, yard duty areas, a quickie school tour if you need it (and everyone likes a good quickie), any paperwork you need, how to use the photocopier, where the toilets are (this one is critical if you have an unpredictable bladder like mine), any key school rules/behaviour management policies, who you need to call if you are in trouble… the list goes on. Be prepared with questions if you can. Sometimes you don’t get the chance to be this organized, but if you are always prepared to work on the fly, have you own strategies in place, and bring along your common sense, then you should be able to navigate through until recess time and ask your questions when you get the chance.
Last, but not least, be friendly, be polite and be yourself. Never let other teachers make you think you are less valuable because you are a casual, because it is so far from the truth. I once got called to a school last minute, where the teacher had fallen extremely ill while in the classroom. I came in at 10am and the teacher had already gone home. Her students were scattered across the school, 3-4 kids in each of the junior primary classes. I came in and got to “save the day” as it were, relieving the pressure from all those other classroom teachers. Reliable relief teachers are invaluable to a school, and the more flexible and easy going you are with your role, the more you will endear yourself to the school.
I am going to update again soon with my “a day in the life of a TRT” post to explain exactly the ins and outs of what a standard (there is no standard, but for lack of a better word… I digress) relief day looks like for me.
If you have any questions about relief teaching or anything along those lines, shoot me a message, I am more than happy to impart my enthusiastic, albeit slightly inexperienced and sometimes off-topic wisdom.
Warmest of wishes in the holiday season,