Having to hit the ground running on your first day and work as part of the staff straight away — rather than being ‘eased in’ — means that by 11am supply teachers already have an excellent idea of how a school is run. No one is putting on a show for you. Supply teachers are called in for numerous reasons such as PPA cover (Planning, Preparation and Assessment), teachers out for CPD (Continuing Professional Development), or, of course, illness. This is how I manage in the various schools environments that I have encountered in my many years of being a supply teacher.

Why you’re there

When covering PPA or in-house training, it is often the case that the class teacher will be in the school somewhere and are therefore on call for any questions or feedback the supply teacher may have. This can be very handy, and in fact lovely, when the class teacher is supportive and organised. This too speaks volumes about the school — they clearly provide their teachers with time to get their job done.

Conversely, there are times a supply is brought into a school because the class teacher is ill. I have often been subject to eye-rolling or suspicion over their absence, which is a clear indication that the class teacher is either desperately overworked or is not provided with the time they need out of class. Even though a supply teacher is in for just a day, they might need extra support too, and an eye-roll and ‘suck-it-up’ attitude is not an environment any teacher will want to spend a lot of their time if they don’t have to.

What’s next? Be organised

In life you get out what you put in. This applies both to employers and teachers covering your class. If plans are accessible and resources and marking expectations are provided, it is far more likely the lessons will be delivered well. If, however, the supply teacher has to pull their own stand-alone lessons out of a bag, it is likely that work will be done on whiteboards or paper, or if done in the books, may not be to the standards the school expects.

When things are clearly organised it puts higher expectations on the supply teacher, and rightly so. It also gives them a sense of security and an impression that the teachers in the school have the time to be organised. It’s an indication of a well-run school in general.

Keep it consistent

The behaviour of the children speaks volumes about a school, but of course there are just some classes which have one too many tricky children and can therefore be quite hard to manage. When schools provide teachers with support to manage these classes more effectively, all children in the class can access the learning with far more success.

Every school has a behaviour management policy, but not all schools carry this policy out consistently or provide teachers with ways in which they can do this. If children need to see some consequences for their actions and choices, maybe by missing their play, it is the teacher’s duty to make sure this happens. However, if a child has to miss some of their break, so too does the teacher. It does not take much to organise a room during break and lunchtimes where children can reflect on their actions and teachers can get on with marking, get a drink, or go to the toilet!


School culture is also seen among the staff and can either boost or hinder morale within a school’s workforce.

A bad culture usually begins from the top. If teachers are overworked, they become stressed, the children become stressed, and therefore the teacher becomes more stressed. If support staff are not given clear outlines of what their role entails, they feel used and also overworked. I’ve been in many staff rooms where teachers and support staff are moaning about the children and their jobs, and these are problems the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) should be aware of and can work to solve.

It’s often the case in these staff rooms that the SLT are present, checking-in with their staff and the behaviour of the children throughout the school and are available for any concerns raised. I’ve also been in staff rooms where teachers and support staff get on really well, sharing funny stories about what the children have done that day, giving feedback to each other about how certain children are progressing with their learning, and generally having a well-deserved little break to prepare themselves for the next part of the day.


Teaching can be a very tough vocation and with thousands of excellent teachers leaving the education sector every year it’s becoming tougher than ever for schools to find and keep good teachers. However there is hope, and the simplest of changes — ones that often cost nothing! — can provide heaps of positive gains.

Felicity teaches through Zen Educate. Ready to give it a go? Find out more about supply teaching jobs with Zen Educate