Being a Successful Supply Teacher

By Bruce, our supply teacher from Norwich

Editor’s Note.

Bruce has been working as a supply teacher in the Norwich area for many years and he has fantastic experience of what makes a successful supply teacher. He has compiled this experience into a list of strategies that any supply teacher or support worker can use to their advantage. The one addition to this list that Step Teachers would make is to always ask the person managing the supply cover if they need you back the next day (on short-term cover).

Success Strategies for Supply Teaching

For those who have never tried supply teaching, it might be difficult to balance the positives against any perceived negative aspects of the work. The general positives are those of being able to make some choices about your work patterns and your life-work balance whilst the negative can be a somewhat unpredictable income.

Most teachers in full-time work tell me that they would find supply teaching next to impossible. They state that they would find it very difficult to teach any subject other than their own specialism and difficult to not know what or whom one was teaching until you arrived at the school. There are answers to all those concerns and after several years of supply teaching, it is possible to work out some helpful strategies.

  1. Always be certain where you are going. Double check and, if necessary, use a sat-nav and/or Google Maps. There’s enough stress first thing in the morning without adding getting lost into the mix.
  2. Dress the part. Just because you’re a part-timer and may have spent yesterday gardening, don’t look as if you’ve just come off the allotment. Dress properly and it’s short hand for looking professional and organised. Pupils and other teachers will respond appropriately and you’ll feel like a ‘real teacher’.
  3. If in doubt, arrive early. There are lots you can pick up about a school whilst you’re waiting. Use that time to check on the school map where you need to go, read that text-book so you are at least two pages ahead of the pupils.
  4. Discover what the school discipline policy and who to turn to if things go awry. Learn some of the keywords and pupils will think you know the details of the policy and their behaviour will be modified.
  5. Be active in the classroom. If pupils are working well, go around and politely ask them to show you their work. You can look at their previous work and see if it is of a similar standard to what they are doing in your lesson. Make positive comments to individuals. We all love a bit of praise.
  6. Follow the usual procedures for the start and end of lessons.
  7. Leave notes for the normal teacher regarding how well the class worked and how much they achieved. Name pupils for positive and negative work and behaviour.
  8. Although it’s nice to go to the staffroom for that cup of tea or coffee and chat to other teachers, there are some days when you just have to accept that it is more useful to stay in a classroom and prepare the work for the next lesson. Clean that whiteboard with one hand whilst eating a cheese roll with the other – but don’t mistake the one for the other. After all, you can leave the school a few minutes after the last bell; the other teachers are often there for hours more.
  9. With regard to not teaching your specialist subject, we all have a bundle of ‘O’ levels, even if passed decades ago. It’s amazing how much comes back when faced with a physics textbook (I’m an art teacher). Gauge the group you are teaching, but sometimes it’s possible to say that you need to discover the answers just like they do. Treat it as a competition; who will get the answer first? You or them?

Treat the not knowing bit as like not knowing what the weather will be like – we respond to the circumstances and conditions as we find them, and occasionally we can say no and spend a day at the allotment

We hope you find these useful and would like to read your tips.

What do you do in the classroom to ensure that the students are achieving their learning objectives? How do you ensure that you are invited back the next day and become a regular supply teacher?