Eight classroom hacks for supply teachers

Tips for supply teachers abound but very few address how to make the classroom experience run more smoothly. Paul Read offers his advice
2nd January 2021, 1:23pm
Paul Read


Eight classroom hacks for supply teachers

Supply Teaching: Why New Teachers Should Consider It

Supply teachers don't always get the easiest ride. From students who consider you fair game, to cover organisers who neglect to mention a last-minute room change, the life of a supply teacher is fraught with potential difficulties. 

Plenty of "tips for supply teachers" articles have been published over the decades (pack your lunch the night before; turn your phone off airplane mode in the morning; keep a map of the school handy - that sort of thing) but, sometimes, a few hacks are required to help the classroom experience run that bit more smoothly.

1. Learn the names of senior management

Mentioning the names of the most terrifying school leaders will give the students the impression that you're an established part of the school environment and have a support network behind you. 

Google the name of the headteacher if you're on your way to a new school. Generic threats like "I'll pass this on to the head of department" just don't carry the same clout.

2. Pretend the regular teacher will enter stage left

Something that often works is to claim that the teacher you're covering for is on their way. Unless the students know their teacher is off sick long-term, you can seed the idea that he or she might waltz through the door at any moment. That way, they are more likely to abide by the seating plan and produce better work. 

Once, the teacher in question left his jacket on his chair, and I was able to point to this and tell every class that he was just finishing off a meeting. I barely heard a word from any of them in five hours.

3. Skip the staffroom

Work out where your classrooms are and get to them in plenty of time, setting up in your breaks if you need to. 

Enjoying a coffee in the staffroom and rushing to class at the last minute might work if you know the school's layout, but you're more likely than not to arrive and find there are problems with the supply work or that the computer locked. Every room has its own technological idiosyncrasies. 

With that in mind...

4. Learn computer shortcuts

Valuable minutes can be lost from the beginning of lessons if a screen is misbehaving. Windows key + P is useful if you need to connect to, or disconnect from, a secondary display, such as the whiteboard, and regain control of your cursor. 

You didn't mean to close that tab? No problem, simply control+shift+T

Meanwhile, alt+tab will switch between tabs and F3 on its own will search for a file or folder. 

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of shortcuts, so learn the ones that might save you. 

5. Be Father Christmas

The pandemic renders this one a little moot, but it wouldn't hurt to have a few pens and pencils spare, and some lined paper. 

If you want to carry some rewards for good behaviour, who am I to suggest otherwise? Chocolate is frowned upon by the teacher following you, for good reasons, although I knew a supply teacher who used to have crowds of adoring students looking for him after school to claim such prizes.

6. Use the children's names

"Young lady" or "boy at the back" only serve to broadcast your temporary nature. Students always respond to their actual names. 

Make a note of the more disruptive children in the register (they'll have identified themselves early on). You may have photos of the children in a seating plan but not every school does this. 

Children might not give you their real names if they think they're in trouble for something, so ask for help distributing something, casually ask their name and then...

7. Discipline with praise

This is a technique as old as the hills, but it works. "You strike me as an intelligent and mature young person. I'm surprised to see you act like that," implies a tone of disappointment and gives them a chance to redeem themselves. 

Praise those doing the right thing and make the others aware you're there to help them, not to breathe down their necks. Be proactive - and don't spend your entire time sitting behind a computer: it shows you couldn't care less. 

If they are rude, be friendly. It confuses them. 

8. Be a raconteur

Get a class onside with storytelling. If I see someone with an injury, for example, I tell the class about my car accident. The gruesome details delight them and I'm instantly human to them. 

A few minutes of shared conversation to win a class over is worth it, if the alternative is 50 minutes of rowdy disengagement. Bring the conversation to a close sooner rather than later, but tell them they can continue the conversation at the end of the lesson if they work well. Those misbehaving kids who want attention? They have stories, believe me. 

Paul Read has been teaching for 15 years and currently works as a supply teacher in East Sussex

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