This time last year I found myself in between jobs for a term. This was an unexpected and new experience for me, as I had been in continuous teaching contracts for nearly 20 years. I had never dipped my toe in to supply teaching at all (and actually until this time avoided it like the plague). To be honest I was scared of not knowing what to expect and the unpredictability of it all. But not having a job meant I just had to get on with it. Here’s what I’ve learnt from my experience being a supply teacher and my tips to anyone considering being a supply teacher.

Be clear of what you want with agencies

I signed up with two agencies – my advice is to sign up with more than one, as you never know which one will produce the most work. I explained at the beginning that I just wanted pre-booked work (having two children meant a phone call at 7.30am would create panic in the morning in terms of arranging childcare and that was a stress I did not need). Both supply agencies were happy with that arrangement.

Be prepared

September was pretty quiet, which is expected after teachers have had the summer to rest and re-energise. However, from October onwards I had as much work as I wanted. I was armed with a memory stick with resources such as a morning task- to put in the board to settle children as soon as they arrived in the classroom, plus one off lesson ideas for most subjects. Most schools left planning so I made sure I arrived early to take time to digest all the information. Also it was important to remember my DBS check and photo ID, as most schools asked for this on arrival. Some schools were very good at leaving helpful information about certain children, especially children on the SEN register, with others it was a guessing game. If unsure the best advice is to ask. I also tried to be friendly to all staff I encountered (to create that important first impression and hopefully be asked back again the future- which did work in several schools).

Be open to new techniques

Regarding the actual teaching, after you have overcome the first stage of logging onto the class computer, the rest for me was easy. Yes I could fall back on my previous teaching experiences but sometimes it was good to try new things. One lesson left for a particular class was the task of comparing the book Wonder with the song Space Odyssey by David Bowie- when I first looked at this planning I thought it was too challenging and this would never have been something I would attempted; however I was proved wrong as the children rose to the occasion and the discussion that followed was eye-opening. Being a supply teacher improved my skills as a teacher.

Have some tricks up your sleeve

Other practical ideas I used were sticky labels to help learn children’s names, as personally I hate not knowing what children are called. I feel that calling children by their real names also helps with behaviour rather than the generic ‘Yes you’. Obviously as a supply teacher I tried to keep the same standards in behaviour and learning as my own classroom; I feel this approach was ideal in creating a positive ethos for the day. I always tried to ask about both the behaviour and marking policy at the start of the day, so I was working within the school guidelines. I also added my own extra initiatives, for example stickers or even at Christmas a stocking filled with cheap prizes.  Finally I had a couple of books containing short stories to read in any spare 5 minutes- this always went down a treat.

Never stop learning

My brief spell being a supply teacher was a real learning experience. Yes there were tough moments, but on the whole it was positive. I felt it a privilege visiting so many classrooms and taking a peek what goes on, as well as collecting a few ideas along the way. Who would have known that some classrooms had artificial turf instead of carpets? Seriously, it did boost my confidence and I returned to a permanent job with more experience behind me. I do think it has made me a better teacher and is definitely something I won’t be afraid to do again in the future.

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