Here are some hints as to how I managed to secure regular work from the very first school I rang, when I moved from years of a full time permanent teaching career, into the way more precarious ranks of the casual relief teacher.
- Don't contact the most popular or prestigous schools in the area to secure work. It is more than likely they have secured a bank of regular casual teachers all too happy to cover classes in the case of teacher absence. You may be waiting a very long time to get a call from Utopia College, even with the world's best CV!
- Do personally contact the schools likely to be the most socio-economically disadvantaged. These are often way harder to staff, even with permanent employees, let alone casual staff. Some of these schools have a high staff turnover. They may not be the easiest of schools to work in, but when has teaching ever been an easy job?
Having always worked with students and schools that fall into the latter category, they need the very best, highest quality teachers to deliver exceptional educational outcomes for the student population. If you are an idealist, it is in these very schools that your efforts and work, have the greatest capacity to transform lives and future work and life outcomes for the students you teach. In such contexts, good CRTs are truly valued as part of an educational team. Collegial support is very often exceptional, even if you are a humble CRT!
If you are seeking longer term, more secure employment, these are the schools most likely to advertise way more contracts and ongoing positions.
From my experience, rather than being "whiteboard jungles" with out of control students and minimal support for staff, often these schools tend to be highly supportive of quality staff, very pleasant places to work and seek to offer students outcomes at least as good as those achieved by the most prestigious schools in town. Yes, such schools and students can be professionally challenging, but they are filled with enormous professional rewards once you have established yourself within them as an efficient, reliable, first class educator.
Do contact schools in rural and remote areas. These are the hardest of all to staff and often are in desperate need of specialist CRTs and may well be able to guarantee you work, in order to get their staff to professional development opportunities, that present in metropolitain areas. They will also need staff to cover longer absences. If you are desperate to use CRT work as a foot in the door to ongoing work, rural and remote schools are a great place to start. CRTs unsurprisingly are concentrated in metropolitain areas and large regional cities. If you are lucky enough to have friends or relatives in a rural or remote area of the state, they may well enjoy an extended visit. More than likely, the school will make securing you accomodation a priority, if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone and give them a go. Never forget, family leave and long service replacement contracts are not restricted to teachers working in metropolitain areas, where you are competing with thousands of similary qualified CRTs for work!
More positives for rural and remote schools is that rental and housing prices are way lower than in metropolitain areas and in recent surveys, those living in communities of under a thousand people are amongst the happiest people in Australia. Students in rural and remote communities have their own set of needs and aspirations. Some will see education as a means of moving beyond limited opportunities. Others will be locked into family businesses and expectations, and just as in other locations, some will be a bit lost as to their own perceptions and aspirations for the future. You could think of working in a rural or remote school as a means of gaining a working holiday, within your own country. It could stand you in good stead for other challenging educational locations and contexts in bigger cities or even overseas later on.
Once you have your foot in the door, keep accepting work from the school that offers you employment early on. This way you can quickly establish yourself as a CRT who is competent, reliable and enthusiastic in the context of that school's student population and staff. Someone who has familiarised themselves with the school's welfare and discipline policies, knows who to liaise with when things go wrong, or a student falls seriously out of line.
This may seem a no brainer, but be nice to fellow staff, from the Daily Organiser, Principal and fellow teachers, to ancillary staff, aides and the cleaner. Keep up with the news so you will find something to chat about at lunchtime. Introduce yourself. Maybe even go so far as taking in a cake, or biscuits to share over morning tea. Speak up at staff meetings, put your hand up and say "I'm so and so, if you see me wandering around the school. looking lost, please point me in the right direction". Publicly thank staff for leaving quality materials and curricula to make your work easier and a hopefully seamless transition between their regular teacher and you. Affirmation, not just of a single teacher's work, but the school as a whole is always appreciated!
Find management strategies to deal with discipline breaches that work within the context and philosophy of the school, as far as possible, within your own classroom, but do pass relevant information along the line when necessary and do keep their regular teacher in the loop if this happens.
Enjoy the cameraderie of your fellow CRTs. These can be great to debrief with, or get advice from. They can also open new doors to ongoing friendships beyond work!
I remember, during my Dip Ed year, my history tutor, David Stockley, emphasised "find allies on staff". This is equally true for CRTs. When you get the chance to do your first stint of extended CRT work.
See yourself as a member of staff, albeit a casual, but hopefully regular staff member, within the school, not just some "temp" who comes in, rarely if ever to be seen again. You share the same qualifications as other teachers registered with VIT, pay the same registration fees, without discounts for lower incomes, or precarious work. You are as equal in importance as any other staff member employed within the school, if not more so. It is you that keeps the cogs moving in the school machinery when it might otherwise breakdown for students. CRTs are employed as educators, not class baby sitters. You are entrusted to carry on with delivering education of the highest quality to the students before you. Believe in them, regardless of their socio-economic background, regardless if they are a little rough around the edges, or speak a unique local dialect of youth English. If their manners leave something to be desired, let them know what you expect, in a reasonable manner. If a student swears very audibly in class, deal with it by reinforcing such language is not acceptable in class, the school, or many other contexts. If a student's swearing is actually directed at you, which in my experience has only ever happened twice in my more than thirty years of teaching, bring in "the heavies" to back you up. This is neither appropriate nor acceptable behaviour. It is teacher abuse and undermines not just your professionalism, but your own self-esteem and confidence as an educator and the entire profession's status within the school community and beyond if you let it go.
Don't ever confuse being " loud, strict and inflexible" with being a good CRT. In all my years of teaching, teachers earn the respect of their students. Be human, be yourself, your professional teacher self, not to be confused with being "their friend". As a casual relief teacher it is not unreasonable to tell the class in front of you a little about your professional self, especially when you begin within a school. I told my students I had been teaching for years in Melbourne before moving back to the home town I share with them. Over the course of classes, find ground you and your students have in common. It may be a love of animals, a football team, a type of car, or motor cycle, or the fact that you too grew up in the area. Hopefully, they will share your love of the subject area you are passionate about as they do hearing the odd anecdote from you. You will rarely find a whole 25 students that all love English, Maths or Drama, but you will find a core group that are passionate and serious about their work and aspirations for the future; even in the toughest of schools. This is your ticket in to thoroughly engage them in quality educational delivery. Those students will help you lead the class. As a CRT, you will need those "reliable student allies and leaders, more than most other teachers"!
Believe it or not, students talk about us, even and perhaps especially if we are CRTs. If you can relate to your charges, the chances of students enjoying class as you educate them will be greater. Word will soon get around amongst students in all but the biggest of schools that Ms or Mr so and so is "a good teacher". Here, I like to substitute their word "good", with professional, but also approachable teacher. I certainly do not want to be the kind of teacher students fear. I prefer to be one they respect, for all the right reasons!
In case you haven't already realised it, as a casual teacher, you are probably likely to be tested regularly by the students themselves. They will be setting you all the Australian National Standard Teacher Tests. This is where you get to convince them that you have done so much professional practice you have "become an expert"!
Topics in the Student's National Standard Teacher Test (SNSTT) covered will include:
Level 1 The basics
- How will you deal with late comers?
- Ease of access to toilet and locker passes and the retrieval of forgotten and sometimes mythical beasts like text books and pencil cases.
- Effective dealing with interruptions while you are giving instructions, or speaking to the class as a whole?
- Do we have to remain in our seats, or are we free to roam without permission?
- Are we able to eat in class, or call/text our friends on our mobiles?
- How effectively can you set expectations of a "good learning environment?
- How well can you explain information they "need to know"?
- Will you be able to give them individual help?
- How do you deal with obnoxious and/or unco-operative students?
- How easy will it be to make you angry or upset and keep pushing you to your endurance limit?
Level 2 Individual School Complexities
- Will this teacher follow proceedures and enforce policies we are familiar with at our school?
- Does this teacher know who to go to if we act up, need welfare support, or achieve something truly exceptional?
- Does this teacher genuinely care about us as individuals and our learning achievements beyond today's class?
- Will this teacher communicate with our regular teacher about our progress?
- Will work we complete with this teacher count towards our overall level of achievement?
- Can this teacher include and make welcome social isolates, students on the integration program and possibly their aides, as well as students from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Level 3 Scenarios
- What if a student brings a problem from beyond class into the classroom, or the "this happened at recess and I'm angry student"?
- What if a student's parent is seriously ill, or dog died last night?
- What if friendship groups are re-alligning, (especially likely in Year 8)!
- How much personal information can we glean from this teacher? Be ready for the "what language are you?"and 'Are you married"? questions. Maybe even on your first day as a CRT!
To achieve a perfect score in the student's National Australian Standard Teacher Test is hard enough as an ongoing teacher with any class. But it is no less possible for a CRT to achieve if they are truly commited and believe in the value of their work and have an excellent knowledge and abilty to deliver the professional standards that good educational practice revolves around.
My best advice to get through all the above, is be fair, reasonable, consistent, set parameters and keep expectations high. Let students live up to your expectations and don't be dragged down to their level. You after all, are much older, as well as their mentor, inspiration, guide, monitor and professional deliverer of quality education, short or slightly longer term!
So far I have said very little about a CRTs actual subject knowledge and capacity to simplify, or break it down, to convey to students, so that they "get it". Yes, that's right, simplify unless your class has already made it to tertiary education levels. Think of a river, with stepping stones across it. Students are on one side of that learning bridge, but you want to help them cross it and get to climb the mountain that lies on the opposite bank. Some students will make it across those knowledge and skill marker stones in the river with little help. Others will need lots of encouragement and support, and some will need to be monitored carefully and sensitively or they may fall behind, or worse, be lost forever. It is your job as a CRT to deliver students in your charge, even for as little as a single day safely across one or more skill and achievement marker stones, as it is any other member of our profession.
But, for CRTs it is perhaps an even greater challenge, as we are so often in front of classes undertaking subjects beyond the scope of our own professional expertise.
That is where you go back to that student test for teachers, which in many ways explains, its not just what we know, but how we actually approach the delivery of that knowledge that should be very reassuring.
You are as a CRT, essentially filling in for that absent "expert", but may often not be the expert yourself, in anything but your classroom practice. This is also where the individual school and indeed, absent teacher themselves come in. CRTs need be empowered with information and materials sufficient to run the absent teacher's class as smoothly and expertly as possible. If left with nothing, we fall back on word searches and "filler activities". If left with actual teaching materials and resources to deliver solid and even inspiring educational outcomes and keep students up to date in the school's overall curricula delivery.
CRT work is anything but glorified baby-sitting. The permanent and contracted colleagues on staff are very busy professionals, who juggle so many duties in the course of one day, that they are likely to more focussed on preparing photocopies or online materials for their class tomorrow, or next week than to remember to stop and thank you for the great work you did in their absence last week. This does not mean they do not value a CRTs contributions. Have they actually complained about your work?
"Silence is golden'", except when it comes to those early morning phone calls offering work and it is particularly important to remeber that as a CRT!
As long as that phone keeps ringing with the Daily Organiser asking you back and even booking you for extended stints, be assured you are valued for your work as a CRT within the school.
Now, as for that SNSTT Test, go back to it and ask yourself, how difficult will it be to pass such student and therefore school-based standards if I am working across 5 or 6 schools or more, where it is impossible to get to truly know the students you are working with?
I may be attempting a bit of a jibe at our professional knowledge and educational jargon relating to National Standards advanced via NAPLAN and AusVELS, with the SNSTT, but in truth, all teachers including CRTs are being tested on a daily basis. I maintain it is way easier to succeed in that test if we, just like fixed contract and ongoing staff, really get to know a limited and specific clientelle. One or two schools as base schools for our work, makes the delivery of high quality educational outcomes not only far more enjoyable and rewarding for CRTs, but enables better quality educational outcomes across the Victorian school systems, public and private!