It's the curse of the supply teacher that no sooner have you got the code for the photocopier and found the quickest route to the toilets, you're out the door and you're onto the next school.
The process of establishing yourself will start all over again in a new environment where you've no reputation to draw upon, all the while you're expected to manage behaviour and deliver lessons in an engaging manner.
Cracking the new school is certainly not an easy prospect, but there are steps you can take that will help to smooth the transition between schools, so you can get on with the business of teaching.
1. Do your research
It is well worth spending 10 minutes researching the school before you start. Take a look at their website, as well as the latest inspection reports from Ofsted, to get a more detailed picture of the school’s situation and intake.
If you work for an agency, ask if they hold any information about the school that they can pass onto you ahead of time.
2. Ask questions
Remember that what you read on paper may not reflect reality and the best way to really understand a new school is to ask lots of questions when you get there. Your new colleagues will be able to share the kind of details that will make your life easier in a practical sense.
Here is a list of questions you should ask:
- Has work been set? If so, where can I find it?
- Is there a class list and seating plan for each lesson?
- Is there any specific information I need to know about students, such as whether they have SEND?
- Who can I call on for support with behaviour?
- How do I access ICT and who do I contact if I have problems with this?
- Are there any TAs attached to my lessons? If so, what are their names?
- What is the school’s timetable?
- Can I have a map of the school?
3. Establish relationships
You should have a named person within the school who you'll be reporting to or liaising with. However, don’t limit yourself to just one contact. The more people you can get to know, the better your chances of cracking the school.
When you first arrive, make sure you introduce yourself to reception staff. They are a goldmine of information and will have an overview of the entire school.
It’s also worth introducing yourself to any teachers working in the classrooms surrounding yours, as you may need to call on them for assistance in the middle of a lesson.
Perhaps most importantly, if you're working with a teaching assistant, take some time during break or lunchtime to get to know them. A good working relationship with your TA is just as essential for a supply teacher as it is for a regular class teacher.
4. Identify student helpers
At the start of a lesson, or at the start of the day in primary school, it can be really useful to identify three or four students to help you during the time you are teaching them.
Most students will respond well to being given this responsibility. They will be happy to help you hand out books, find resources or to answer your questions about the school.
If possible, ask a colleague for advice on who would make a good student helper in the classes you are covering. Otherwise, you will have to select based on first impressions, or by inviting willing pupils to volunteer for the role.
5. Come equipped
Try to get to school early enough to do a quick recce of your classroom before the students arrive. If no lesson materials have been left, get on top of this immediately by speaking to the person who is responsible for ensuring cover work is in place.
If you know that you're teaching your own lesson plan, now is the time to check that you have all the resources and materials you need. To make sure that you're not caught out, it can be helpful to bring some of the essentials with you. Things like board pens and scrap paper are easy to carry at all times.
It’s also advisable to have at least one or two generic lesson plans to fall back on in the event that there is no cover work.
6. Learn the policies
One of the most difficult things about adjusting to a new school can be wrapping your head around the systems and policies that are already second nature to the native teachers and students.
Make it a priority to learn the essentials when you first get to the school, or even sooner if you have time for them to be sent to you before you start.
If nothing else, make sure that you get to know the following:
- The behaviour policy, including any systems of rewards and sanctions, as well as the steps you need to take to escalate behaviour management to a more senior member of staff.
- Any lesson routines, such as lining up outside the classroom before a lesson, or standing silently behind chairs at the end.
- The fire procedure and where the fire exits are.
- Who the named person is within the school for reporting any child protection concerns.