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My first supply teaching experience

Friday, February 22, 2019

My first supply teaching experience

Having been away from the education system for a number of years, it’s fair to say that I was somewhat apprehensive about what I had let myself in for with my new cover supervisor role.

Perhaps you’re in the same position and heading into your first cover supervisor or supply teacher job. I’m here to tell you that as someone who likes to plan what’s happening ahead of time, if I can do it, so can you!

Here is what you can expect on your first day in a new school and my top tips – I hope it helps.

The start of the day

I have learnt from experience that I am the sort of person where the fewer things are left to chance, generally the better my day tends to flow. With this in mind, I had planned my journey ahead of time, allowing for any unforeseen transport hiccups and plenty of time to arrive early enough to grab that all-important coffee! Arriving early also establishes that you are both keen and reliable – two things that schools are always eager to see.

At the school’s reception, I received an information booklet, which was particularly useful as it contained items like the school’s schedule as well as their behaviour management strategy and other vital information, such as child protection, safeguarding, fire precautions, the evacuation plan and a map of the school.

From the reception, I was taken to the staff room and shown the facilities, including the toilets and where to get a drink. Being unsure of what might be on offer, I had come prepared with my own teabags, coffee and sandwiches. It turned out this was a wise decision because although there was a school canteen, this could only be accessed using a fingerprint system and, of course, if you’re on day-to-day supply, there isn’t enough time or resources to arrange this.

Having been provided with my cover for the day, which included a hard copy of the register and the seating chart for each class, I then was shown where all my classrooms were. This made it much quicker and easier to learn my way around the school. All this made a positive impact on me before I even took any cover lessons. It was clear from the outset that this was a well-managed school with good practices.

How was my first day?

My experience during my first day was that the students and staff were generally friendly and cooperative. Now, this wasn’t to say that some of the classes and students were not challenging, because they were!

However, what made this easier to manage was that I found myself quickly drawing upon all those years of previous experience. I guess it’s something like riding a bike - you don’t forget! The school and its permanent staff also supported me with procedures, which meant that following up any challenging behaviour was made far easier.

I realised that when working on supply, it’s essential you are both adaptable and flexible – things don’t always go according to plan, and you will need to adapt as a particular situation demands. The ability to ‘think on your feet’ is key. Each lesson and each day will be different, and this will place varying demands upon you – trust your experience and life skills to enable you to deal with these demands. The job can be challenging but also exciting and rewarding. You certainly won’t be bored!

Rather than going into all the ins and outs of my supply teaching adventure, it’s probably more useful to provide my top tips for having a positive experience in your first supply teaching role:


  • Plan your journey in advance and arrive early.
  • Take your own food and drinks.
  • Request an information booklet/supply pack.
  • Ask for a hard copy of the register and seating plan - most registers are electronic, and you may not have to access the school system. If there isn’t a seating plan (or you suspect students have compromised this), quickly produce your own so that you are aware who is sat where (this will help with classroom management).
  • Wear comfortable shoes or, if the school permits, smart, understated trainers – you will be on your feet a lot of the school day.

In class

  • Keep the same expectations for student behaviour and achievements in your cover classes as in a ‘normal’ lesson. This will quickly establish that you are someone who cares, which typically has a positive effect on your students.
  • Check the school or faculty’s policy about things like toilet breaks or the use of mobile phones during lesson time.
  • Take spare pens and paper – there are always students who come unprepared or who have ‘lost’ their equipment. The less disruption in class, the easier the lesson will flow.
  • Prepare straightforward ‘filler’ activities for students who complete the lesson early, for example, word searches.
  • Always follow up on poor behaviour - this will establish that you have high expectations of students and demonstrate you aspire to withhold high standards of conduct. It will also help ensure that if/when you meet those students again, they are more likely to respond positively.
  • Ensure you leave the classroom as you found it. The regular teacher may not acknowledge a tidy class, but they’ll undoubtedly remember if it’s left in a mess.

While there’s no denying that being on supply can produce challenging situations, the important thing is to remain positive as this will resonate well with students and staff alike. It’s also more likely to make your reflections of your experience more positive.

Paul, the writer, is a cover supervisor working in West London with SupplyNow. If you’re interested in finding supply teacher, teaching assistant, HLTA or cover supervisor jobs, learn about becoming one of our Supply Heroes!

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