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How to Overcome the Supply Teacher Effect

Zara Danton
20 Jun 2019
5 mins read
How to Overcome the Supply Teacher Effect

Often times in supply, it is difficult to manage a class that doesn’t know you well. I found with supply teaching, although the classes in which I cover are fully aware of school expectations, they sometimes don’t always respond to me as I would hope or expect. Over time I have learned there are certain steps you can take to eliminate this “substitute teacher effect” and have more success in your next supply teaching role.

Be prepared

I feel that there are two distinct categories in which a supply day can fall into: the compliant and well-behaved class and the non-compliant and chaotic class. When starting off any new supply day, it is important to ensure that you allow yourself enough time to plan for the day. If you are prepared, then you will have more confidence. Furthermore, if you stick to the usual daily routine then this ensures that children feel secure and reduces the opportunity for disruption. It is also beneficial to write the timetable on the whiteboard, not only for you, but so the class can see too.


When the children are settled after coming in, introduce yourself and explain why you are there instead of their usual class teacher. If children want to ask you questions, then allow them to as this can help to build up a rapport with them and is a good way to figure out which children might be the ones to watch. It is also good to ask the teaching assistant or another teacher about the behaviour management strategies of the school, which allows you to inform the children know that you know how the school expects them to behave.

However, despite doing all of the above, there are always going to be exceptions and some children will still disregard the supply teacher. I feel that the substitute teacher effect is a mixture of both natural and learned mindset. Certain behaviour management strategies can help, but often a child’s home life can play a big part in their interactions with others at school, particularly how they treat new faces. Sometimes no matter how hard you try it will never be enough.

Establish ground rules

Classes that can be particularly difficult to manage are those where the main teacher has been out for more than two consecutive days and there has been different supply teachers in the class. This also needs to be taken into consideration if taking on a class in this situation. As the teacher, you must establish ground rules regardless of what has been allowed to happen during those previous days.

With the non-compliant and chaotic class, they seem to have an illusion that normal rules do not apply if the usual teacher is not there. As a supply teacher, you need to make sure that you are firm and follow through with any statements you have made.

Use TAs if possible

It can be difficult to manage a new class without the assistance of an adult who knows them, so I feel that being alone with a class can lead to issues. When they think that no one is there from the school, they assume that they can do whatever they like, despite warnings from the supply. Try to enforce the positive behaviour management strategies of a school, such as house points rather than always focusing on punishment.

Another way to try to overcome similar issues would be for supply teachers to have some behaviour management strategies of their own. As we are new adults with their class, sometimes children will respond to something new and exciting for them to work towards rather than the same routine that they usually have.

An example could be to write down names of children who are doing well and put the names into a container. At the end of the day, pull one or two names out at random and those children can get a reward, which could be something such as a sticker or stamp for younger children or choosing a programme to watch at the end of the day for ten minutes or so. Older children love this type of responsibility and privilege.

Confidence is key to having a successful supply day so the children are aware that you know what you’re doing. Teaching is constantly evolving and I am always learning from the schools and children I work with. If you follow these basic tips, your supply day should be very manageable.

Good luck!

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