To manage behaviour well as a supply teacher, interpersonal communication with children is crucial. In my opinion, this is best fostered by helping children feel respected. A little preparation ahead of each day can go a long way in developing this with your class.

I have been a primary trained teacher since 1988. My experience in mainstream and special provisions in a variety of age groups has allowed me to work with children with all the differences one may find in primary and secondary education. Having reached retirement age, I am enjoying a more leisurely lifestyle. However, one cannot deny the sense of fulfilment gained from working with young people and colleagues in schools. Working through Zen Educate as a supply teacher has enabled me to strike a balance that I enjoy.

Several months of visiting other countries have meant that I had been out of contact with schools. But I have been pleasantly surprised at how smoothly I have been able to manage the classes I have been assigned to so far. Of course, there are opportunities to recall tried and tested skills, but fundamentally the interpersonal communication with the children is crucial.

For this to be positive one should be aware that many elements of children’s behaviour derive from a need to feel that their self-esteem is respected. To feel this, it is important to respect oneself. Addressing this at the start of an assignment can be very productive.

That is why it is useful to arrive at school in time to talk with the class teacher or relevant professional about the makeup of the class. I must add that, with the best of intentions, this has been an area in need of improvement for me. Going to unaccustomed places can be challenging travel-wise. But now I know the requirements I’m getting it right by being properly prepared.

What to consider on arrival?

Ask questions about which children have statements and what requirements they have. Where do they sit? What support is in place? What positive behaviour management strategies does the school use? A few well-planned questions can help establish a much stronger relationship with the class and SEND students from the offset.

Record positive behaviour

For my own purposes, I try to institute a positive behaviour recording system. The smiley face is a much-underestimated device. Many children will tell you that there should be a smiley and a sad face to write names under. I explain that I am only looking for positive things and the usual classroom management strategies apply for everything else. That way the supply teacher is not seen as telling children off. I have found that children strive to get their name on the board by showing wanted behaviour ie not calling out, paying attention when requested and so on. This is where the teacher gets a chance to enhance the self-esteem of children identified in the earlier discussion with the class teacher, particularly the more boisterous class members. It can be even better if you are able to get the children to write the names for themselves. It saves you misspelling and you will soon get to learn children’s names, plus they like doing it. The names are non-negotiable. Do not erase if other misdemeanours occur.

Try humour to establish trust with a class

Research has shown that we are able to retain information more effectively if the teaching approach includes humour or novelty. Depending on the situation I try to include these factors where possible. Rather than take time out of lesson time dealing with contentious behaviour which usually spirals into negative teacher/student interaction, I sometimes intersperse a lesson with quick circle time games if I see tensions rising between certain pupils or the class in general.

One way of managing this is the ‘Bop it’ challenge. This is the ‘Bop it’ mini-game played in pairs. At the beginning and end of a lesson choose two students to cooperate to get the highest score they can. This is a game I have been introduced to and used regularly in settings where behaviour is the focus. Why use it? I have found it useful in providing a novel distraction where the whole class listen to the instructions given by the game. It increases the concentration of the players and cooperation of the class by all listening. It enhances self-esteem and sometimes the most unlikely student does the best.

Managing behaviour with a new class each day as a supply teacher is by no means an easy feat. However, my years of experience have taught me that, with some considerate preparation, attention to the needs and nuances of each class and a dose of humour thrown in, you can quickly establish strong relationships with a new class. Disruptions will always happen, but having some planned strategies in place ensures you can quickly deal with each situation as they come up and help the class continue to be happy and focused.


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