Casual Teaching in Primary Schools – Pros and Cons

After leaving the childcare industry and starting casual teaching in primary schools, I can now tell you the pros and cons of casual teaching!

Introduction

After working in the childcare industry for more than 20 years, as a preschool teacher, director and area manager, I decided to resign in 2022 and start primary school teaching on a casual basis. 

I can tell you this much.. there are heaps of positives to working on a casual basis and that’s why I continue to do this.. I love it! Like with most things, there are some drawbacks to casual teaching as well, some that you may not have considered. 

So, I thought I would put it all together. Here are the Pros and Cons of Casual Teaching in Primary Schools;

Casual Teaching in Primary Schools – PROS: 

Flexibility of Lifestyle

This is probably the biggest positive for me; if I don’t want to work on a particular day, I just don’t. After working full-time in child care centres for so many years, this has been the change that I needed. 

If I have a doctor’s appointment, I want to take a Friday off to go away for the weekend, or my son has a school event he wants me to attend, I don’t need to ask for permission to take a day off. I simply mark myself as unavailable in the Class Cover App and this indicates I am unavailable to work on that particular day. 

casual teaching in primary schools
Flexibility of lifestyle is probably the biggest Pro of casual teaching

Higher pay rate

Casual teachers are paid more as a daily rate6 or hourly rate, compared to permanent teachers, but having said that, it would all even out when you consider that permanent teachers are getting paid sick leave, annual leave and also getting paid during school holidays. For me, I am able to pick up different work in the school holiday periods anyway, such as the contract work I do on website management, so the higher pay rate and no leave entitlements work well for me.

Ability to say no to certain schools

After my very first day and my very first shift, this was a big pro for me! My first day as a casual teacher was not a great experience! I have had some wonderful days since then, but as a first impression and on my first day, I experienced some cranky teachers, some administrative staff who were impatient, also cranky and not very willing to answer some of my basic questions, and the school also didn’t approve my hours for weeks and I had to call them multiple times to ask them to approve my hours so I could get paid! Without naming schools, I have decided not to return to this school, and you know what? There is no lack of work! There are plenty of other schools within my area (Hills District of Sydney NSW), and plenty of opportunities for casual work.

So, if for any particular reason you don’t like the staff at a particular school, you have experienced poor management, disorganisation, very challenging student behaviours, or you have had a bad experience in any way, simply choose to not return!

There are so many learning opportunities!

For us, as teachers! Getting placed in different grades, in different schools, with children of varying ages and abilities, there are many learning opportunities for a teacher! Although I am early childhood trained, and I am officially trained to teach up to the age of 8 years old (K-2), once I am in the primary school system, they can pretty much place me in any grade they wish. I can make requests to be placed in K-2 only, but I’ve actually come to enjoy teaching some of the older grades! The older kids often teach ME so much!

From how the older kids learn maths equations these days (SO different from when I was in school), to how library organisation works, details of the new curriculum, support that’s available for children with additional needs, the pressures the teachers and APs (Assistant Principals) are under and general classroom and lesson ideas! I have only been doing this for less than a year now but it has all been such valuable experience!

casual teaching in primary schools, casual teachers
Casual teaching in different stages with different ages gives teachers so much valuable experience!

Meeting other professionals and networking

Relief teaching is a fantastic opportunity to meet other teachers and professionals in the field and to network with them. There is so much that can be learned from other passionate primary teachers, from fellow relief teachers, SLSO’s (teaching aides)1, principals, admin staff and others in the school community, if you choose to converse, to listen, ask the right questions and be open to learning new things and meeting new people from different schools, different areas and with varied experience.

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NO programming, NO staff meetings, NO parent meetings, NO reports!

This is a huge one! Casual primary teachers are not expected to do any programming or planning, they are not expected to attend staff meetings or parent meetings and certainly don’t need to be completing reports. As a full-time early childhood teacher, I have been expected to complete these year after year and as is the case for most (if not all) teachers, this is usually done in our own time after hours.

As a single mum who also does contract work on website management, who writes for this blog, and tries to also have a personal life, this is a huge PRO! Need I say more??

Leaving at 3pm

Following from my last point, as there is none of the above (reports, meetings or programming), assuming you’ve completed any marking that needs to be done (I do this in my break rather than stay back after school) you’ve turned lights, air con and fans off and locked the classroom door, once that school bell rings, you can sign yourself out, return any keys you may have and go home! Depending on what time the individual school finishes, sometimes I’m in my car by 3pm, and home by 3:30pm.

Collecting resources and ideas

I have been able to make a collection of resources from various schools – whether it’s worksheets, lesson ideas, ideas for games, transitions or sport, I have made quite a collection now that I can use to draw upon in any school where work may not have been left for me already.

Most of the time (and this could be its own separate PRO on my list), work is left for me to complete. I have come to know which schools always have work ready for me, and which schools are more likey to NOT have work ready for me, which then gives me a bit of freedom to carry out any lesson I deem appropriate for the class, the age group and stage.

If that is the case, I now have a folder ready, with various worksheets copied for different ages and stages, as well as lesson and game ideas, in case the school has not left any work for me (which doesn’t happen too often to be honest).

Easy to organise through Class Cover

The organisation of casual days and schools I am registered with, is all organised with the Class Cover App2, which is fantastic!

There is no need for phone calls, text messages or early voicemail messages. When you register yourself as a qualified teacher with the Class Cover App, you can mark your availability (and days you are unavailable) on the calendar within the App. You apply at various schools listed within the App, and once accepted, these schools can then request to book you on any of your indicated available days through the App. I will usually receive a notification that a particular school is requesting to book me on a particular day, and I then have the option to either ‘Accept’ or ‘Decline’ that booking. Once a booking is accepted, it indicates on my calendar that I am already booked on that day, meaning other schools cannot book me for that day.

Cancelling a booked day (due to sickness for example) is usually a bit more difficult as you cannot simply cancel within the App. In this case, you will need to contact the school or the AP directly to ensure they get the message you are unable to do your casual shift.

Casual Teaching in Primary Schools – CONS: 

NO leave entitlements

This is the case with any casual work, but it’s definitely something you need to plan for and be prepared for. I make sure I have a decent-sized Emergency Fund so that if I get sick, I can cover my bills and expenses.

Yes, the hourly rates for casual teachers are a little higher than permanent teachers for this reason, but it’s still something that would be considered a CON for many, and which needs to be accounted for, particularly during school holiday periods (total of 12 weeks over the year), so many casual teachers pick up extra work during these periods or make sure they have some other income to cover expenses.

Uncertainty in Schedules, Lessons etc

Casual teachers need to learn to be flexible, above everything else! Often, the classroom teacher will leave work for the teacher, but sometimes they do not. Sometimes I turn up to a school at 8:00am and by 8:55am, I still don’t know where I’m supposed to be or what I’m supposed to be teaching, due to poor organisation, poor communication or a myriad of other factors. There can be a lot of uncertainty surrounding which class you are meant to be on, what you’re supposed to be teaching and what the regular teacher intended to be completed, especially if a teacher was sick at the last minute, or if you’re on RFF (Relief from Face to Face teaching) and the regular teachers have not been informed they have RFF time!

So, you just get used to being flexible, thinking on your feet, going with the flow and accepting that sometimes, things don’t go to plan, or sometimes, there is no real plan!

kids first aid
casual teaching in primary schools
Get comfortable being flexible as a casual! Sometimes you don’t find out what you’re supposed to be teaching until 5 minutes before the lesson!

You’re always learning names!

As a casual, I’m forever saying ‘What was your name again?’ to the students and to the teachers too! I think I’ve definitely improved and I’ve learned to create little stories in my mind to help me remember names, but if it’s an RFF day (different class every hour) at a school you haven’t been to before, sometimes it’s not worth trying to learn all the names each lesson by the end of the day!

So, just get comfortable constantly asking people to remind you of their names..

You usually always get playground duty

This is not always a Con, but I thought it was worth mentioning, as usually, the casuals will always get at least one shift of playground duty at recess or lunch. I actually don’t mind having playground duty as I can chat to some of the kids informally, I get some more of my daily steps in and assuming I’m not spending the whole time breaking up fights or managing conflict, it can be quite enjoyable.

Just make sure you take your hat! If you’re sent to supervise the oval at lunch time in the middle of summer, you’re going to want that hat, and plenty of sunscreen on!

Lack of communication from permanent teachers to casuals

This is not something that always happens and it will depend on the school and on the teachers, but sometimes, there is an assumption that casuals will just know what happens at certain schools. Here are a few examples I’ve come across:

  • Not being informed that after recess, I need to collect my class from a different spot (outside library or canteen), rather than them lining up outside the classroom like they do in the mornings.
  • Not being informed of scheduled library time, scripture time, assembly time or incursions
  • Not being informed of individual class rules regarding toilet time, signing in and out for toilet time, or about behaviour management strategies, awards etc
  • Not being informed of rules regarding eating time with kids vs allowing kids to go to the playground straight away, and location of kids after break times
  • Not being informed that certain kids need to attend choir, debating, sport practice, garden club etc at particular times, which means them leaving the classroom in the middle of lessons

These are just a few examples but my point is, get comfortable asking around, asking teachers in nearby classrooms, asking the kids what usually happens (they’re usually the first ones to inform you anyway.. haha) and accepting you won’t always know what’s going on for each day!

casual teachers, education
It’s normal for kids to test boundaries and see what they can get away with when it comes to fresh-faced casual teachers

Children testing boundaries and behaviour management

Most of the time, I get at least a few children who will really test the boundaries with a fresh faced casual teacher and see what they can get away with. This used to really concern me, especially with some of the older children, but I’ve learned very quickly to NOT let it worry me, to show them I can be firm, I mean business and I (to put it bluntly), won’t take any of their crap!

I understand that’s the natural order of things, for some of these kids to test me, to try to push by buttons and get away with what they can, but I’ve learned to not let it ruin my day. I give my clear expectations when I walk into a new classroom, I warn the children when behaviour is unacceptable, I learn to pick my battles, particularly with children I’ve become familiar with, and if things go too far, I simply use the school’s behaviour management system3, or I report it to the classroom teacher or to the AP.

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I also make an effort to try to bond with and relate to most of the students, in some way, as I find a positive relationship will go a long way in managing undesirable behaviour if a bond or a connection has been established, even at a very basic level.

You will get lost

Whether it’s driving to and finding a new school, finding their carpark (if they even have one), or getting lost internally within a large school, at some point, it gets difficult finding your way around! I find once I get lost a couple of times, I’m usually ok. I learn from it and usually I’m ok after that, but just remember, ask the kids! The kids will love showing you around, especially some of the younger ones who have now learned to find their way around.

Lack of a sense of belonging

I think this is a big one. When you’re visiting different schools all the time, there really isn’t the opportunity to build lasting relationships with children, with other teachers, with parents and with a whole community. This is something I really enjoyed in my time as a child care director – our team, our families and our community. As a casual, there isn’t the same sense of belonging to a staff team, to a class or to school community. Sure, you can get to know students and teachers on a basic level, but if you’re moving around a lot to different locations, there really is not that same opportunity to form those strong relationships and feel like you belong somewhere, like when you’re in permanent employment somewhere.

Perhaps don’t get appreciated or acknowledged as much

This might just be my own experience, and I would love to hear from other casual teachers on this one, but I think as a casual, you perhaps don’t receive the same level of appreciation or acknowledgment that you would if you were a permanent teacher who knew the children well, who communicated with the families of those children and who belonged to a certain school team.

There’s also no end-of-year teacher gifts! Haha.. I used to love my end-of-year choccies or handmade children’s gifts.. something that’s not really customary for casual teachers.

You may be placed in grades or classes that are not your preference

Again, highlighting the need to be flexible and the opportunity that comes from learning new skills, especially if you’re teaching an age or a stage your qualifications or your experience may not have prepared you for.

For some, this may be a big Con, and for me when I first started, I saw it as a big Con when I was placed in year 5 or year 6 classes but I’ve actually learned to love it and appreciate the different experience and skills it takes to teach those ages and stages. I actually sometimes prefer it to Kindergarten now, as they just display so much more independence and some of the lessons can become really in-depth and interesting.

casual teaching in primary schools
Gone are the days of chalk boards! Every now and then it’s a white board, but get used to learning all the tech! Various devices, smart boards, different software, links and portals.. just be open to learning all the tech!

Learning new tech!

Devices, software, programs, tech, links, smartboards, Teams and portals!

Get ready to learn it all!

It’s no use saying you’re not good with technology, or not good with computers or you don’t know how to use certain devices, just be ready and willing to learn, because you can’t escape it!

Summary

Whether you’re in public schools, private schools, religious education, primary or high school, some of these Pros and Cons would probably be applicable to many various settings, depending on the individual, on the schools themselves and on what you consider to be Pros and Cons in your eyes!

Unfortunately, there are many permanent teachers leaving the profession due to the high workload, the stress levels and the low salary. This nationwide teacher shortage4 actually means there are plenty of casual opportunities for relief teachers across many schools and so if you have an interest in teaching on a casual basis, there is no better time to give it a try!

What are your thoughts? Are you a teacher who has tried working casually, or have you thought about it and you’re still unsure?? Start a discussion in the comments section!

For more info on how to become a casual teacher in NSW, you can read this article by Class Cover HERE5.

Reference List:

  1. Roles and responsibilities, NSW Education. Accessed online at https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/disability-learning-and-support/personalised-support-for-learning/roles-and-responsibilities#:~:text=School%20learning%20support%20officer,-School%20learning%20support&text=They%20provide%20assistance%20to%20students,classroom%20activities%2C%20and on May 15, 2023.
  2. Getting Started with ClassCover, Class Cover. Accessed online at https://www.classcover.com.au/teachers/classcover-app-downloads/ on May 15, 2023.
  3. Behaviour — Students, Education.Vic.gov.au. Accessed online at https://www2.education.vic.gov.au/pal/behaviour-students/guidance/4-respond-challenging-behaviour on May 15, 2023.
  4. Australia’s teacher shortage is a generational crisis in the making. How can we turn things around?, Fiona Longmuir, ABCNews. Published: Jan 30, 2023. Accessed online at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-01-30/pandemic-exposed-australia-teacher-shortage-students-schools/101886452 on May 15, 2023.
  5. A Guide to Casual Teaching in NSW: 2023, Class Cover. Published: April 18, 2023. Accessed online at https://www.classcover.com.au/blog/casual-teaching-in-nsw-2023/ on May 15, 2023.
  6. Salary of a teacher, NSW Education. Accessed online at https://education.nsw.gov.au/teach-nsw/explore-teaching/salary-of-a-teacher#:~:text=and%20conditions%20webpage.-,Casual%20teaching%20rates,as%20of%2001%20January%202022) on May 15, 2023.

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