Supply teachers have become an essential but under-represented part of the education system. With the demands on schools during funding cuts and difficulties with recruitment and retention of teachers, many schools have come to rely on supply staff to fill empty roles. There has also been an increase in supply roles with high numbers of teachers going off sick with stress-related illness. Unfortunately, despite being so important to school life, supply teachers often feel undervalued, unappreciated and unsupported.
Supply teachers are not unaccustomed to troublesome behaviour from students, but what they are often surprised to face is the lack of support from the schools that hire them. It is not always the fault of the schools whose staff are so often rushed off their feet with the pressures of school life and there are a number of things supply teachers can do to get prepared. Supply staff may be a low priority for schools that are already struggling but there are a few things schools can do to foster a better relationship between permanent and supply staff and make everyday school life a little easier.
1. Treat supply staff with the respect you would give a permanent teacher
This may come across as common sense to a lot of school staff and many schools will already do this. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Supply and support staff alike can sometimes feel that they are treated differently as lower in the ‘pecking order’ of school staff. A smile and a warm welcome can go a long way. Think of it this way, if a supply teacher doesn’t like your school, then they may not come back. However, if a supply teacher feels welcomed and supported then they will be more likely to perform better and become regular supply for you, which makes your job of finding effective, last minute supply a lot easier.
2. Create a formal method of introduction
This could be in the form of a small welcome booklet you give to all new supply staff. Many supply teachers are surprised at the lack of information they receive on entering a school. Simple things like not being given access to the classroom they are supposed to be teaching in and then being left in the corridor with thirty noisy children makes the job very hard and that’s before following the lesson plan is even considered. The kind of general info that schools should provide include a map, health and safety/ fire procedures, the behaviour policy, computer system sign-in details and register. This will save you and the supply teacher a lot of time and stress. It is so often the case that the despairing supply teacher, left with no support, will be forced to pick the most trustworthy child to send for help. The supply teacher has already got off to a bad start through no fault of their own.
3. A scribbled post-it note is not a lesson plan!
This is if the supply teacher has been given a lesson plan at all, which is sadly not the case for so many supply lessons. Keeping thirty teenagers under control is hard enough without having no idea what you are supposed to be doing with them for the next hour. Have some sympathy for the supply teacher and be strict on providing resources.
4. Change your Mindset
Support your supply teachers around school and don’t view them as a ‘necessary evil’. Especially those on more long-term places who would benefit from being included in the staff room community. Don’t allow them to be segregated to the corner of the staffroom, and that goes for all support staff. Permanent staff forget that they can equally learn from supply staff. Many supply teachers have been teaching for a long time, with a number of supply teachers having worked as full-time teachers in the past. Supply teachers can have a wealth of experience from working in different schools (the best and the worst), and your school could benefit from that knowledge.
Positive feedback can mean a lot. After working in so many schools week after week, having one that notices you and appreciates your hard work is important. On the other hand, constructive feedback can be helpful too, for example, in the case of younger supply teachers who may be gathering experience through working on supply.
Supply teachers are an important but under-valued part of education so let’s make them feel a welcome part of the system they help to support.
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