Ask any relief teacher what they find the most daunting about relief teaching and I bet that the staff room sits cozily within the top 5 things to dread.
Entering a staff room as a relief teacher can be extremely nerve-racking. It is like starting high-school in Year 9 when solid friendships have already been formed. But being an adult almost makes it worse. Why aren’t I being accepted? Is there something wrong me with? Am I silly for taking this to heart at my age? Blaming yourself for not being welcomed or for taking it personally just compounds the problem even more.
The catch 22 of it all is that going into a staff room is what can also score you brownie points with the leadership staff. And brownie points with them = call backs. Most people in leadership always value relief teachers who can form friendly and professional relations with staff members and who complement the social ethos of the school environment.
Discovering ways to overcome these staff room woes and learn to take them with a pinch of salt will be winning steps to both call-back chances and your own mental health.
Here are some common fears and how to overcome them:
Seating in the staff room:
Sometimes, seating in staff rooms can be very regimented. I have even walked in to rooms where people have intentionally placed their bags on a seat so I don’t sit there. Imagine the scene in Mean Girls where Katy is trying to find a seat amongst the well formed cliques in her school cafeteria and combine it with the moment where Forrest Gump can’t get a seat on the bus. That has been me. More than once. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it has been you once or twice before, too.
How to not let it bother you.
I usually go into the staff room to collect my lunch from the fridge and that gives me time to gauge the situation. Is there a comfortable and available looking seat that I can try out? Do I even feel like it? Being honest, I don’t always. If someone has been kind enough to engage in some kind of small talk in the corridor before school, and they are there, give them a go. But overtime, I have learned not to take this moment in my day personally. I get that teachers have very little time during the day to chill out, talk about their weekends and share their frustrations with colleagues. Sometimes including a stranger (I.e. us) in this mix is not appealing for them either. Instead, I have learned to smile, say hi, talk about how lovely it is to be at the school with anyone who is willing to listen and either take a lone seat for a few minutes to have a presence and eat my lunch and occasionally someone will chat with me. If not, you know what? I have learned not to care. Thank goodness we live in a world where we can reach out to our friends at any time of the day – thanks social media! If it makes you feel better, call someone! Catch up on the weekend or vent your frustrations via social media. Or take a good book, or something you enjoy doing (like crochet!) that will allow you to actually enjoy your very, very small lunch break.
Tea and Coffee time:
I swear it has happened more than once (even when I try to pick up the most basic of mugs assuming it is part of the school set). “You are using so and so’s mug. She really doesn’t like when that happens.” or worse: “You are using my mug”. It is humiliating to say the least, and it can set you off to the wrong foot with some staff members. Gaining the wrong sort of attention can further exacerbate CT’s feelings of isolation, powerlessness and insignificance.
How to not let it bother you.
Bring your own mug, your own tea and coffee, too. You might be thinking “seriously?”, but you won’t regret it. A few schools that I have worked in have had coffee vans or cafes nearby, or even better, the canteen sells espresso making it is totally worth lugging that extra item around with you.
Some schools are all about sharing the photocopy code, and some don’t even use them! But others do. And if you are a casual, you can pretty much forget about access. It can be extremely frustrating but not too hard to overcome too.
How to not let it bother you.
Try to build a relief teaching bag of tricks which requires no worksheets at all. It is way less stressful for you, often more enjoyable for your students and the best part, you don’t have to worry about any marking! If you really do like to have certain worksheets, then I would recommend preparing your own copies at home.
Have someone to call or message
In the staff room, CT’s can feel ‘left out’. Ruby found relief from the discomfort of marginalisation through being involved in playground duty. I think I preferred to be out in the playground where at least kids talked to you and you had some sort of interaction with people, then going back into a staff room where you didn’t… it wasn’t comfortable, for you to be welcome because you upset their everyday ways of doing things and having to make conversation, I didn’t want to do that … When asked about the marginalisation she experienced in the staff room, Ruby observed: I think because they were taking time out from their classes, having a good joke and catching up and some of them were very friendly with each other, so they didn’t want to put themselves out… [They were] very busy… you don’t want to start to talk to some new casual there [who] might not be there again either, it may be a waste of invested time perhaps? It appears that there was no deliberate victimisation on the part of Ruby’s colleagues, however the culture of the school did not encompass transitory CT’s especially during busy periods. Casual teachers can experience disconnectedness when they are not regarded highly by colleagues. Addie describes her disconnection Australian Journal of Teacher Education Vol 42, 12, December 2017 172 when a deputy principal assists her with a management issue but does not engage with her. … Lack of, what’s the word – respect – by the Deputy Principal! He was tired as well. You know, it was the end of the term, he was tired and he just you know, looked at me instead of taking time to turn and say, “It’s okay! Look, you can’t be expected to…” Just a kind word or even a smile, but I felt even more disconnected, and more alone because it’s like, well you think I can’t cope and you had to come out of the office.