10 essential tips for primary supply teachers

Becoming a supply teacher in a primary school can be a great way to enjoy flexible working and avoid staffroom politics. Our experts have 10 tips for how to make sure your time in the primary classroom goes as smoothly as possible

Tes Editorial

A Supply Teacher & Child

Life as a supply teacher can look pretty good from the outside. You work when you want, you avoid additional aspects, such as parents evenings, and when the bell rings at 3.30pm you’re pretty much done. That said, you can end up in the firing line if you’re not properly prepared. With that in mind, we asked some experts for their essential supply teacher advice to help make the school day a little easier.


1. Get there early

There are a few key things that you will need to be familiar with, such as the school’s behaviour policy, the teachers’ written plans, staff loos, tea- and coffee-making facilities, and where you can prepare resources, so it makes sense to get to the school in good time.

2. Find out if the work is pre-set

Will you need to bring your own ideas or has the teacher left lesson plans to follow? Also, check to see if you will have use of an interactive whiteboard and, if so, that it will be set up for you.

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3. Bring your own resources

It’s a good idea to have suitable teaching ideas up your sleeve so that you have something to fall back on if you need it. “A parent had mistakenly picked up the teaching plans as she dropped off her child,” says Tony Adams, supply teacher. “I had nothing at all to fall back on as I hadn’t brought any back-up plans with me. That was in my early days as a supply teacher, though. I bring back-up plans all the time now.”

4. Introduce yourself to everyone

The school caretaker is often a font of practical knowledge and office staff can be helpful, too. Smile and say “hello” to other teachers and staff within the school – not only is it good to see a happy face but it leaves a great impression.

5. Ask about the children

Someone in the school who is familiar with the class should make you aware of any children with particular needs. You may need to organise the use of teaching assistants or adjust your plans. Be sure to take into account any pupils who might find change difficult.

6. Make yourself familiar

Get to know the timetable for the day, the school’s writing style, class rules for behaviour, how children are expected to move around the school, and whether there are any children who need medication.

7. Find out about routines

The start of the day is crucial to how well the rest of the day will go, so make sure that you are aware of the daily routine. Children will be reassured that those routines haven’t changed and that you are in command.

“Children need an immediate challenge and something to get them focused at the start of the day,” says Lisa Berry, primary school teacher. “So, I write the name of a favourite story character on the whiteboard and ask them to make as any words as they can from it. The child who has thought of the most gets a ‘praise hand stamp’.”

8. Know your groups

Not off by heart, of course. But have names of children and relevant groups to hand so that the class can be easily organised. The children will usually know which groups they are in, but you may get a few who will mess around, so stick the list on the wall.

9. Have fun ideas for time fillers

There are always times of the day when you will need to fill short gaps, such as when a session finishes early or assembly is running late. It’s always worth having a few entertaining ideas, and a cupboard puppet seems to do the trick for some. “Egor lives in the cupboard and whenever we have five minutes to spare, he pops out to tell the children about his latest amusing adventure,” says Shona Barker, primary school teacher.

10. Know your bathroom limits

Check the school rules for children using the toilet, and make sure you follow them. If there is no specific rule, then you can manage toilet needs by having a maximum of two children in the bathroom at any one time. You want to avoid half the class visiting the toilet simultaneously.

With thanks to supply teachers Shona Barker, Lisa Berry and Tony Adams.

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