Supply Teachers Survival Guide

Supply teaching can be great. You get to see a range of schools, experience different routines, meet new people and work with lots of different children. However, it can also be very challenging for the same reasons. It’s a lot like having a first day every day that you visit a new school. Good news is that there are things that you can do to ensure that the day is a success, enjoyable and that the Head invites you back again.

Having worked as a supply teacher, a classroom teacher and as the owner of a supply agency speaking to schools on a daily basis, here are some of my key pieces of advice.

Tip 1

Arrive on time. When possible, make sure that you arrive before 8 O’clock. This sounds obvious but there is nothing worse than rushing in late, trying to find your way around and figure out what you are doing for the day! Arriving early will create a good impression, enable you to be as prepared as possible for the day and even give you time to get a cup of tea in hand! Also, it is very frustrating as a class teacher if you have left planning for a supply teacher (which always takes twice as long as it has to be so much more detail for someone else) and the teacher covering rolls in at 8:30! You know that they don’t have time to read your notes as the children are arriving in 5 minutes!

Tip 2

Rules, rewards and sanctions. Make sure that you know the rules and the behaviour system that the school uses. You could ask the children to explain them to you at the start of the day so that they are aware that you know and will be following it. I did this with a class a few days ago, followed their strategies and made it clear that I expected the same behaviour and quality of work as their class teacher. At the end of the school day a boy who had tried pushing it a little said to me “you’re different because usually new teachers don’t know the rules but you do. I can get away with stuff with them but I can’t with you!”  🙂

Tip 3

Class information. Check with the office, TA or Head teacher whether there are any medical conditions, safeguarding issues or other important factors that you need to be made aware of within the class. If there is a child with a medical condition you will need to know the how severe it is, the procedure and if medication is given, who does this and when.

Tip 4

Marking. Find out what the school’s marking policy is and then mark all of the children’s work completed with you in line with this. I would make a start with marking at lunchtime as sometimes there can be a lot to do. After the lesson, get the children to self or peer assess their work against the success criteria that they have used. This way they will all already have some next steps in their learning.

Tip 5

Daily routine. Find out the timetable for the day eg when is the start of school, assembly, play, lunch and home time? Whilst there may be the sudden need to tidy up as you have Christmas songs to rehearse next door, it is a good idea to write down a basic time-table so that you are as prepared as possible.

Tip 6

Bag of tricks. Always have a bag of resources and lessons with you. Even if you are told that all of the planning will be done, for whatever reason there may not be anything there when you get there. Have a range of Maths, writing and reading activities/lessons ready to go at the drop of a hat. This way even if you need to plan something for the afternoon you have the morning sorted and can plan for the afternoon over lunch.

Tip 7

Make a good impression. As a supply teacher it is unlikely that you will have time to spend all break time and lunch chatting in the staff room, however, it is great if you can  spend 10-15 mins in the staff room and join in with conversations. Share a smile and say hello to all other members of staff around the school and say thank you and goodbye to the Head or reception staff before you leave. Head teachers often say to me that they are used to supply teachers leaving (at 3:30!) without a word (or having marked!). It makes a great impression if you have some presence and show that you care.

Tip 8

Handover. Leave a handover note for the class teacher. Most agencies will give you a template for this. It should include: what work the children did and how they got on, any notable behaviour (good or bad) , any incidents (eg did someone bang their head) and any other information that the class teachers should know.

Tip 9

Learn the children’s names. Try to remember the children’s names as this will make it easier to bond with the children and give instructions. I like to ask them when I do the register what they would like to be known as eg “Is it Oliver or Ollie?” This shows the children that you care. You will inevitably learn the names of the ‘characters’ in the class very quickly but try to take time to talk to all of them about their work and learn all of their name.

Tip 10

Contact the school. If you are booked in advance it shows initiative to contact the school and find out what the class topic is and if there is anything in particular that they would like you to cover. You can also use this opportunity to find out if there are any pupils in particular who you should know about in that class.

Tip 11

No loose sheets. Make sure that all work is either done in their books or is stuck into their books, unless instructed otherwise. It is very frustrating as a class teacher if you return to find a pile of work on your desk. Don’t expect the class teacher to trim and stick them all in! They will end up in the next doors bin! Also, work on sheets suggests to the child that it is separate from their other work. I found that often work completed on sheets by supply was of a lower quality. It was as if the children thought that I wouldn’t see it as it wasn’t in their book!

Tip 12

Leave the classroom tidy.It is so important to make sure that you leave the classroom as tidy if not even tidier than how you found it. It is your responsibility to make sure that the children tidy up any mess.

Final thought…

Supply teaching should be fun, interesting and varied. You can guarantee that as with any teaching, no two days will be the same. Make the most of being that new person who has the ability to excite, inspire and engage a class with something out of the norm. 

Written by Gemma Hector

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