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The must supplies that will get you through

Pat Barker lists the goods supply teachers need to cope with being thrown straight into the front line, and cautions the unwary on being dismissed as an oddball. For a supply teacher the early morning telephone call at home is much like the onset of labour pains. The anxiety about when the summons will come is followed first by a period of hard work and discomfort and then by a baby - or cheque.

Both roles require the pre-packed bag and a surge of adrenalin. But the analogy cannot be taken too far. Giving birth is the easier of the two tasks for, once the process has begun, there is little one can do to alter events. A day's supply teaching has to be organised, orchestrated and controlled from start to finish. What is more, a class of children, not to mention temporary colleagues, will be more observant and critical than a baby!

Certain precautionary measures must be taken with your name and appearance. You may need to use an assumed name while in school. This is not, though of course it might be, to prevent stories from school reaching your social circle or incidents from your private life reaching school. It is because modern youngsters have a wider vocabulary than children did when you were young. You could well have survived your own schooldays with a name which today's children can - and will - rhyme with a word which they find hilariously rude.

The question of appearance is rather more difficult. A teacher who is well established within a school has a licence to be idiosyncratic. Unusual hair styles, beards, ties, shoes or earrings become accepted as lovable or familiar quirks. Supply teachers beware, for you tread a tightrope here. Your dress should be interesting without being eccentric. You want the class to notice that you are in the room but must not run the risk of being dismissed as an oddball. You must avoid the impression, even if true, that the offer of a day's teaching had come just as you had dressed to go out to dig the garden.

Wellingtons must always be removed. If PE looms on the horizon, do not be tempted to turn up with your old hockey stick or tennis racket. The shapes of both have changed, so you would certainly not impress anyone.

The more positive advice for survival lies in the aforementioned pre-packed bag.

Now, the bag itself merits careful consideration. If you outdo the headteacher or deputy with your choice of briefcase, you may not be invited to that school again.

On the other hand, only well-esteemed and permanent teachers can get away with arriving with their teaching materials and sandwiches in an old cardboard box or a supermarket plastic carrier bag.

Supply teachers need a holdall or brightly coloured stacking crate from a petrol station. In fact, you probably need both, for you must prepare for the worst possible scenario.

The school may well have books, paper, pencils, Biros, chalk, board writers, balls, cassettes, calculators, coffee, food, toilet paper and so on but you will not necessarily be able to locate them.

Over a period of weeks and months you will add extra items to your basic kits. The important thing is that you are never tempted to remove items from your boxes while at home and that any articles used up during a teaching day are immediately replaced.

The bag and box should be kept in the hall or under the bed, ready packed except for flask and sandwiches. You will then be all set for a panic free start to a day of supply teaching. Good luck!

Pat Barker is an ex head of PE at a school in Devon and has worked as a supply teacher.

Holdall contents for your personal use:



Spare spectacles


Towel, soap

Blueredblack Biros

Felt tips






Small change


Box of tissues



Plastic crate contents for teaching purposes:

Selection of fully prepared lessons

Equipment for writing on and for wiping off from a range of possible board surfaces

Book of short stories for younger children; book of short stories for older children

Unusual object

Action photograph and a mysterious picture

List of calender festivals

Two or three quizzes

Pieces of card

Paper in a variety of shapes - long strips, triangular shapes, circles etc Several pencils, Biros, rubbers etc

A song, a funny poem,a sad poem

Tape of music for creative dance

A folk dance tape and instructions for classroom games hallgymnasium gamesplaygroundfield games

Ball - ideally one tennis ball size; one footballnetball size Rounders, small cricket or padder bat.

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