The Behaviour Question

5th October 2012 at 01:00

I am scared. I have not been in a classroom for two years due to an extended maternity leave and brief stint in the adult education sector. I am now about to enter the world of secondary supply teaching. Much of your advice centres on taking a consistent approach with rewards and sanctions. How do I apply this if I am only in a school for a day or two? In my previous school, day-to-day supply were hauled in like sacrificial lambs.

What you said


Never go in with the attitude that you are only there for one or two days. If the school likes you, you may be there for several weeks. There is actually one massive advantage of short-term supply - you get a "honeymoon period" the first time you have your class and don't have the issue of pupils being able to observe you over many lessons and suss out your weaknesses.


When I did mainstream supply I tended to spend the first few minutes of every lesson making sure the kids knew I knew who to call in or report them to if they really kicked off. And I spent a few minutes telling them my golden rules. Kids expect supply teachers to either be crap or eccentric. They tend to like the eccentric ones ...

The expert view

Welcome back to the world of schools. Of course this is a real challenge, and you are right to see supply as one of the most difficult jobs of them all. So here are my suggestions:

1. Don't expect perfection; you won't get it, and if you see yourself as a failure for not getting it that will break your heart. Keep your expectations to a few big aims, such as having everyone sitting down doing some work. Once you get that, you can turn the screws a bit.

2. As much as possible, try not to be alone; get to know the names of the heads of year, senior leadership team and so on, so that you know who to fetch if things go wrong. And you can drop their names into conversation to show you are no mug.

3. Know the school behaviour system - what are the sanctions, when are they invoked? That way they see you as part of the bigger whole.

4. Set detentions and do them (if you can). This teaches pupils that you really do mean business.

5. Get other teachers (permanent ones) to agree in advance to pop in and take pupils out or set detentions themselves. If the students see you are part of the team, you will get much more respect.

6. Do not try to be too pally. Be super serious at first.

7. Put them into a quick seating plan if you can (ideally boy-girl), to show them you are in charge.

8. Have work on the board.

9. Make eye contact.

10. Send a pupil out for help if you need it, or step next door. Just don't walk alone.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. Read more from Tom on his blog,, or follow him on Twitter at @tombennett71. His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum

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