Top Supply Teaching Tips:  Surviving The Day

Many supply teachers are perfectly comfortable with an early morning call and the chaos of ‘winging it’ when they get to school. Others (including experienced teachers) prefer to be pre-booked which can limit the amount you can earn when work is slow.  Here are some top tips for making the most of your day and ensuring it goes as smoothly as possible.

  1. Starter activities. Have a range of starter/holding activities ready to go. This will give you time to deal with any issues as the children come in, discuss the day with any TA or familiarise yourself with the classroom layout. A few favourites are:

    • Write the name of the school on the whiteboard and challenge the class to make as many words as possible using each letter once.

    • Countdown words – write random letters on the board and children make as many words as possible.

    • Countdown numbers – write a selection of numbers on the board and a target number. Children use each number once to try and make the target number.

    • Write a number on the board and ask what is the question (e.g. 27 9*3=27 or 26+1 etc) 


  1. Have work ready. Even when the school have left plans it’s always worth having a selection of lessons ready to use should work not be set or the class complete the work quicker than anticipated. Schools also appreciate the supply teacher who is prepared to deliver their own material rather than ask for work to be given to them.


  1. Literacy. Use a selection of pictures as inspiration for writing. This can be as simple as writing sentences using adjectives or using the images as part of a scene for story writing.


  1. Maths. Use playing cards as number cards (four or five packs in your aupply bag would be great). One pack can provide four sets of cards with a picture card representing zero or 10. Working in pairs the children can use these to generate their own calculations.  This can easily be differentiated for different abilities or age groups by using 1, 2 or 3 digit numbers.


  1. Art.  Produce portraits using an outline of a head (there is a printable one on TES). Start by showing the children portraits of pictures of famous people in different art styles. For older children you could have a discussion on why the artist has used that particular style etc. Using an enlarged outline of a head model how to draw the eyes, nose and mouth in proportion and the right place before children produce their own portraits.Top tips for supply teaching


  1. Have an argument. This only really works well in upper KS2 but helps develop a number of skills including communication and teamwork.  Have a selection of topics ready for discussion and put the class into mixed ability groups (based on observations from the morning of who works well with others etc). Give each group a topic that they then discuss and prepare a small presentation on to ‘argue’ their point. Class then votes on whether they agree or disagree with the group. If the school have Ipads or similar available you could ask to video the presentations for the class teacher.  As an added bonus there is no marking!


  1. Marking.  Where possible mark as you go to save time. For some subjects such as maths or spellings, you could get the children to mark their own work or each others. For literacy you could use peer assessment. For other literacy work etc print off a selection of ‘what went well’ and ‘what could be better’ slips for the class to fill in when assessing each other’s work. When the children have finished their work get them to leave their books open at the right page to save time.


  1. Stories. Have a selection of age appropriate story books for the end of the day (or an anthology of short stories for ks2). It’s also worth having a record of which school you’ve read which book to.


  1. Talk to other staff. It is always worth spending a few minutes in the staff room even if it is just to make a hot drink or get a glass of water. This helps the school get to know you as a person rather than just a name sent by an agency.  When they know you they are more likely to ask for you by name rather than just asking the agency to send a supply teacher.


  1. Be kind to yourself. Most days on supply will be fine. However, every once in a while you’ll have a nightmare day. The children will not listen, the TA won’t help, the photocopier is broken… the list goes on. The important thing to remember though that this happens to most people at some point. Everyone has those days! Be kind to yourself and ensure you do something you enjoy to take your mind off of it. It’s also worth remembering that if the school is a complete nightmare then, as a supply teacher, you don’t have to go back unless you want to!

Where next? There's a great quick read here on Early Morning Calls.
Check out our resources area here too.