Supply Teaching in Canada

Shortly before I graduated with my teaching degree in December 2009, I applied to work for Edmonton Public Schools. I was one of the lucky few who had an interview while I was still completing my final teaching practicum, and as soon as all of the paperwork was completed, I was able to start teaching. From March until the end of June 2010 I worked as a supply teacher in various schools all over Edmonton. A supply teacher is the same thing as what many people would call a substitute teacher. For some reason we use both terms in Alberta. Most teachers and people that work in education use the term “supply teacher” while students and other members of the community tend to use the term “substitute teacher”.

When I began working as a supply teacher I had no real idea what to expect. I figured that the students would behave badly and that I would have to be really strong in the area of classroom management, but other than that I didn’t really know how the system worked. In Alberta, to get on the list of available supply teachers you have to pass the first round of interviews by the district. If you are considered acceptable and you have a subject that they need, you get put on the list. People on that list are then the ones who can be considered for contract positions. Once you are available for work, you are put on the available list, which is maintained by the school district, and you can start getting jobs. The larger school districts like Edmonton Public Schools and Calgary Board of Education have a computer-automated systems, while in the smaller school districts it is someone’s job to make the phone calls personally.

As a supply teacher, I would wake up most mornings to my phone ringing. Groggily, I would answer the phone and try to enter in my personal teacher code and pin number in order to access the system. Then a computer recording would read aloud a job that was available and I would have to hit one button to accept or another to reject. These jobs were either for a half-day or a full-day of teaching, and though I didn’t get a call every morning, the work was consistent enough. This was probably because as a language teacher, and more specifically a French teacher, I was more in demand than many other supply teachers would have been.

Though I only worked as a supply teacher for 4 months before securing a position teaching French and Spanish, I found that I enjoyed it. The students were not so badly behaved and the staff members were always very supportive and willing to help out in any way. Teachers in Alberta must leave full lesson plans if they are away, so there was always something planned for the students to do. Generally any materials they needed for the class were set out neatly and everything was very organized and easy to figure out. As a new teacher, I found it quite helpful to see how other classrooms were set up and what kinds of things the teachers did in terms of class work, discipline, etc. But the best part of supply teaching was definitely not having to make my own lesson plans or take home any marking!

I would love to hear from people in the comments about what it’s like to be a supply teacher or substitute teacher elsewhere in the world. How is it similar to or different from your own experiences? I plan to follow up with a blog post about supply teaching in England as well.

Posted in Reflections.

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