The first minutes of arriving at a school can make a big difference to your day. Getting them right means making good connections with the school staff and getting the information you need to have a successful day. Here are my tips for making the right impression in your next supply role.
When arriving at the school it is often the receptionist staff who will orientate you around the school, showing you where the staff room is, where the toilets are and so on. They are key to you getting what you need to make your day run smoothly so always try to be warm and friendly even if your journey may not have been smooth. They have a lot to get on with during their working day, so it’s good to get all the things you need from them first thing so as not to keep bothering them.
Make sure you get a safeguarding policy from them, who you should contact if there are any issues, and how to contact them — where their office is, or what their extension number is.
Make sure you know where the allocated fire exits and assembly points are from your classroom. Also, ask where you need to collect the children from in the mornings and after break times and what the expectations of the school are for moving the classes of children around the school — is silence and a straight line expected? Can the children be dismissed from the classroom at break time etc.
Make sure you ask what the registration system is, and if you need login details for it
Ask reception what time you need to have the register in, as it is the reception staff who follow up on children who are not in.
Make sure you have login details for the computer — many computers log themselves out after a period of time which can be exceptionally annoying and disruptive to lessons. Ask if you need a fob or any codes to get through doors.
It’s not essential to try to make friends with other staff members at these times. The fact is, everyone in schools is very busy and there is a good chance, as far as they are concerned, that they may only see you that day. It is a much better use of your time to get yourself organised for the next part of your day or crack on with your marking and to make sure you have no loose ends left at the end of your day.
When using the staff room, small considerations go a very long way. Ask someone if the mug you are going to use is anyone’s ‘special’ mug. I know it seems like such a small thing but things like this can really get under some people’s skin. Don’t just help yourself to tea and coffee unless you have been told to do so. If no one has said anything, ask someone in there if there is a contribution pot somewhere. The gesture of putting even 10p in a pot goes a long way.
If you do get into conversations with other staff members about the children, the language you use can make a big difference. For example, children aren’t ‘naughty’, they are ‘spirited’, things aren’t a ‘nightmare’, they are ‘tricky’. Seeing someone who isn’t negatively affected by hard situations gives other staff a sense of security, which is what they want when they are leaving a class of children in the hands of someone they don’t know.
Your support staff are key to you making a good first impression. They are the ones who see you at work and the ones the senior leadership will ask for feedback about what you are like as a teacher. This is where you spend your time making ‘friends’. Often TAs have a lot of things they need to get on with. Ask them what demands they have on them and try to find some time in the day where you won’t need their support so much and they can catch up with things they need to do. They will love you for that!
It’s worthwhile having a chat with your TA at the beginning of the day about any children who have specific SENDs or behavioural problems and the best ways they have found to work with those children. Often TAs are lumbered with the tricky kids, so ask them if they want some relief and if they would like to work with the higher ability kids for a change and you can focus on the tougher ones. Let’s face it, you are more qualified to do so anyway.
If you don’t have a TA and are in class alone, just ask someone who knows the class if there are any kids who have violent outbursts or if any of them are likely to run out of the classroom. It is only these situations where you need an additional adult, so just have an extension number at the ready or the name of a sensible child you can send to ask for the support of another adult.
Student teachers can be a real blessing in a classroom and, again, can often be the ones senior leadership will ask for feedback on your performance. Often they have a massive portfolio of experience they need to put together and finding those opportunities can at times be tricky (especially if they don’t have the best of relationships with the class teacher). Ask them if there is anything they want to try that day. Maybe doing the initial input for a lesson, maybe the plenary, maybe taking a small group of children out of class to do a focus lesson. It can really help them out and can often make your life a little easier too!
Behaviour management is fundamental for any supply teacher. Maintaining a cool calm but authoritative presence throughout the day makes life not only much better for the children and their learning, but for all other adults in your classroom too. If you get this right, everyone will love you and want you back.
Always leave a note for the class teacher. At the end of each session write a short paragraph on how the lesson went. After marking, list the children who you feel did not understand the learning objective fully and could do with some additional support in continuing lessons. Make sure your note is positive, and always list the children whose behaviour was outstanding throughout the day, rather than focus on the ones who struggled to adapt to having a supply teacher in for the day.
Senior leadership are often extremely busy and in meetings at the end of the day, so it is often not possible to catch up with them. It is worth trying however just to stick your head in their office door, say you’ve had a lovely day (whatever happened), say the school is lovely (whatever you actually think), say your marking is done, the classroom is tidy and organised, and ask if there is anything else they need.
If they are not around, say exactly what you would say to senior leadership to staff at reception. They will most likely feed it back to senior leadership for you.
Felicity taught supply through Zen Educate