How to survive the Supply Teaching Challenge

Supply Teaching
Supply Teacher

Teaching is always a challenge; each day is different as well as the class you teach.

Lessons that go well with one class may not work so well with another group. Factors such as the weather (rain; snow; wind; sunshine), or circumstances in your day or that of the pupils will alter how it goes.

Supply Teaching - My start

I taught for nineteen years in a school, which had gone through a series of problems. I had felt I wanted to leave the profession but retirement was a long way off and financially this was not a personal option.


I decided I would leave the school I worked in and take on the role of supply teaching.

Different Schools

I have really enjoyed being a supply teacher; seeing all the different schools; meeting all the different children and adults along the way; being able to teach different age groups in a week (sometimes even in a day).

All children in the schools I have visited are the same, with the same problems; it was just their background experiences that change things. There are challenges in all schools and yes there are more in some environments.

Sometimes it is the environment which is great; sometimes the staff team; sometimes the resources or the planning; sometimes the management support; sometimes the Teaching Assistant support. But there were no perfect schools only different strengths.

My Supply Teaching Task/Challenges

Lego Ear-rings

At the beginning of every day, I aim to learn as many of the children’s names as possible which I find I can do. I make sure I take the time to read each name in the register and identify each pupil.

  • I tell them they have the easy job as they only have one name to remember - this is clearly on my badge
  • I tell them ‘I can usually pick up children’s names quickly but not the adults’ – true.
  • I tell them when I am not teaching at school I play with my Lego – they like this.
  • I point out my Lego ear-rings which are my guardian angels, named after my two children (Tom and Elly), Elly now always sit on my left as she is left-handed, they smile at the children in case I forget to smile at them.
  • I tell them that I write books about my ‘Playbus’. (I can show the Playbus book with the real Tom and Elly on the front cover – Yes, I managed to write it!)
  • I can show them the story books too. (If time I read the story but I always leave a copy of the first book in every school I visit, just in case they want to read it again.)
  • I tell them about magical rain-sticks which seem to really bring the rain! So, we have to learn a sun-clap!
  • I tell the children that I don’t know if I ever will return and seem them again – but have been surprised how much they remember when I do even if such a long time later.

Most of all I try to capture the imagination of the class and to gain their attention and make them think. It works. I am now known and remembered as the ‘Lego Lady’; I like that.

Reading Books

I would always have a couple of books in my bag to read to the different year groups. I wouldn’t need worksheets or lesson plans because the class teacher or school would provide that. It is amazing how often you can read the same book over and over again; I have some favourites which I know by heart. I also found myself telling my own stories to capture the attention of the class. My stories have now grown and grown and are often a brief tale or instead of reading from a book.

The Author

Bewbush PlaybusWhile on supply it gave me time to write a photographic book about the Playbus project that I had once been involved in. This in turn to me writing children’s picture books based on the Playbus adventures, as well as tales from my teaching.

I have to date written ten children’s picture books with two more currently in the publishing pipeline. (Plus a few more to write) Children Reading

I undertake author days on request and am also a ‘Patron of Reading’. 

My teaching journey has continued and I write a daily diary to remind myself of all the exciting and spooky events I have encountered along the way. There have been many.

Keep calm and carry on

I know supply teaching is not for everyone but it has been for me.

 The down side to supply teaching: -

  • I wonder in the morning if I will be called to work.
  • Where will I go?
  • Which year group will I teach?
  • What will the school be like?
  • You are not part of the school and the staff team.
  • You miss out on events and celebrations.
  • You get given the planning sometimes the lessons the teacher doesn’t want.
  • You get to teach lots or R.E.; P.E. and PSHCE.
  • You don’t know all the children’s names – and they know it!
  • You don’t know if you will ever go back to the school or class again.
  • You don’t know who is who in the school or the systems and procedures in place.
  • You are sometimes expected to over mark the children’s work and are criticised by the teacher for not doing it exactly as they wanted! (Not often)
  • You might not get any work today and only get paid for what you do

The up side of supply teaching: -

  • At the end of the day, you can walk away. If the day went well maybe you will go back, if it wasn’t you don’t have to go back.
  • Usually there is planning and resourcing in place and a great TA to help and support you.
  • You don’t have to produce formal planning. (I have planned for longer cover but it is adaptable).
  • No staff meetings.
  • No assessments to write out.
  • No formal observations. Phew!
  • No responsibility other than to the class for that day, delivering the lessons as best as time, resources and clarity allows.
  • Not knowing who is who within the school you don’t feel under pressure when someone walks into the room. You don’t know who they are or why they are there.
  • You can take a day off or a break in term time.
  • You don’t have to work today if you don’t have to. But I do.

Changes in Supply cover

I have found that schools will use different agencies and sometimes there is no consistency of cover.

The Next Step

The next part for me is to do less supply but more author days. Visit schools share my writing journey and of course read my books.

Author VisitsAuthor visits

My husband said, as I started my supply journey, you have a funny look on your face these days: “A smile”.

Where to get my books

Books are available from the following:   My Books     Waterstones    

Barnes&Noble    Foyles (amongst others)

Don't forget to look and ask in your local Museum, book shop or even buy on your Sainsburys on line shop!


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