Margaret Paton

Oct 2, 2018

8 min read

Surging ahead with my quest to be a (part-time) maths teacher

If you’re a provisional day-to-day substitute teacher in school chances are you’re finding it tricky to get a school principal to say ‘yes’ to supervising you to become accredited or fully registered, depending on where you live.

Maybe you’ve even completed blocks of temporary teaching at different schools and been fobbed off when you mention the ‘A’ word. Schools are happy to schedule you for work, to fill their holes day-to-day, but you’re on your own when need an accreditation supervisor. That’s been my experience.

Been fobbed off?

Perhaps you recognise what I’m talking about here. You might have got these responses whenever you’ve asked a principal to help you out on the journey to full accreditation:

Advice on notching that ‘yes’

Hooking into a school’s professional development program, even offering to volunteer your time can help itinerant casuals get support for accreditation supervision, says Dennis Yarrington, President of the Australian Primary School Principals’ Association.

“It’s another way of getting known and accessing professional learning opportunities,” he told me.

Maurie Mulheron, President of the NSW Teachers’ Federation, weighs into the issue saying teachers and principals with experience “should provide important guidance to new teachers just starting out.

“The [NSW] Department of Education needs to ensure that all schools have the resources to be able to support all beginning teachers, including casual teachers, through the accreditation process,” he says.

Meanwhile, the-then President of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Association, Chris Presland, says accreditation supervision would involve many hours of work for the head teacher through lesson observation and discussion, whereas the principal may only need an hour to check through the documentation and sign it.

“There’s no additional incentive or resource for schools to do it,” he says.

It’s a challenge — no buts about it. The union, the NSW Teachers’ Federation is reportedly working constructively with the education department and the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA), in particular, to come up with some workable solution.

But what can you do now, until they sort it out?

Have you thought about managing up?

It hasn’t worked for me, but it might work for you. Try convincing your principal that you’ll do the legwork, so all he or she will need to do is poke their head in a few of your classes, flick through a few lesson plans and sign off the accreditation report. That’s right, they won’t need to write the whole report.

That’s what a teacher friend of mine, ‘Jane’ did. She wrote the Proficient Teacher Accreditation Report herself. Her supervisor should have written that. The fledgeling teacher’s role was to collect and annotate evidence for that report. But, the anguish didn’t end there. Jane had to wait another term while her principal was on leave. On her return, the report was signed and Jane was accredited just in time.

I’d be happy to follow in Jane’s footprints. Writing is what I’ve done for a crust pretty much for the past 30 years. If writing the bulk of the report is the only path open to me to get accredited, I’m happy to ‘manage up’. No arguments about fairness.

Chances are your teacher registration authority will also have detailed guides for principals on what they need to do. You’ll find what you need there. Just go for it, is my advice, but first, make sure you have a principal who’s said the hallowed ‘yes’ to helping you with the process at least in ‘principle’.

I know how hard it is to try to stand out from the pack of qualified provisionally-accredited primary/elementary school teachers in the state where I live. Each year my state’s universities graduate more than 5,000 people as teachers, but public schools on average offer just 600 or so permanent positions. So you’re not just competing with fresh graduates, but the last five years’ worth who have been working casually. Do the sums. That’s 3,000 permanent jobs for 25,000 graduates.

Make sure the school you’re targeting is a good ‘fit’ for you

The idea is not to become desperate and ask schools for the support before you’ve even been inducted as a substitute teacher. Get a feel for the school. At least a couple of weeks to see if you’re a good cultural fit. Do you like working there? Are you developing relationships with the learners? Does working there leave you exhausted or energised?

If you come home after work swearing like a sailor to your family and crying yourself to sleep — as I did during one teaching block — you need to be honest and realise that school probably won’t work for you. If you’re that distressed, it sounds like you’re not getting the support or space to debrief at school so that’s why you’re taking the emotional impact off-site.

Let me bring you into a classroom that led me to that insight.

Stabbing a peer’s arm with scissors, another’s earlobe with a sharpened pencil, pushing a peer down the steps, eye gouging or choking others, stealing and pressing the ‘erase’ button on the whiteboard to the collective gasp of the class. This was a class was predominated by chatterers, wanderers and those up for physical combat.

That’s what my students got up to on a regular day in my classroom. Part way through a temporary contract, and despite many pleas for help to manage the large chunk of my class who had behavioural issues, I was done. I’d exhausted all my behaviour management strategies. So, I gave notice.

Oh, I didn’t mention what year level the students were? Year 1. That’s right: six and seven-year-olds.

Dealing With Doubt (How to Forge On When Your Career isn’t Panning Out)

As a provisional teacher, I wasn’t equipped for this class. If in doubt, take time out. I took a 10-month leave of absence after the scissor-wielding class and focussed upon my writing again. But the teaching profession still calls me like a muse from afar.

Most teacher registration authorities give you a time frame in which you must gain full accreditation or registration. In my state, it is five years that you can work as a substitute teacher between graduating (and successfully applying for provisional accreditation) and becoming fully accredited.

But I have been stretching that out. That’s what the leave of absence was about. I’d been prudent in applying to NESA to be classed as ‘inactive’ while I returned to business writing. It’s also useful to apply for an absence during those long summer breaks. Helps you push out your deadline date even further. Make that date work for you. Be active in seizing extra time — you may well need it!

Talk with others about what you’re going through

When I wrote about the ‘still not accredited’ issue on a casual teachers’ Facebook page, many responded with similar gripes. One teacher said she’d managed to get her report together two weeks before the deadline. Bottom line is, she had to ensure her principal was satisfied she’d met all the Proficient Teacher Standards.

Facebook pages are also useful for schools to advertise their upcoming vacancies, or to join their register of substitute teachers. You can also chat privately with members to get the inside story on what a school’s like to work for.

Focus on your point of need in your own learning

My biggest skills gap was in behavioural management. When I returned to teaching recently, I had freshly completed an online ‘Classroom Management’ course. I’d also had my Canadian-based teacher sister stay with me for five weeks and get in my ear about giving teaching another real shot. The possibility of becoming accredited as a teacher dangled before me as a sweet crunchy carrot like that pulled from my sun-drenched organic garden at home.

Substitute teaching is a tough gig. It’s a change to learners’ regular patterns and some don’t cope well with that. As well, students seem to be trained (by osmosis) from infants’ class upwards to act up when there’s a casual. I even heard a Year 2 student tell me this week “sorry Miss for today, but that’s how we are with a substitute teacher”. Wise beyond her years.

Address the white elephant — behaviour management

It’s baby steps for me to manage the behaviours in my substitute classes. This is what works for me and is giving me some headway.

Make an entrance into your class by striding in confidently, making eye contact and, as I heard in a TED talk — saying “I’m ready to start” and waiting until you have quiet. Elsewhere, I’ve heard a teacher say ‘I will have your attention’ and then wait. Raised eyebrows help too. It’s all about your mindset and creating that aura that you’re taking responsibility for your classroom then and there.

It’s handy to ask your students about what normally happens in the classroom, who are the monitors, what are the rules they must follow and the consequences. It’s building on the school-wide behavioural management rules. Becoming aware of the conventions of each classroom you’re teaching in can smooth the way to a better-managed class. I’ve found it more effective to ask one student at a time rather than open the discussion up to the whole class (and get shouted answers from all corners of the room).

Even in the staff rooms, you’ll get the verbal pat on your back for dealing with a tough class, even if those same kids are normally angels with their regular teacher. Your classes are expected to be tricky, which is why the more supportive schools will encourage you to send the most disruptive ‘learners’ out into the head teacher’s class for a short stint.

Unwind after a particularly gruesome substitute teaching day by watching a TED talk — there’s TED-ed, for lessons worth sharing, or TED for ideas about education, or this one from inspiring teachers. It’s about getting out of your fug.

Forge your path to become an in-demand teacher

My latest strategy is to retrain as a high school maths teacher — they’re in high demand. I’m part-way through courses to revise my understanding of high school maths. Then, I’ll enrol in a two-year graduate diploma focusing on teaching high school maths. By 2023 I expected to have that extra shingle to hopefully nab a permanent full-time teaching role.

When I enrolled in my Master of Teaching (Primary) in 2007, I had no idea it would take me more than two decades to reach of a fully accredited teacher.

I get maths’ value for future workers. I see its place in my own future as a worker, but I’m definitely keeping my toe in the pool of paid writing.

Teaching long-term for me is a chance. A probability. With the thousands of dollars I’ll be forking out for another degree — it will be my fourth — I’m angling for another way into teaching. Feeling a bit more sure-footed.

Join me for the journey — I’ll write about it here on and the Q.E.D. publication occasionally and keen to hear from those taking a parallel learning path from the depths of substitute teaching.