Steps to success when thinking about supply teaching

Once upon a time, I was very sceptical about the idea of supply teaching. You see supply teachers and you wonder what they do in class all day with their ‘temporary class’ who they may never see again. In the staff room, you sometimes see them eating their lunch alone; not always engaging. I used to ask myself why do they do it? What do they get out of it?

Well, for the last 3 months, supply teaching is exactly what I’ve being doing. I’m now that supply teacher taking on a temporary class, eating lunch alone (although I’d note most of the schools I go into are very friendly and in fact most of the time I eat alone only if marking  in class which I used to do as a full-time teacher a lot anyway). I decided to do it because there were some other avenues which I wanted to pursue career wise, and supply teaching seemed the obvious remedy to still fulfilling my teaching bug, whilst giving me the freedom and time to do the other things I wanted to do. Well, I can confirm, I’m loving it.

It is different, I will say that straight away. You do go in, then finish and realise you may never see these children again. You do feel a bit like an outsider going in, perhaps without anyone really taking any notice. Fortunately, I’ve been asked to go back into some lovely schools multiple times now, and I would really argue the benefits of having a go at supplying, even if just for short while.

Long-term the weekly pay, and degree of uncertainty about work (not to mention the holidays without pay – oh the anguish!) is something to take into account. Find the right agency (or agencies as you can join more than one) though as I have and those doubts will be put well and truly to the side. For me right now, it works perfectly; I can promise it will open your eyes, and help you to experience the joyous side of teaching in totality (aka just teaching). My attitude as a supply has been to go in and make sure I can make an impact to the children I have for that day, or those days. I want them to learn from me, and don’t see that being a supply teacher should impact on that. Because planning is 9/10 times provided for you, and you find yourself out of school by a very reasonable hour (before 5 mostly, if not earlier), you can really focus on your teaching and making that really excellent because you don’t have the other million and one things weighing on your mind.

I do think though some tips for the new (or even existing) supply teacher would not go a miss. Therefore here I will offer some tips for making sure you’re truly effective as you can be as a supply teacher, and to make sure that you can get as much enjoyment out of it as I do at the moment:

Expectation is everything

You have to start the day outlining your own expectations otherwise you are setting yourself up for potential difficulty from the off. I have a four line routine that I have done at the beginning of everyday of supplying (and if going back with the same class I repeat it to remind them).


  • When I’m speaking, or your classmates are speaking, you listen and are respectful.
  • If you want to make a contribution then put your hand up, and that is enough – calling out does not need to accompany it.
  • If you want to get out of your seat (unless directed otherwise) then ask me or the teaching assistant (if there is one).
  • Outline your own way of getting the class’ attention back, for me I use a hotel bell which I ring once when I want the class to come back to me (it’s so effective) and I practise this with them, so they know exactly how it works. For you it might be something different or you might have asked the class teacher or assistant what the system is for the class.


Finally, be firm but fair. Follow through with what you say and don’t be unrealistic with any consequences you put in place, but do follow through with the appropriate ones you use. It might just be one day, but children respond so well to firm, but fair consequences which they can understand. Furthermore, you might find yourself called back to that class, so you want to make sure you have the respect there in place.

Be positive

Make sure you ask if there is a class house points, or merit system then give out lots of them – as much as you can in fact (within reason and of course when deserved), especially at the beginning of the day. This gets your class motivated, and immediately gives them the impression that they can have a positive day with you. I am yet to meet a class that does not respond well to this.

Also, be positive with your teaching assistant and other staff around the school. Having a supply teacher in can be unsettling for them (particularly teaching assistants if they are used to one way of teaching) and you being positive can help ease that feeling of being unsettled, plus this means they are more likely to be helpful and accommodating towards you and recommend you to the school for a return job (after all they’re the ones that see you in class all day).

Finally, tell your class that you are excited about working with them for whatever length of time it is. In fact, this is the first thing I always tell my classes as it immediately starts to build a positive relationship.

Follow the school systems

Particularly with marking make sure you follow what the school has outlined for you, and if it doesn’t come with your supply brief or pack (if given one by the school) then ask. There is nothing more annoying for a school then a supply that just marks in their own way. Furthermore, be ready to mark all the work unless you are directed. I normally do this during my break and lunchtimes, and will occasionally stay behind a little bit at school to finish it.

Moreover, if there is a behaviour system, follow it. If there isn’t and you feel you would like to use a simple one for yourself, I’ve always found the two faces on the board to be effective: one smiley (for praise), one sad (for those students who need to reflect on their behaviour) – you simply write names under each one (I rarely find myself having to use the sad one).

Finally, this one sounds silly, but follow it. MUGS. Ask what the procedure is for supply teachers for tea, coffee and mugs (if not told from the off to help yourself). Again, it’s all just about respecting where you are going for the day, and making sure that you make an impression for the right reasons.

Be prepared

Prior to supplying, I created a folder with all the curriculum expectations for Early Years up to year 6. Therefore I know exactly what is expected in each year group (having previously been a full-time teacher mostly in upper KS2). Also, I created a whole folder with maths and English work for each year group in case I turn up at a school and nothing has been left. I have made sure to find interesting, engaging yet easy to run activities. Ones which will hook students in, but not over complicate my own life as you often go in not knowing abilities or even really the students themselves. I also have another folder with lots of afternoon activities for KS1, lower and upper KS2 in case I need things that again are engaging for the afternoon. Word searches and crosswords (linked to curriculum spellings) are a must in your supply teacher rucksack as well as times table activities (remember they have to know up to their 12s by year 4).

I also carry a book of poems, lower KS2 and KS1 story books and have a bank of games in my head like heads down thumbs up, fish and chips and do this, do that (in case you have 10 minutes at the end of the day to fill once they’ve tidied up). I also find the daily newsround (which runs for 5 minutes and is accessible online) to be very useful again in case you have an odd 5 minutes to fill towards the end of the day.

Finally, make sure you have a pencil case full of post-its, different coloured pens (for marking) and a whistle (in case of PE). A waterproof, or umbrella is always useful in case you find yourself out on duty or something like that and of course lots of stickers is always a must (just in case there isn’t a merit system, or stickers are part of it – kids love a good sticker).

Be aware

You may only be in for one day or two, but your obligations as a teaching professional still exist. Therefore, you must still be aware of safeguarding concerns, and report them in the correct procedural form according to the school you’re in. Moreover, I always leave a short note to the teacher at the end of the day outlining how well it went, things we didn’t get to, and (in rare cases) any small concerns I may have had – say perhaps one student came in after lunch quite upset. It may be a one off, or it could be something that as been happening for a while, which the teacher didn’t mention. You have to inform them though, and help them with all these types of things. It takes 5 minutes, if that, and is our professional obligation.

I hope these tips will be of use to any of you thinking about having a go at supply teaching. It’s a great way to experience lots of different year groups, and I have also picked up so many tips, tricks and activities from all the different schools I’ve been into which I know is going to be very positive for my own professional development.

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If you have any questions, or comments please feel free to get in touch here through the contact page or @teachn4teacherson twitter.


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