Relief Teaching Key Issue – The $64,000 question

relief teaching tough issuesI received this email from one of my regular relief teaching readers. Al asks one of the most critical questions for those who are relief teaching. I would be very interested in your response to these critical issues.

Hi Bob,

I got a lot of relief teaching calls this week. Seeing it was the first week back, I didn't think  there would be any.

I have question for you.

I have been doing relief teaching for a year now. As with anything, one gets better at it  (match fit/up to speed etc)

I  know where to cut corners.

I also began to think there are some schools/classes (grade 7`s particularly) where I just can`t be bothered feeding my pearls.

I stopped relief teaching at one school. It is an inner city school with a lot probs. There are a lot of staff off with a few teachers stress and depressed.

I have done lots of that type in my career.

I spoke to others who are relief teaching and they no longer go to this school. I  feel a bit guilty as that is where the kids need help. But I decided not to do any relief teaching there again after 10 visits.

I am thinking that maybe I can be choosy which CLASSES I pick.

Last term I was relief teaching in a grade 7 and they were feral AS (toads,miscreants etc)

While I GOT THROUGH THE DAY O.K and in tact....I thought "Who needs this?"

Deputies who ask you to come to their schools usually ask if you are available today. When you answer "Yes." they proceed to tell you that you will be relief teaching in a difficult class.

My thought was to let them know that I don`t particularly want a grade (say grade 7 at a particular school.

SORRY !or if you know from experience that a certain class is gonna be a chore............... the same!

Do you think Its professional or WISE to do just that, rather than go in and survive the day!

How do you think that would be received by prospective schools?

I have built up a good reputation and rapport with the 5 great schools I get calls from ...both staff and students.

I don`t want to offend or lose work from the above attitude!

I am thoroughly enjoying relief teaching those schools and students who are keen to learn!

Whats your opinion on this approach?

Is it workable or best not?

Many thanks on this!

Keep up the great initiative with . IT LOOKS TO BE GROWING!


Hi Al, You have a lot of excellent issues which I am sure everyone involved in relief teaching encounters some time or other. Let me give me my response which I hope is less complicated than my thought processes. I am hoping we get some feedback from other relief teachers. Issue 1.

From an administrators point of view, I just want to put a teacher in front of  a class. I would prefer the best relief teacher available but when the chips are down, I accept anyone who is breathing. There are times when I have had to step in and take two classes for the day because there simply was no relief teacher available. Again, from am administrators point of view, a good relief teacher is one who causes me no grief. I am sure all schools have relief teachers who are good fits. That is the kids respond well to them, they have a genuine interest in the school. These relief teachers are usually our first choice. If they are graduates looking for employment then they usually find their way on our staff full time.

My advice then, if you are look for full time employment, find the school which is a good fit and make yourself available for almost anything.

Issue 2.

I know there are feral kids who really bugger up a class. I have taken these classes. When I was principal of my country high school, I timetabled myself on the toughest class in the school - a year 11 class who were not going to get on OP (tertiary entrance score).  If I was going to stamp credibility on a school, I have to prove I can teach.

Saying that there are classes that are tougher than others. But I see this a bit like sport training. Go past the comfort zone to build strength. If one teaching strategy doesn't work - try another.  The reality is, unless you can stamp your credibility as a teacher, it is a tough ask.

Sometimes that is not your fault. Some schools and some teachers don't hold relief teachers in high regard. That can poison a class even before you step in the door. If that is the situation, then perhaps it is time to call it quits with that class/school.

If a school does not make a real effort to incorporate relief teachers into the staff picture, then your job as a relief teacher becomes exceedingly more difficult.

My advice then, if you don't feel supported by the school, don't go there.

Issue 3.

I always, (repeat ALWAYS) make it perfectly clear that I am only interested in taking senior primary classes. I will take year 6 & 7 anytime. As a consequence, I am not even called to take other classes. I notice, Al, that you have a good rapport with 5 schools. Make it known which year levels are your strengths and make it clear that you have many units of work for these year levels.

If a deputy or principal does not give you the class details first, there is probably a very good reason. My experience is that the toughest classes often have the highest absenteeism.

If a deputy or principal does not give you the class details first, there is probably a very good reason. My experience is that the toughest classes often have the highest absenteeism.

My advice then, always let a school know where your strength (rather than your weakness) is. If you don't need the work (as in my case) don't worry about saying "No, thank you."

I hope this gives you my opinion, but I would be interesting to hear what others think. Relief Teaching comments

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(4) comments

I think your advice above is very sound.

Everyone has to make their decision on this. Initially, it can be detrimental to turn down offers of relief teaching, but as one gets to know the school and they get to know you, you can be a bit particular. You can make it clear what grades you specialise in so that you only get calls for those grades. Some relief teachers state a preference for younger students, some older etc.

No-one wants to go into a school dreading their day there and spending 3 days recovering!!!


    True, Marie. I value your insight and experience. There are days when I love my work and there are others when I have to keep saying, “$70 bucks an hour!”

    I really enjoy visiting your site You have some wonderful resources and ideas for teachers.


I have found a school which is a great fit and recently decided to take a gamble and turn down relief work from other schools that regularly call me. It has paid off and I get work from my chosen school almost on a daily basis. Like you said, Bob, I have made myself available for anything and everything – learning support, sport, Prep to grade 12! I believe this flexibility has served me well.

The school hardly ever tell me what class I am teaching, however, and at first I was taken aback by this. However, I do not necessarily think it is due to the fact that they are tricky classes, I think it is due to last minute staffing changes and not always knowing who is off etc. right up until the first bell ring. Luckily, I always have my bag of tricks with me and hardly ever get caught out!


    Well done Jacqueline.

    I fully understand the difficult staffing issues schools have in filling absences – especially the unexpected.

    Once you get yourself known at a school, you soon become and accepted staff member – and that is when you can start building relationships with the kids at the school who don’t see you as a fill-in.

    Relief teaching is so much tougher because you are often unable to build relationships with kids and quite often with staff. I recommend getting a coffee mug with your name on it and put it in the staff room. Sounds silly but it works.

    It sounds like you are well on the way to building relationships. Keep us informed on how you are getting on.


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