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“Dear Teachers…” – A Letter from your Next Supply Teacher

We’re only there when you aren’t – but that doesn’t mean we can’t work together, urges one of the army of professionals ready to cover your absences at a moment’s notice

  • “Dear Teachers…” – A Letter from your Next Supply Teacher

When I was at high school, supply teachers seemed to inhabit some strange world between our real teachers and the outside world. They would turn up, sit at our usual teacher’s desk, shuffle papers and generally try to make sure we didn’t destroy the classroom, or each other, by the end of the hour.

I’m not sure what I felt about them when I was a full time teacher either – these people who came and sat in the wrong seat in the staffroom with their brightly coloured lanyard and their own travel mug of coffee. Not real teachers at all – or were they…?

1. We’re not ‘failed’ educators

As it happens we are often highly experienced teachers, with all sorts of skills that are transferable to your classroom, even if it’s only for one day. To imagine supply teachers are ‘failed’ educators who’ve crawled to the world of supply as a sort of almost-retirement is not only inaccurate it’s unfair.

Most supply teachers I know mark the work done during the day they are there (if left a mark scheme), and often actively teach lessons, rather than sit at the side and let pupils get on with it. There are so many reasons people go into supply – ‘being a bit rubbish’ is rarely one of them.

Most of us love teaching and are not there to babysit. We want to help your class learn, and have a vast toolkit at our fingertips to do so.

2. Ask us about best practice

When we step into your school, I bet we make the same judgements other visitors and school members make in this situation.

Did you know some schools have a list of how all the staff take their tea/coffee and people are brought a cup by a colleague if they’re out on duty?

That some schools have paid timetable time for staff to create amazing classroom displays/do mock exam marking, and often those schools have less staff absence due to stress?

And that some schools are tidy, and they’re nice to be in for staff and pupils alike?

Leave ego out of it and ask us about good school practice. We see a lot.

3. Supply teaching isn’t what you think

People always ask me how I can ‘stand’ being a supply teaching, imagining Grange Hill-esque levels of paper aeroplanes and physical harm being part of the daily routine.

It’s not like this. Most children go to school to learn. That has to be the starting point.

Sometimes a supply teacher gets the chance to help a class see things with fresh eyes – this can really help in maths or science lessons.

We pick up ideas all over the place, and are happy to share.

We’re lucky enough to see inside the classrooms of a diverse range of teaching professionals, and we are like sponges.

4. Don’t be afraid to set a standalone lesson or ask for us to bring one of our own.

We have loads of preplanned lesson plans/activities/resources and are happy to use them.

We’re also pretty good at adapting.

The lessons that are no fun to teach, or difficult, are ones where a teacher asks us to step into the middle of a longer piece of work, with no background as to what the expectations are.

If you must set a ‘continue with the previous lesson’s planning’ lesson, think about whether your class can actually handle such vague instructions. If they can’t, don’t put them (or me!) through it.

5. Try ‘supply’ teaching in your own school

Ask your headteacher if you can have a day or more where all your staff have a go at doing ‘supply’ in other teacher’s classrooms. Or, if you have good links with other schools, why not do a staff swap?

I’ve learned so much in the three years I’ve done supply, in a way I could never have done standing in the same class room surrounded by the same four walls.

It’s a great way of reminding yourself why you love teaching in the first place – and it’s always good to be reminded that you have the skill to pull off a lesson with actual learning, ex nihilo.


A supply teacher

Share your thoughts on the points raised in this letter using the Twitter hashtag #dearsupplyteacher.

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