I’ve said before that being a relief teacher can be isolating. It’s easy just to end up floating around from school to school, not building any real connection to any one community. Some people prefer this, and there are several reasons why this works for many teachers. But one thing to keep in mind if you’re a relief teacher is that there are many tangible benefits to finding a community and building professional relationships both for your career and your own well-being.
Why should you join a local relief teacher community?
- To build professional contacts.
- To get more work.
- To debrief after difficult situations.
- To ask questions in a safe environment.
- To get news and stay in the loop.
Building professional contacts
Professional contacts are a core part of building a career. This is true whether you’ll be looking for full-time work at some point or if you plan on being a long-term relief teacher. Joining a community of local relief teachers means that you will get to know the relief teachers around your area and potentially the people who will be offering work.
These groups are a place for people to connect, and they will also advertise networking opportunities. In one of the groups that I joined when I first started relief teaching (and am still a part of now), school leaders will regularly host an event for any interested relief teachers at their school to come and check the place out. Others still will post professional development opportunities, and I’ve even heard of groups organising a first-aid course so that the relief teachers can get together and get a discount for the bulk booking.
Getting more work
Many teachers, school leaders, and daily organisers who book relief teachers for cover join these groups as a quick and easy way to find someone at short notice. It can be tough if you’re a classroom teacher, stuck in bed sick, and you need to book cover for your class, and these online relief teacher communities really help.
Especially if you’re just starting as a relief teacher and don’t have any strong contacts with schools, seeing how schools book relief teachers for the day is a valuable learning opportunity. You will start to see which schools often struggle to find relievers, and you can begin targeting that school to find more consistent work and build some professional relationships.
I say it again and again, being a relief teacher is hard. You’re more likely to be exposed to tricky situations and, honestly, frightening behaviour than if you were a classroom teacher. Having a community of people in the same boat as you can be very validating.
Having someone you can debrief with at the end of a long day is invaluable. If you struggle to handle a situation or don’t know what you could have done better, these are the people to ask. Debriefing is an essential part of managing potentially dangerous situations, whether you are in danger or another student. As a classroom teacher in a school, you will have your site leadership who can help you gain some perspective and air your feelings. As a relief teacher, you aren’t so lucky.
Teaching is one profession where debriefing is critical, and this is coupled with the fact that many teachers feel like they can’t talk to their family and friends about their work. Many people who aren’t teachers simply don’t understand the demands of the job or comprehend what you need to deal with every day, and being a relief teacher means that the isolation compounds this. Finding a community to ease this isolation can be incredibly good for your well-being.
Being a relief teacher, you sometimes feel like you can’t afford to risk looking like an idiot in front of anybody. You’re trying to impress everyone at the schools you visit because you might not get any work again if you don’t. Most of your professional relationships will be at higher risk. Finding a community of other relief teachers means that you have someone who can answer any questions you have.
Many people choose relief teaching as a career because it works for them. Many of these communities are run by people like this, who are in this for the long term and have been doing this for a very long time. People in these groups have already seen whatever situation you’re struggling with.
I’m not only talking about questions regarding teaching as well. These groups are a great place to ask questions about pay and tax, joining an agency, union matters and relief teacher representation, among other things.
Getting news and staying in the loop.
Not being in one school, it’s easy to get left out of the loop with things happening in the education world. This can be as dry (but important) as new laws, regulations, or requirements, but also new teaching strategies and ideas. There is often something that everyone is into in education. Every school needs something to focus on, but many schools tend to focus on similar ideas or strategies simultaneously. Keeping on top of this is good for your professional growth, but being up-to-date with what is happening in teaching is essential if you’re applying for jobs.
The benefits of finding and joining a community of relief teachers are enormous. Try keeping with something local as how relief teaching works varies from place to place, but more general forums also work for many. If you can’t find a local group, consider making one yourself! You don’t need to know everything about relief teaching or plan to be doing this for the rest of your life, but having a space where relief teachers can talk and connect is an important part of looking after yourself in this job.