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Mastering Supply Teaching: Tips to Thrive as a Supply Teacher

About about 1 month ago By Michelle Tilley

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​​Supply teachers are the backbone of schools up and down the country. Entering classrooms with enthusiasm and experience. From Dead Poet’s Society and Dangerous Minds to Mr Burton from Educating Yorkshire, we all want to be that perfect teacher. A teacher who can take a disengaged class to a high-performing one.

Stepping into the shoes of a supply teacher can be a challenge. Pupils may want to test you and staff may need more time to show you the ropes. However, there are lots of guidance and tips to ensure that you master the art of supply teaching and thrive as a supply teacher. Ensure that your supply booking runs smoothly and you get requested back again with these tips and advice.

Supply Teaching: Getting Started

Whether you’ve left a permanent teaching position, are a seasoned supply teacher, or are an NQT, you may have ‘first day at school’ nerves. After you accept your supply job, research the school by looking at its website and the latest Ofsted report. If you’ve secured your supply position with Protocol Education, your recruitment consultant will give you relevant background about the school.

In supply teaching, preparation is key. First impressions are vital when you are a supply teacher, so you want your new pupils and fellow teachers to see you as professional, organised, and in control.

The school may have a lesson plan for you, but as an educator, preparing for all eventualities is always good. Simple things like taking spare pens and pencils will make your life as a supply teacher much easier. Ahead of your first assignment, prepare some lesson plans for all academic levels that you might be working with. Ensure they’re portable, easily resourced, and not time-consuming to prepare.

Day one at your school

On your first day, see what work has been left by the class teacher and check that you have all the books, paper, and equipment you need before the lesson starts. If you can visit the staffroom, introduce yourself, and speak to your teaching assistant (if you have one), If things aren’t quite going to plan, having a friendly colleague to speak to is useful.

Ask questions

Be prepared for the classes and pupils. You will likely walk into a classroom of learners that you have never met before with different abilities and backgrounds. It’s always useful to find out as much as possible about them. Ask questions, including:

  • Is there a seating plan?

  • Will there be any teaching assistants in my classes?

  • Are there learners with special educational needs (SEN)?

  • Are there any class routines that I need to know about?

  • Who do I call on for support if there is an issue?

Ensure you know who the ‘go-to’ teacher is to help you out should any challenges arrive. It is useful to have a copy of the school’s behaviour policy to refer to.

Arrive early

Locate the staffroom, toilets, break areas, and any other locations that may help your teaching day to run smoothly. If you can allow yourself some quiet time before the pupils arrive to set up and familiarise yourself with the classroom facilities and layout.

The lesson

If you have a lesson plan, it is likely the teacher designed a task to last the entire lesson. Avoid reading the instructions and letting the pupils get on with the task for the lesson. You will ensure the learning objective is achieved by breaking a lesson into bite-sized chunks. You could break down the hour into fifteen-minute intervals to see how pupils are getting along and use the breaks to clarify what has been covered.

Managing pupil behaviour

Some of the pupils you will be teaching will try their luck with a substitute teacher. If behaviour is an issue, trust your instincts and be firm but fair. The resource site Twinkl has a behaviour management resource for supply teachers. Remember, although the lesson is a temporary class, don’t miss the chance to give feedback and praise to learners.

At the end of the day

Once the day is over, leave a follow-up note or email for the class teacher. Outline the day's events, report on behaviour, and outline any steps that need to be taken with the class work or homework if set. Remember, schools do speak to each other. If you leave a good impression, you may find more supply work teaching going forward.

Second nature

If you are new to supply teaching, you’ll soon get used to thinking on your feet like a seasoned supply teacher. While daunting in the beginning, it will become second nature. Subscribing to teaching resource sites for ideas and having some activities and go-to ‘time fillers’ on standby can make life easier.

If you’re in supply teaching for the long term, spending time and effort preparing for most eventualities will pay dividends. Organise folders of Key-Stage resources and some ready-made lessons for abilities. This way, when you receive a last-minute booking or arrive to find the class teacher has not left a lesson plan, you can remain calm and professional.

Working as a supply teacher requires you to be flexible and adaptable and you’ll receive more work if you are prepared to be approached at the last minute.

No supply teaching day is the same

Supply teaching means that teachers must often step away from their usual styles and techniques. This enables you to try new teaching methods, upskill, and gain a wider experience in teaching.

Supply teaching enables you to experience other schools, and the flexibility means you can choose when you work. Although not without its challenges, supply teaching can be an enjoyable and fulfilling career choice. One where you constantly learn and meet a variety of pupils and fellow educators.

Walking into an unfamiliar school with unfamiliar educators, pupils, and systems is not easy. However, if you seek out advice, ask questions, and prepare, you’ll find supply teaching easier and more enjoyable.

Click here to find out more about working as a supply teacher with Protocol Education.