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How to Survive (and Thrive) as a Supply Teacher

The Supply Teaching Game

'The Simpsons' portrayed the life of the supply teacher though the character, Mr Bergstrom.

‘The Simpsons’ portrayed the life of the supply teacher though the character, Mr Bergstrom.

Most teachers at some point in their careers find themselves working as a supply teacher. Whilst many supply teachers enjoy the flexibility and the freedom from school politics that supply teaching brings, others find the unpredictability of the role a burdensome way to make a living.

Now that I am once again set to embark on adventures as a supply teacher, I recall fondly what made supply teaching such a joyous experience the first time around and I want to share with our members the strategies and habits that took me from supply teaching novice to a sought-after supply teacher the first time around.

Look Sharp!

Treat your meetings with recruitment consultants like any other professional meeting and dress to impress by wearing business-like clothes. Doing this will not only make a great first impression but it will also help the recruitment consultant to market you to schools as someone who is professional and strives to give their best.

Apply the same care and attention to your appearance when you eventually win that first assignment and get parachuted into a school to do your thing. Gents, wear a suit and tie. It will not only make you stand out to the staff who greet you upon arrival but it will tell the children in the classes you end up covering that you mean business and that your standards are high. Whilst a fancy suit alone won’t guarantee success, you can bet your bottom dollar that it won’t hurt your chances of winning further assignments in the supply teaching game.

Assert Yourself

For many people, myself included, it can be all too easy to be ‘the nice guy’ when you’re new and end up being taken for a ride as a result. Remember that you can be assertive and nice and that the two are not mutually exclusive. So, when you step into a class for the first time, say it like you mean it to establish boundaries whilst also remembering to use your sense of humour to make the children’s day a pleasurable one. After all, the children’s experiences of having you as their supply teacher can have a large say in whether not you’re asked to come back and children would are happier when boundaries are made clear to them.

Be Flexible

Flexibility is demanded of supply teachers at every step of the way. They must flexible (to a point) when it comes to the assignments they take on and they must demonstrate further flexibility when you’re in schools working. Booked to teach year 6 but are told you’ll be taking year 1 when you arrive at the school? Smile and say ‘no problem”. After all, you will be paid the same and your willingness to adapt to the school’s needs will certainly not go unnoticed by the school.

Have something up your sleeve

This links back to my previous point about demonstrating flexibility and a willingness to adapt. Have a bank of resources that can be deployed whenever required. These resources do not have to be expensive or even prepared personally. Make use of the internet and websites such as Primary Resources or TES to download some PowerPoints on grammar or number challenges and take them with you on a USB stick. Combine these resources with our ‘Top Teaching Tips’ and ‘How to Keep Pupils Engaged’ and you will rarely go wrong in a situation as a supply teacher where the regular teacher hasn’t left any planning.

Have something else up your sleeve

Have something else ready to deliver or to show to the children that is uniquely you. This will differ from person to person but for me my guitar was always a big factor in winning repeat assignments. The thing you choose should get the children buzzing about having you in their teacher’s absence. It could be a skill you have such as drawing cartoons or a great impression of a famous celebrity but it should allow the children to see your human side. Often these things are best used as a behaviour management strategy or a teaching tool rather than a mere means of entertaining the kids!

Leave a handover sheet

Supply teachers are expected to leave a brief note for the regular class teacher so make sure you do this at the end of each day. The note should contain details about what was covered, behaviour issues in the class and anything else you might feel is relevant. Keep it brief and concise though. There are various templates for supply teacher handover sheets available online.

Mark the work

It’s obvious really isn’t it? The regular class teacher doesn’t want to return to work having to play catch up with marking so make sure you’ve at least offered brief written feedback in each child’s books. You probably won’t win any plaudits for marking the work, but you can be certain that it will be noticed and mentioned if you don’t and in some schools detailed marking will be a factor in determining whether they ask your agency for you again.

Be sociable

Smile and say ‘hello’ to the school’s staff when you’re walking around the school or when you pop into the staff room. Everyone remembers a friendly face and appreciates manners and consideration for others. Avoid not saying anything to anyone and make an effort to get to know people on a first name basis.

Stick it to ’em

When it comes to primary school children, never underestimate the power of a sticker especially if those stickers are scented. Such rewards are a very powerful behaviour management tool for supply teachers.

N.B. I currently do not receive any commission from the sale of smelly stickers!

So that’s my list of tips to help supply teachers to survive and thrive in their challenging yet fun roles. I would love to hear from readers about their experiences as supply teachers and would welcome any additions to this list now that I have also left a permanent post for the world of supply teaching. Finally, make sure to check out ‘The Supply Teacher Poem’ by Allan Ahlberg.

Until next time…

Paul Modaley


By | 21 January, 2016 | Blog

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