Just started out as a supply teacher? It can be very challenging and quite a lot different from being a permanent teacher. Its worth considering if you can handle being thrown into a classroom of students who you know nothing about with only a piece of paper containing brief instructions to guide you. Katrina Quick recounts some of her experiences and imparts advice that you might not hear in your average CPD sessions…

 

Introduce yourself to the Heads of Year and the Heads of Department

This will help you with lesson planning and behaviour, as you can always take down names of students to pass on to their Head of Year. I used to write names down as a warning and then if the behaviour hadnt improved by the end of the lesson I would either go and visit the Head Of Year in person or write an email. This also works for the host teachers, as they will be furious to hear about their students playing up and will deal with it on their return. The Head of Department can keep you in the loop about where the students are on the curriculum and can be on hand to support with behaviour if necessary.

Make friends with your neighbours

If you find yourself in a situation that is getting out of hand (e.g. youve lost control of the classroom) its helpful to be friendly with neighbouring classrooms so that you can get support, either by on call or by simply putting their head round the door. Losing control of the class shouldnt be happening very often, however sometimes there are factors outside of your control, and knowing how to handle the worst case scenario will ease your anxiety. Its also just reassuring to have a friendly fellow teacher nearby, as this will help you feel more confident. Chat to people in the staffroom too – you never know when you will need support and people are more likely to want to help you if youre friendly.

Memorise the behaviour policy

This is extremely important. The more you utilise the school behaviour policy and echo teaching practices in the school, the more students will respect you as part of the teaching team. The students know the drill already, and they are more likely to respond. I would follow the behaviour policy firmly and consistently, and that way if a student reports you or complains about you to staff you can show them the behaviour policy you followed and the reasons for doing so. Remember, you are new to the school and students will push boundaries with you far more than long term teaching staff.

Have a few tricks up your sleeve

You wont always have the background information as to why youre covering the lesson (understandably) and it may be that teachers simply havent had time to put together a coherent lesson plan or resources for you. I would therefore recommend becoming familiar with a few games such as hands down thumbs up and guess the murderer. I actually bought a few card games from a charity shop in preparation, and they definitely helped me out when I was filling time. I would also recommend having a solid lesson plan prepared and ready to go that can be adapted for any subject, which plays to your strengths. I write creatively in my spare time, for example, so this was my go to any time there was no lesson plan as this can be adapted for most humanities subjects.

Read the room

Teaching supply is about reading the room. If youre covering Friday last lesson, I would go into the class not expecting much in the way of work. You will be tired from the week and so will the students, so it might be best to adapt the lesson to suit the mood. For example, tell the students they can work for half an hour in pairs and then you can find a video linked to the lesson for the last half an hour. Similarly, if the students come in hyper because of something that has happened in a previous lesson then prioritise calming them down with a simple starter or game, making sure its linked to the main lesson theme. A confusing or bitty lesson plan may also spark behaviour problems, so try to keep instructions and tasks simple and easy to understand.

Appreciate your Teaching Assistant

A solid and experienced teaching assistant can change your lesson completely. The students know them and they know which of the students need support. The TA will zero in on these students and follow your lesson plan as closely as possible, meaning that you have more time to focus on the class as a whole. This is especially helpful when one or two students in the class display severe behavioural difficulties. If you are covering a class as supply regularly and you have some challenging students in you class, ask if there is a TA available and make sure you explain why they are needed.

Dont sweat the small stuff

One day, I was covering a class of year eleven students, and one of the girls began handing out sweets. I asked her to put them away, and then walked over to her to ask her to put them away again. She began arguing, and then, very suddenly, one of the boys near her stood up and started threatening me. This triggered one of the students to become extremely hostile and attempt to physically intimidate me. I later found out that this student had a few issues and had previously been home schooled, which I wasnt aware of because supply teachers dont have access to student information. In hindsight, maybe I should have let the sweet eating go. The lesson learnt from this is predominantly, dont sweat the small stuff. Schools mainly need you to crowd control and keep the classroom calm and cool, this should be your priority. If a few sweets are eaten in the process, so be it.

Hold onto the good times

Although I have listed some horrifying tales above, I did also have some very meaningful moments with students. Once I was teaching a cooking class (thankfully, it was a theory lesson) and the lesson plan was a creative task to design a celebrative cake. One of the boys in the class spent a lot of time on his cake design, and I gave him a positive (a gold star equivalent) and praised him. He was absolutely beaming. I was also better able to support students that I taught regularly, build positive relationships, and plan lessons ahead of covering them, all of which relieved the pressure. Stick it out, because once youve experienced a situation, you will know how to handle it better next time. If thats not enough motivation, think of it as character building!

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