A beginner's guide to supply teaching

Career Advice
23 January 2018 | Career Advice | Guest Author

Supply teaching is a great alternative to a traditional teaching job. It offers many benefits, such as variety of work, the ability to easily relocate, and a greater degree of flexibility. If you’re considering entering the world of supply teaching, then read on. Teacher Active outlines everything you need to know about the industry: from qualifications, how to find a job and more.

Qualifications Needed

To be a supply teacher, you’ll need to have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). You’ll usually study this alongside your degree and PGCE; and will be awarded this status once you’ve proved you meet the Teachers’ Standards, set out by the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL).

Independent schools, academies and free schools allow you to teach as an unqualified teacher (i.e. you haven’t gotten your QTS), but this will limit your opportunities.

Be Selective With Agencies

The easiest way to find a job in supply teaching – especially when you’re new to the industry – is by signing up with relevant agencies. When starting out, it can be tempting to register at several, but this isn’t effective in the long run. If anything, you’ll spend more time being put forward for unsuitable roles, speaking with consultants, and updating them on your progress and availability.

A better approach is to sign up to 2-3 good agencies. Set aside a day to research supply teaching agencies in your area, reading reviews and looking at the types of jobs they offer. However, remember that by the time you’ve registered with an agency, the initial jobs you saw are likely to have gone. Nevertheless, they provide a good indication of the types of jobs recruit for, and you can judge whether they’re something you’re interested in. 

Personal recommendations can be a good way of finding an agency, if you know a supply teacher who’s had success with one. However, it’s not an approach you should necessarily rely on; and as a new supply teacher, it’s more worthwhile doing the research yourself.

Prepare to be Flexible

To give yourself the best possible chance of securing supply teaching contracts, you need to be flexible.

Once you’ve registered with an agency, you’ll often find out about jobs in one of two ways: either the school will book you in advance, or you’ll get a call the morning you’re requested to start. 

Obviously, the first option is ideal, as it gives you more time to prepare your route and lesson plans, but often the latter is more common. Calls could come in from 7.15am but in reality, it’s more likely to be 8am. Having the flexibility to say yes to these last-minute calls means more supply teaching roles will come your way.

For that reason, it can be beneficial if you have access to a car, as you can easily drive over to the school. If you rely on public transport alone, then you may have to turn down opportunities if they aren’t on a bus or train route, or if you simply can’t turn up on time.

Some supply teachers will specify which ages they’d like to teach, or which types of schools – but this means you automatically rule yourself out of several jobs. As a newbie to supply teaching, gaining experience is key. Having exposure to teaching a variety of students in a range of schools will give you so much experience, and you’ll grow in confidence. 

It also means that if you decide to look at full-time teaching in the future, you’ll have a better idea of which students you would like to teach. However, when starting out, it pays to be flexible – not picky.

Plan Ahead

When it comes to supply teaching, planning is key – or at least, as much planning as possible, if you accept a job an hour before you’re due to start!

Set off for your new job early, so you have plenty of time to tackle the traffic, and find the school. You should also take the time to find out who you need to speak to at reception. If you turn up flustered and stressed from being late, it won’t set the tone for a good day. Another important thing to find out, is who will sign your timesheets – after all, you don’t want to put in a load of hard work and not get paid for it! As a supply teacher, you’ll be paid by the agency and not the school, so you need to ensure your timesheet is filled out at the end of each week.

One thing every great supply teacher does, is come armed with lesson plans. Whilst some schools may have plans in place for you to follow, others won’t. Take the pressure off by bringing in your own lesson plans, even if the agency says not to worry.

You may be able to use lesson plans created during your degree, or previous placements. Over time, you’ll build up a selection that you can use time and time again. However, if there is a lesson plan that’s been set by the school, make sure you follow it. It’s there for a reason, and if you don’t use it you could throw off times and targets! 

Be Confident and Firm

There’s no other way of putting it: supply teaching can be tough. You’re effectively walking into a new classroom with children you aren’t familiar with, and don’t know how they will behave.

A break in normality can cause disruption to some students, so you want to be confident when walking into the classroom, to discourage bad behaviour. Grab their attention by having a clear plan in mind as to how you’re going to spend the day. 

When it comes to behaviour management, experienced supply teachers all agree that unless you’ve signed a long-term contract with a school, don’t try to change too much. Also, don’t fall into the trap of asking students to “help you” with routines or rules, because chances are, they won’t! Kids can be challenging, and the supply teacher can be an easy target. Instead, speak with a Teaching Assistant (TA) or another teacher beforehand, to find out more about rules and routines.

Make a Good Impression

Remember: first impressions count. If you make a good impression, you could be called back to the school again, or recommended to other schools in the area. Long-term, it could even result in a full-time job, if that’s something you’re interested in.

Go beyond the expectations of merely showing up and delivering your lesson plan. Is there anything else you can help out with, such as assemblies or lunch duties? If anything, it can be a good way of getting to know the teachers.

Don’t forget to mark any work that needs doing, and spend some time after the school day is over to tidy up the classroom, so the teacher won’t have to worry about it when they’re back in.

The other thing to bear in mind is that you should dress smartly, but also for comfort: after all, you’ll be standing up for most of the day. If you’re covering a reception or nursery class, then bear in mind you’ll be bending down and sitting on the floor.

Ultimately, supply teaching is a great way to gain a wide variety of teaching experience. Yes, you’ll be put on the spot, but it’ll require you to plan ahead and have confidence in yourself – both of which are qualities that are important in teaching. By following this guide, you should have a good idea of what to expect as a supply teacher, and the knowledge to start your career in this area.

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