Let’s make the supply teacher cry…


The supply teacher is often one of the hardest roles we as teachers are asked to fill. Often at the beginning of our careers when we are the most unsure of ourselves, we are dropped in a unique situation on a daily basis.

So what does a 21st Century supply teacher look like?

There are essentially two scenarios that we as the teacher going to be away have control of. It all depends on what we leave for the supply.

  1. We leave something we would do. This is often a difficult option because of the unknown. Will the supply understand the specifics of the lesson? What about the technology – if it fails? What if the supply is uncomfortable with this style? Will I have to reteach this lesson or concept?
  2. We leave a “conventional” lesson or worksheets and textbook work or dare I say it, the dreaded movie and a fill in the blanks… *shudder*
OPTION 1: If we choose to leave a lesson that we would have done, then there are two further outcomes that may occur:
  • A: The supply has no problems with the content, learning style, and technology that is left for them. Your students respect them because they know what they’re talking about – as well as the good sense you’ve instilled in them. Hopefully that supply teacher also brings in aspects and elements of their teaching style and personality to augment and compliment your lesson.
  • B: The supply can’t handle the style, content or technology you’ve left and either muddles through, not effectively leading the class in the learning you intended, or they ditch the lesson and pull out a copy of Ferris Buler’s day off they keep with them.
OPTION2: If we decide to go with a less difficult more straight forward approach, then are we cheating our students? Is this the opportunity to give for the essential personal work, where they can work independently? We want to leave the class easy to handle, but we also want the students to be challenged and rise to the occasion. So two things often happen:
  • C: Students work well at what was left for them, but ultimately uninspired.
  • D: Students ditch the work knowing they will have to go over it again, and it makes more sense coming from their regular teacher. You then have to redo that lesson, essentially losing a day.
Occasionally this happens.
  • E: Supply teacher ditches what was left because students aren’t buying in and on the fly re-imagines the lesson as some other interesting way. – For example using song-writing to better engage the learning and production of the persuasive letter. (yeah, I did… and the kids seemed to buy in.)

Sometimes the subject restricts what can be done – Music teachers won’t often leave playing instruments, Shop teachers won’t have any work in the shop, Science teachers won’t do any experiments involving chemicals, etc… BUT beyond dangerous situations, why do we not trust supply teachers with what we expect of ourselves?

Supply teachers are teachers too, in fact, they have varied and distinct skill sets, a fresh view, often experience or unimaginable energy. Unfortunately, there is the dark side. Teachers who haven’t perfected their classroom management strategies, or have given up.

I think it comes down to the fact that we are afraid of the unknown. Take a chance next time you have a supply coming in because your off to a conference to learn a great new approach or tech tool. Try to get a hold of them before hand and co-plan the lesson, or leave them a lesson and encourage them to add to it and make it their own.

What do you do for supply teachers? What good and bad experiences have you had with supplies?

One thought on “Let’s make the supply teacher cry…”

  1. How about this scenario: the “supply” or substitute as they are called around here, is a former 16 year veteran who had to resign to care for her mother and 3 years later tried to get a job in her former system, and after 4 years, over 300 job applications, only 20 interviews, 1 temporary contract ,after the teacher’s returned, for a Center school only to be let go again; who has 2 endorsements etc.; who has to take asst sub jobs when she can’t get teaching sub jobs and never ever thought she wouldn’t be able to have a classroom again, and this is why she is a “supply” teacher. Leave appropriate plans, with directions for routines and I feel confidant everything will be fine. The “supply” teacher may have twice as much experience, more training and equal if not more education and the only difference between you and the supply teacher is no one wants to pay for the supply teacher’s years of experience but won’t allow them to willingly take a pay cut just so they can do what they love!

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