As a teacher you can’t predict when you’ll get sick and need supply – being prepared ahead of time pays off. Here are some tips on how to prepare for a supply teacher as someone who has been a classroom teacher and a supply teacher and experienced the frustrations of both.
Prepare your Class
Early on in the year outline how you expect your students to behave for a supply teacher. Emphasise that you will check up on how they behaved. Tell them you will check a random sample of student books and ask for feedback from the supply teachers and then make a point of doing it. Supply teachers can use the school’s systems for behaviour and reward sometimes but they cannot follow up. If your students know you’ll check up on them they’ll work better when you’re away.
Don’t rely on specialist knowledge
Your cover teacher is probably not a specialist in your subject. Plan accordingly – early on in the year create a bank of suitable supply work (you can share this workload across your department). This should be work your students can do with minimal help (structured worksheets and consolidation work are good for this). If you want your students to write a longer response, supply clear success criteria, that the students can easily use to check their own work. Minimise the need for teacher talk – tasks should be clear and easy to complete without much teacher explanation. A non-specialist supply teacher may not be able to explain overly complicated tasks effectively. Individual, independent work tends to work best when you are away.
Give them plenty to do
You know behaviour management is easier when the students are engaged, or at least occupied. If there is not enough work for the class behaviour becomes difficult to manage. Always have an emergency task for students to do if they finish early. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy but always plan extra. If there’s too much that’s fine you can just bank the work and use it next time.
Give insights into your class
Email in some key information about your class – it doesn’t have to be detailed - supply teachers rarely have long to read over cover sheets. If you do one thing name a couple of responsible students per class who can help out. It’s up to you if you want to warn supply teachers of students who may try to undermine them – you may not want to bias them against students but if there are students you know have typical bad habits when they have a supply teacher feel free to let them know. It can also be helpful to clarify some basic rules – Are students allowed to leave their seats? Are they allowed to leave the room for glue sticks from next door? Do you expect silent work? Every school is different.
Ask for feedback
This does not have to be an onerous task but perhaps ask supply teachers to name any students who worked particularly well and ask for feedback on anyone who caused a problem. You may not receive feedback on all the classes as some classes are very calm and steady but it signals to the supply teacher that their feedback will be read if they leave it and usually they will. That way you can follow up and ensure students know your expectations still apply when you’re not in the room.