How to prepare for a supply teacher
I studied at university for three years to become a teacher, (‘become a teacher’ on paper at least, I wouldn’t say I’m there yet!) and not once did this topic come up in taught sessions, lectures or even in conversation – we just never thought about it! But as an NQT/ECT you spend a fair bit of time out of the classroom on trainings etc, so you have to get used to leaving work for someone else to manage with your class. It can be tough knowing where to start – where do you start, when it comes to imparting some of the huge amount of knowledge you employ every day to teach your unique group of learners?
I’ve worked on supply this year (only briefly; it’s really not my thing!) and been on the receiving end of teachers’ information of varying quality… Here are my pointers on the kinds of information that I aimed/will aim to leave, and that it was helpful to receive, on arriving in a brand new school and class.
If I’ve never been to your school, I have no idea how things work. Please tell me what time everything happens, including information like how long it takes your class to do things like lining up or collecting belongings for home time. Also, if you’ve set multiple tasks for a lesson, feel free to tell me how long you would normally expect each one to take. It’s fairly customary to leave more for a supply teacher than can be completed in the time they have with your class, so that they don’t run out of things to do, but please give a heads up when you’ve done this!
When you’re typing out your information for your supply teacher, it can feel like you’re being overly explanatory and insulting the intelligence of the person coming into your class. You’re not. You don’t know if the person coming in will have twenty years’ experience, and can run with a very brief plan, or if they’re someone like you at a very early stage in their career who would prefer all the details. From my point of view: tell me everything so that I can get it right for you! If you have strict rules on presentation, say so! I can do my best for you and your class wth all the relevant information.
How does your beautiful chart on the wall work? How many warnings do you give, and how many is too many? What are the consequences for ‘moving down’ on the behaviour chart/system?
Beleieve me, I know it’s really laborious to type out your expectations for supply staff to understand during their brief time in your class – especially if certain pupils have differentiated responses to behaviour. My tip is to have a stock document that you use for supply instructions, that has your behaviour expectations, timings of the day and SEN information already on it, so you do’t have to re-type it every time you’ve got someone covering for you.
I am in no way the best placed individual on this topic! If in doubt, speak to the SENCO at your school on what information needs to be passed on or not to supply staff.
However, here are some brief ideas off the top of my head.
Which children in the class have additional needs? Are there any accommodations I need to be aware of? [For example: making eye contact or not, sensory breaks, writing in certain colours or avoiding certain colours on the board, using a pupil’s name at the start of speaking to them, ensuring subtitles are on for any videos.]
You don’t have to leave a class list for a supply teacher (unless it’s your school policy to, obviously) but a seating plan can be really useful. Children are prone to pushing it with supply staff (in the style of Ted Hastings, “Give me strength!”) and it can be so helpful to be able to call out poor behaviour by name, rather than aiming generally at an area of the room!
Secondly, please leave a note for your supply teacher with key names of other staff around school. It’s really handy, for example, to know the name of the next door teacher, or to drop in the name of the deputy head if behaviour gets a little bit hairy! (Remember that a supply teacher may have only been called that morning, so may not have had chance to look up the school online for names of senior leaders etc.)
As a supply teacher, I didn’t want the class teacher to return and feel like Sheldon (above) on their return! I experienced a lot of marking policies as a student, but didn’t appreciate just how much marking differs between schools until I did supply work. Some schools are so particular about if and how supply staff should mark work. Like with your behaviour information, keep your marking policy saved as a staple part of your supply instructions and re-use it every time you need cover.
Obviously this section is subject to change – by the time this post goes live it’ll probably be outdated! But please tell your supply staff anything they need to know about covid responsibilities in your school: zones on the playground, staffroom access, wiping tables down etc. Even eighteen months on from the Great Coronavirus Shutdown of 2020, so much hasn’t returned to normal (not to be political, but nor should it, until we’re sure everyone can be kept safe!) Things are different in different local authorities and even across different schools under the same authority, so just let your supply staff know for their own peace of mind.
I think I’ve covered most things here, but if you’ve got other things to add or ask, start a conversation in the comments section, or tag me on twitter @CaitTeachesKind.