Supply teachers are known to have it very difficult. I have witnessed students take advantage when there is a supply teacher or cover supervisor in place of their normal class teacher. And so, I knew what I would face in this role. However, I can say that within the short time that I have been a supply teacher, I have been able to see things from the students’ perspective, a teacher’s perspective and non teaching staff’s perspective. Ultimately, becoming a supply teacher helped me to see clearly; it is like looking in from the outside. In my role as a supply teacher I have learnt 5 crucial lessons that I want to share with you so let’s get started.
Lesson 1 – Praise
All students thrive on praise. The students I would have usually just ignored because I felt their behaviour was for attention-seeking purposes i now realise that consistent specific praise does wonders for improving their behaviour.
Lesson 2 – Teacher absences
Students want to learn but they are frustrated by prolonged staff absences because they feel supply or cover work is meaningless. As a result this negatively impacts their attitude towards the supply/ cover work. Explaining the relevance of the cover work and how this relates to the bigger picture helps to improve the standard of the work produced in the cover lesson.
Lesson 3 – Subject knowledge
The importance of having subject specialists teach in schools is underestimated. Secondary schools in general have specific teachers for different subjects. Although there is sometimes the problem of teachers having to teach subjects that they have not studied at University. For example, a Religious studies teacher teaching citizenship. In most primary schools, it is standard practice for the class teacher to teach all the subjects.
It would be good to have some subject specialists employed for the long-term or short-term to teach topics or subjects which teachers feel would be best taught by a specialist teacher. Students have so many questions and poor knowledge could result in students misunderstanding content. Plus, investing in hiring specialist teachers means students are more likely to enjoy the subject.
Lesson 4 – Workload
Teachers have a huge workload which can negatively impact their mood and stress levels. I have noticed that when some teachers are feeling exhausted due to the workload, they are grumpier. To be honest, this is to be expected as we all have our limits. However, this then increases the likelihood of being less patient with students or not addressing behaviour correctly.
Primary schools are especially good with providing extra preparation time for lessons ( this really helps to manage the workload). However this extra preparation time I have found to be less common in secondary schools. I suppose secondary teachers have free periods and the expectation is to use it for planning and marking. However, in some schools teachers will have no free periods for 2 or 3 days.
Lesson 5 – Effective behaviour management
As a supply teacher, I have been into many schools where behaviour policies were not very clear/ the policy was followed inconsistently. This meant students did not take notice of my warnings and managing behaviour in the classroom became very difficult. This experience taught me a very valuable lesson. Children will test boundaries so consistent and fair discipline is necessary for good behaviour.