What do children feel makes a good supply teacher?

One of the best things about children is their honesty (apart from when they draw you with yellow hair and a black line for your roots and tell you that ‘most of your hair is yellow but this bit is black!’). Having spent time in primary schools as a class teacher and as supply, the children often talk to me about supply teachers. They comment on what they feel makes a good supply teacher and things that could make some of them better. I thought that it would be interesting to share what I have found out so far from these conversations.

The ‘not so good’ supply teachers

The children as a whole said that they understood that it was difficult for supply teachers to teach a class that they didn’t know but felt that some things could be helped, such as:

  • Not knowing the routine of the school and class- I was told that when the supply teachers change the timings of lessons the day feels ‘weird and confusing’ and the children don’t feel prepared.
  • Not knowing the behaviour management systems in place for that class and across the school- The children said that sometimes it doesn’t feel like they are being treated fairly as the usual warnings system isn’t being followed and things escalated at a quicker rate than usual. They also revealed that sometimes it’s the opposite problem and children can get away with a lot which can make learning difficult, the classroom noisy and some children left unhappy that problems haven’t been resolved.
  • The work being too easy- ‘sometimes, like in Maths, we all get the same work and for some of us it is too easy and that makes it boring’.
  • The work being too random- Some of the work the children said that they had completed with supply teachers was really random. Sometimes this was great and other times it was just weird. The general consensus was that it was better when it linked into their topic as they already knew something about it and it was helpful for work that they were going to do with their teacher.
  • Not smiling enough! – All of the children that spoke to me about supply said that quite often supply teachers looked ‘stressed’ (well yes, it can be stressful!). Interestingly, some said that this made them feel anxious and worried. ‘Supply teachers that smile make us smile’ said one boy in year 5.

The good ‘supply teachers’

The children remembered the ‘really good supply teachers’ and said that when their teacher is away it can be nice to have a different teacher who they know and like. Someone who has their own things that makes them special and exciting. Good qualities they suggested were:

  • They know the school and class behaviour policy and use it well- It is crucial that a supply teachers knows the schools behaviour policy and uses it. This provides the children with consistency. If it is a last minute booking at a new school, the teacher could ask the class to tell them how it works or ask a TA in front of the class so that the class know that the supply teacher knows what is expected of them. The children enjoyed it when supply teachers had ‘extra treats’ such as special stickers. It is important to note here that supply teachers mustn’t take food in as a treat or part of a lesson unless arranged in advance with the school.
  • They know when you have each lesson and keep the routine very similar- Every class that I have visited has had a timetable up somewhere. If there isn’t one up again ask the children or the TA will know. It is good to stick to the timetable so that the children can keep to the usual routine and feel like they are prepared and know what to expect next.
  • The work is challenging and relevant to previous work- ‘We like a challenge’ one child told me. Most told me that they like the work to make them think but be achievable. They felt it was great when there were different levels (differentiated work) so that they knew that there was a harder and easier option available depending on what they needed.
  • The teacher seems happy- If the supply teacher is relaxed and appears to be enjoying their time with the children, the children suggested that they are more likely to be enjoying it too. I would urge there is a careful balance between seeming confident and happy and also remaining firm but fair. Calmness and firmness are definitely key.
  • Exciting worked linked to their topic- I was told that it was really good when a supply teacher knew what their topic was and had planned exciting lessons that linked to it. This is much easier for a supply teacher to do when booked in advance as they can call the school to find out what the children’s topic is. If it is a last minute booking, it may be that during lunch time you can plan something for the afternoon based on their topic.

So those are the opinions of some of the children that I have met in the last few years on what makes a good supply teacher.

At Apple A Day Supply we are continually working with Supply Teachers, schools and pupils to make a day with a supply teacher a valuable and enjoyable experience. If you are a supply teacher looking to improve or a school wanting to support supply teachers entering your school, please email me at ghector@appleadaysupply.co.uk for further information and advice.


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