13 Feb 2021
By Mark Richards
The choice of the verb in the title - ‘surviving’- is a deliberate one. And anyone who has been a supply teacher will no doubt relate to it and agree that the notion of survival is an apt one too.
Make no mistake, supply teaching can seem like a thankless task. It can be hard work. Supply teachers don’t tend to get an easy ride. From being seen as ‘fair game’ to students and under-valued and under-appreciated by staff, the school day can be a hard slog for a supply teacher.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. Some schools look after their supply contingent really well and fully recognise how challenging the role can be. What’s more, supply teaching can be very rewarding and a great career option for a variety of reasons.
But knowing a few hacks to make things a little bit easier can never be a bad thing. Here are some top tips for surviving as a supply teacher.
Know the names of key staff
A little bit of prior research (even if it’s just a scan of the school website beforehand) can really pay dividends. If you can casually mention the names of SLT or the Head of Department, it will kid the pupils into believing you are a part of the school. Unless the students know otherwise, claiming that the class’ normal teacher is on their way or could be back at any minute can be a useful tactic. Okay, it’s a white lie – but it might just be enough to get the students settled. Before they know it, they’ll be on task and will have forgotten all about giving the supply teacher hell!
Set up lessons as soon as you can
Every teacher knows the importance of having an orderly start to a lesson. If the beginning of the lesson isn’t well-managed and purposeful, it can be difficult to get things back on track. This is especially true for a supply teacher in front of a class that they don’t know. For this reason alone, it makes sense to know where the rooms you are teaching in are. Skip the coffee in the staffroom at break and set up your next lesson during the break or end of lunchtime, if you need to.
Of course, everybody is entitled to a break but the advantages for your mental well-being of having a crisp start to a lesson will more than compensate for going out without a break.
Arriving in good time for your next lesson also makes it easier to deal with any issues that may be awaiting you: missing work or computer access problems, etcetera.
Use pupil names
Admittedly, as a supply teacher you are wide open to age-old pupil trick of ‘giving false names to the teacher that doesn’t know them’. Fortunately, many schools now provide photos with class lists and registers. It’s always a good idea to get to know a few names and to use these rather than the generic ‘young man’ or ‘young lady’ impersonal greetings. Using such terms only serve to highlight your supply status. Of course, pupils tend to respond better to their actual names.
Praising pupils for doing the right thing is an old and tried and trusted technique. This is for good reason. It sets the tone and shows the students that you are on their side. Not only that, it gets the pupils on your side too.
All in all, positivity always trumps negativity. Never forget that.
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