What teaching for 15 years in London and abroad has taught me, and the key lessons I wish to share to support other supply teachers.

These ideas are distilled from over 15 years experience at the chalk face in London and abroad. I hope they enhance your own teaching experiences, perhaps to reinforce what you already know and do. In a London Primary school, you will experience children with a massive range of emotional and learning needs from many different backgrounds. Some of the behaviours you might encounter in the Key Stage 2 age range is more akin to rebellious teenagers. Conversely, some children are incredibly mature and responsible. For sure you will have some inspiring experiences and the potential to inspire some brilliant children.

1. Visualise

This is more of a general life habit. Focus on how you do want your day to unfold, not what you don’t want to happen. Some areas to consider: your voice (tone/volume), non-verbal communication, body language (closed/open), expectations for learning (presentation, completion) and style of teaching along the firmness scale.

Tip: Set your needs and expectations early in a clear, assertive way.

2. Challenge

Challenge the children to do their best learning and show the best version of themselves. Reward those children. This will probably need to be revisited after lunch as afternoons can be trickier when gumption and energy levels start to reduce.

Tip: Question children with a simple ‘What do you need to be doing now?’ as opposed to just directing them.

3. You are not alone

It can be a lonely (and highly enjoyable) spot at the front of a class but each school will have a different support network in place that you can tap into. Make sure to touch base with teachers in the same year group.

Tip: Namedrop the Headteacher early on and say you are likely to be back again.

4. Notice the positive

This can be very powerful even when faced with challenging behaviour; there will always be children taking the right choice. It redirects the energy if things are getting a bit hectic. It’s an old chestnut but if you do have a more unruly child, try and address the child away from the main class. In effect, a quiet word without a big peer audience.

5. Keep calm and carry on

This is not a new idea but essential when dealing with more challenging behaviour. I think that behaviour management starts with managing your own behaviour. If your emotional thermometer is rising, be honest with yourself but that doesn’t mean acting it out which can backfire as a lack of control.

Tip: Take a few calming breaths and smile — this can often diffuse tension.

6. Press the pause button

Establish early on your ‘Everyone Pause’ instruction: eg. 123 eyes on me.

Tip: Wiggling fingers won’t work in the later years!

7. Power of the story

Nearly all children engage in the power of a great story. I recently read the Iron Man with a Year 3 class and they were transfixed.

Tip: Have a couple of great books in your bag.

8. Support staff

The key is to try and build a positive working relationship as soon as possible. The challenge comes when they have a different style to your own, for example, The grumpy policeman v the Zen teacher. However, it’s teamwork in the end that wins.

9. Brain gym

I think this can be really effective as a way to either 1. calm children or 2. raise the energy. It also has the potential to engage whole-brain (left/right hemisphere) learning. Children also need that physical outlet. (1. The crossover clasp: clap and miss, turn hands upside down, interlock fingers 2. The crisscross tap; opposite elbows on opposite knees, 10 reps)

10. Adios

Always ask a member of staff to support you at home-time. This helps keep the routine and ensures safe handover to parents and carers. Finish the day on a high note.

Of course, a valuable habit at the end of the day is a reflection on what went well, things to change next time and, most importantly, see it as one page in your teaching journey. Don’t dwell on the negatives and dust yourself down for the next exciting chapter…


Rupert teaches through Zen Educate. Find out more about supply teaching in the UK or read reviews from teachers who teach through Zen Educate.