Interview with... Sophie, an NQT on supply

Sophie, an NQT on supply, talks to us about how schools could make life easier for supply teachers!
Why did you get into supply teaching?

I decided to get into supply teaching when it was apparent that the area in which I live did not have many vacancies for newly qualified teachers.  After a few months of applying, I decided to become a short term supply teacher whilst I was on the look out for a more permanent job.  I contacted my local authority and they instructed me to submit an application, attend an interview and some courses and then I was placed onto the supply register.

What do you take with you on assignment?

I always ensure that I am well prepared and have collected together a box of items that I take with me to schools. These include lesson starters that I have devised as well as books with photocopiable ideas in. I also have resources that will assist me in my lessons as well as white labels!! I give each child one to wear throughout the day and this makes it ten times easier!

How do you ensure you'll be called back to work at that lovely school / by your recruitment consultant?

I always ensure that all work that I have done with the children is marked and left neatly with a note for the teacher to explain how the day went as well as any details I feel that they need to know. The classroom is always left tidy and that all resources are put away in the appropriate place.

Do you have any advice for those wishing to be a supply teacher?

Ensure that you are always prompt on arrival and prepared to do anything to help the teacher/class that you are working with. Always be polite but make an impression upon the school as then you are more likely to be asked back. Always take your box of tricks and keep an open mind :)

What did you learn from being a supply teacher?

The ability to think on my feet and it has given me many experiences as I deal with such a variety of children and varying needs/abilities on a daily basis. As well as giving me an insight into many different schools in my area.

How could the lives of supply teachers be improved?

If schools were more open to supply teachers and supported them better. Many schools aren't too fussed about looking after the supply teacher or making their job any easier. What they forget is that supply teachers usually work outside their comfort zones in places and with people that they have never met before so ensuring that a friendly face is around would make things better.

Who would be the ultimate supply teacher and why?

I think the ultimate supply teacher would be someone who is inspirational, motivating and ensures that all children are engaged by their teaching. Someone that wants to see the children do well and encourage them to become life-long learners.

Resources for Supply Teachers - Thinking Dice
And finally, what is your favourite supply teacher resource?

Probably my thinking dice, they are a great tool to use in a starter or a plenary of a lesson and I enjoy using them as an AFL technique too.

Thoughts on Supply Teaching - by Maerad

I am motivated to write this following a brief baptism of fire into the UK supply teaching world!

Having taught for more than 32 years, the last 11 abroad, I returned to the UK 6 months short of taking early retirement at 55 - a benefit of the excellent salaries and savings I have made in the last decade. I decided to do a bit of supply teaching in the meantime, wrongly thinking it might be fun. My view of it was based on the 3 lovely people who used to come to the school I worked at before escaping abroad. They were regulars, welcomed, valued, respected by staff and pupils alike.

My first day reminded me exactly why I quit the country to teach abroad. In total I have done 2 days teaching in a Y3/4 class and 1 in a Y6 class, in the same school, which is enough to make me realise that the entire system is set up to make you fail, or at least make it as hard as possible for you to succeed, before you have even walked through the front door!

Now, I do realise that things may get better if you pick only the nicest schools to work in or you choose a small group of schools and get well known in them. I have the luxury to do this. Or not bother at all.

So what are the problems?

1. The name:

The very term 'supply teacher' seems to have negative connotations as a quick surf of the internet brought home. The permanent teachers in the school I visited clearly had little respect for me. The children [OK this IS a school with many problem children anyway] also think badly of them - I said good morning and one boy shouted back 'I hate you - I hate supply teachers!'. Maybe there is a better name? Emergency teacher? Guest teacher? Visiting teacher? However, changing the name will not, of itself, improve matters.

2. The inverse logic of everything:

The whole set-up is such that the supply teacher has to fit into the school and class. This means there are dozens of small but key points that can trip you up and, of course, the kids are on he lookout for the slightest excuse to pounce because you don't know something. It may be how the reward/punishment system works [this school had a convoluted one that involved handing out rewards like confetti and inching through a series of 'looks', reminders and warnings until eventually you arrived at losing a whole 2 minutes from playtime for when the child had failed to desist the undesirable or be on task 8 times], the groupings for each subject, which guided reading book and where everything is kept.... ENOUGH!

So, IF I go into another school it will be on my own terms. the class and room will be MINE for the day. I am in MY shoes, not someone else's. The rules will be MINE. The rewards and sanctions will be MINE [both distributed firmly but fairly]. The work will be MINE.

The 1st day was an unmitigated disaster as I tried hard to follow 'supply teacher convention'.

The 2nd and 3rd days I discovered, by talking to the children, that they thought I was doing supply as I was a poor teacher who could not get a proper job. I wowed them with tales of my exploits abroad and then 'taught' them the timetabled subjects in a very didactic, whole class way. That got their attention and one girl at the end of the day told me that I seemed to know an awful lot about all sorts of things. Those 2 days it was bums on seats and me performing in front of them the whole time. No chance to get up and wander round, gossip, be silly etc. Crucially, I knew what I was doing as I had planned it. Any reference to 'Mrs X does it this way' got 'Well I am not Mrs X' response.

The sad thing is, that I now have the respect of those kids and could go back in and teach. But I won't, because I can choose not to. I can refuse to bang my head against a brick wall. I can refuse to be subjected to the 'Mummy Up!' type kids [from a recent tv nanny programme] who I also think of as having 'parently challenged' behaviour. I'm not an NQT struggling to get a first job.

Will I try it again? Maybe.... but ONLY if the school I go into already has a positive attitude to supply teachers and nice kids that will appreciate a visiting teacher. Those of you who have made a successful career out of it, I take my hat off to you. Those doing it as a penance towards getting a permanent job, I feel for you. But you all need to stand up and be counted to demand the respect you deserve. Maybe we should demand that every permanent teacher, heads included, has to do a month 'on supply' as part of CPD? Then they would know what those shoes feel like.



Interview with... Ostpreussen

In this interview, secondary supply teacher Ostpreussen talks to us about her experiences, and how supply teaching has helped her to grow both professionally and personally.

Interview with a secondary supply teacherWhy did you get into supply teaching?

I wanted to go back to work after some time out and decided to try supply. I had never done it before and thought it would be good experience and I would get to see lots of different schools and could make a difference.

How did you get into supply teaching?

My mother was dying and I was sole carer. I could not cope with a f/t teaching job and 2 hours of commuting and so gave up my permanent job to look after my mum and be with her for her last few months. I have no regrets, you only get one mum and loved her dearly. A job is but a job at the end of the day and there are more important things in life.

What did you take with you on assignment?

I always took paper, lots of pens and pencils, shiny stars for primary and white address labels, ID and CRB, a pack or two of tissues, a lunch and a bottle of water. Also a folder of resources and some ideas in case there was no work set.

How did you ensure you'd be called back to work at that school?

Always gave my best, did a professional job and was always on my feet interacting with the class and making sure everyone was working. With primary, I always stayed back to mark the books and to leave the teacher some feedback.

Do you have any advice for those wishing to be a supply teacher?

1. Each day is a new day.

2. Don't take things to heart.
3. Don't suffer in silence. If the class is climbing up the walls then send a good kid to get support.
4. Remember that you are as good as any permanent teacher and that supply teachers do a very difficult and challenging job so don't be too hard on yourself.
5. Keep a diary with all your assignments in. I write a brief note with where I have been, which agency and what the school was like.
6. Supply is great experience both professionally and personally. See it as that. There are very few teachers who could hack supply and you need a new set of skills and the will to survive. But you will learn so much and see so many different kids and meet some little Horrid Henrys but some great Henriettas too!
7. Join a few agencies. Your loyalties must be to yourself and it is good to cast out your net. Tell them what you want as a daily rate.
8. If you are secondary, try primary! It's different, but enjoyable and I found myself learning SO MANY new things and really enjoyed the experience. Also - I have found primary schools so much more welcoming of supply teachers generally as they do not have the cover supervisors and tend to be much smaller and just glad of a good teacher who gives their best!
9. Get to know the TA. Introduce yourself and shake hands. See it as a team effort - with you as the lead teacher, but with a great learning assistant. Most TAs are fabulous and there are some with degrees and even PGCEs! They know the kids and the set up and will appreciate you including them and asking them for advice. If you get the odd one who looks down on supply teachers or sees them as overpaid and not essential then accept that you cannot change their view of supply teachers, but you can show them that you are different and don't take it to heart!
10. Don't let agencies walk over you. You have the right to decide which days you want to work. Try to establish a good working relationship with your agency consultant. Ring them in the morning to let them know your availability and to get your name to the top of the list. Agency consultants appreciate availability.
11. Try and do something nice in the evening as supply can be lonely and unrewarding sometimes. So, take the dog for a walk, join a gym or do an exercise DVD or have a hot bath. Clear your mind of the day. The day is over!
12. Join a union. Essential in today's climate.
13. Don't EVER be alone with a pupil or leave ANY pupils alone. If you send a pupil out and then go to talk with them then take along another pupil and same if you ask someone to stay back after the lesson. Many a fine teacher has had a career ruined through a lapse on this front and the agency will drop you like a red hot brick.
14. Work for secondary supply especially  has become very thin on the ground due to cover supervisors working in house in schools. Think very carefully before you give up a permanent job as I have known many teachers give up supply teaching due to there being little or no work. There are still long term contracts via agencies to be had, but accept that you do not get pension payments, sick pay or holiday pay - although agencies will often say that holiday pay is incorporated into your daily rate which is rarely paid to scale! Supply teaching is not what it was a few years ago and do not rely on it as your sole income.

What did you learn from being a supply teacher?

I learned that most pupils do not respect supply teachers - this is true of primary and secondary. There are also some teachers who do not respect supply teachers. I also learned that you can only do your best BUT often the quality of work set is not the best and you have to accept that when 30 kids come in through the door, conditions will rarely be ideal and you cannot be on an equal footing with their normal teacher. I also saw so many different models of education, different schools, settings, school politics and I learned where I would be happy to work. Supply gives you unrivalled opportunities to see education at work and this is such a positive! I learned much about myself. I have learned to clear my mind at the end of the day and no longer take so much to heart. I just do my best and when I drive home, accept the day is over and tomorrow is a new day. Each school I have been to - from the very worst and challenging where I would not send the Devil's son, to the best, has helped me grow on a professional and personal level and made me the teacher I am today.

How could the lives of supply teachers be improved?

Schools need to have a bank of good teachers who they regularly call and provide supply teachers with good information packs on procedures, timings etc. Each school permanent teacher should have seating plans and photos of the class as well as some behaviour notes and tips for the supply teachers. In secondary schools, you are thrust out into the ring and often given the bare minimum. In long term positions, schools need to include supply teachers in professional development opportunities. This is not about sending them on expensive curriculum courses, but some internal project to work on would be something. Too often, supply teachers do the whole whack, but are not given any scope for professional development. In secondary education, the role of cover supervisor should be abolished. It's a nonsense that they need a minimum of 2 GCSEs to be qualified for this role - yes, many have A levels or a few degrees, BUT each child has a right to have a qualified teacher in front of them. Far better for schools to have a bank of well qualified subject specialists who do regular work there. Supply teachers should be paid to scale. Even on daily assignments. Agencies are paying what they can get away with! And thereby undermining the professional status of (supply) teachers.

Story time!

Well, I have had a bottle of tippex thrown at me, a pile of books dropped onto my feet, been called a "second rate supply teacher who can't get a real job", had a primary school boy who kicked a water bottle into another boy's face and then ransacked the classroom and his father then came in and he was even worse!. Had a primary AST who once told me that the work done by supply teachers was abysmal which is why she never set any written work and she put my handbag onto the floor and said "I am not having that" when I put it on her desk as I was taking over her class for the afternoon and then put my jacket on a desk when I put it on the back of the chair and said "I am not having that either". At the end of the day, she came in and told the TA in front of the class and me "That even the TA could do better!". I went home in tears as she was so arrogant and unprofessional and so prejudiced. And really put me down, but that said lots about her and her lack of respect towards supply teachers.

Who would be the ultimate supply teacher and why?

God. Neither male nor female and S/he would know what is to be taught and how and everyone would sit in awe. And God would be able to read the mind of his/her students and deliver the best lessons possible with a click of his/ her fingers.

And finally, what is your favourite supply teacher resource?

My favourite teacher resource is TES resources.

Interview with... Sarah Priest

Former supply teacher Sarah, aka Footie, tells us not to take the bad days personally!

Interview with a supply teacher - SarahWhy did you get into supply teaching?

I initially became a supply teacher when my contract at a primary school ended and being an NQT I was eager to gain more experience to add to my CV.

How did you get into supply teaching?

I applied to a number of different supply agencies, as well as what was the County Supply List. Once I had been approved to join the County Supply List I wrote to and emailed every primary, first and middle school within the local area. This led to me getting known in my local area and gaining a regular bank of three/four schools where I was their regular supply teacher.

What did you take with you on assignment?

I had a folder full of a variety of different activities for different subjects, activity books, theme ideas books and a selection of story just in case there was no planning left. Plus a selection of blank paper, spare pens, pencils, water and my lunch!

How did you ensure you'd be called back to work at that school?

I always made sure I was there early to give myself time to familiarise myself with the school, introduce myself to relevant members of staff and get to my classroom. Once in the class I ensured the students knew the expectations of them, that I expected good behaviour and work from them. At the end of the day all the work was marked, a detailed hand over sheet was left for the teacher and I made a point of finding the office staff/person responsible for booking me to thank them for having me and letting them know I had had a good day.

Story Time!

I had a nightmare in a year two class. It was in a less affluent area and the area was known for being difficult (both adults and children). The class were terrible, never sat still, constantly talked and fought and none of my behaviour strategies worked. By morning play I was ready to cry and go home... Until the TA came up to me and said "You are doing a great job with them, they are like this, if not worse, with their class teacher and she is the deputy head!" I stuck it out for the day but needless to say I never went back!

Do you have any advice for those wishing to be a supply teacher?

Be prepared for anything! I always had my bag packed with my emergency supplies, a map book, my lunch and a fully charged mobile. Always make sure that your agencies/schools know your availability for the week - if they don't know they can't contact you! Always give yourself a cut off time, if I didn't get a call by 9:30 I would pick up my gym bag (packed the night before at the same time as my school bag and both left in the hall) and head off down the gym for a few hours. A watched phone doesn't ring! Most importantly, don't take bad days personally, it is hard and draining going into different schools and classes every day, bad classes can be incredibly draining, but just remember you only have them for a day and can refuse to have them again, the class teacher has them for the whole year!

What did you learn from being a supply teacher?

I learned a great deal about myself and schools being a supply teacher. I learned I could teach well across both key stage one and key stage two. This improved my confidence and I found going into unknown schools much easier. My behaviour strategies became much better and I gained extra ones! I learned to become resilient, learning to put bad days behind me and look at each day as a new day and start afresh. I began to see which schools in the local area I liked and I would like to work in and ones that we not for me.

How could the lives of supply teachers be improved?

I personally found supply teaching very isolating until I found the Supply Forum run by Nutty and gained great support and advice from the posters, becoming firm friends with a number of them. Locally however, there was very little support. I was lucky in that the schools I went to allowed me into the staff rooms and my regular ones came to see me as a member of their team.

Who would be the ultimate supply teacher and why?

Besides myself ;-) I think the ultimate supply teacher would be someone who could inspire the class, engaging them in the work and making them see learning is a lifelong fun journey to embark on.


Sarah is now an Independent Living Tutor working with adults with physical and learning difficulties.  Sarah is co-author of two books for FS2 / KS1 supply teachers for sale at and on Amazon. In her spare time, Sarah creates patchwork items which you can view here:

Interview with... Katie, an NQT on supply

Interview with... Katie, an NQT on supplyKatie talks to us about being an NQT working as a supply teacher, and juggling multiple agencies!

How and why did you get into supply teaching?

Having completed my final placement at the start of December, I did not want to be away from the classroom from then to September. Supply teaching seemed the best solution to providing me with teaching experience and developing my behaviour management strategies.

How did you choose which agencies to register with?

A teacher at my placement school recommended a few agencies and then I asked around my NQT friends to see who they had been with previously. I also searched online for the top results, then applied through the websites once I had an up-to-date CV. I contacted quite a few agencies as I was not sure what to expect and whether many would take me as I don't yet officially have QTS (I graduate in July). Three agencies got in touch and I've worked for them all over the past few months. Some seem much busier than others and being with three agencies has provided the best chance of being able to work on my free days.

What have you learned from working with your teaching agencies?

The importance of keeping my availability diary up-to-date and remembering to submit my expenses, particularly with juggling three agencies. I've also learnt that I should check what cut of my pay the agency takes as for one agency in particular my final pay was quite a shock when I received my first pay slip.

How do you ensure you'll be called back to work at a school?

Simply by putting as much effort into teaching that class as I would my own, including the marking! Each time I supply I aim to stick to the children's usual routine as much as possible and I make sure that I speak to any staff I encounter, but don't sit in the staff room chatting. If I have a TA I make sure they understand how much I value their expertise and at the end of every day I provide full written feedback for the teacher and verbal feedback to the staff in the office. Basically, I do everything that I would want somebody covering my class would do.

How do you feel working as a supply teacher is preparing you for your NQT year?

Behaviour management has been a big development point for me! On placement I've often thought that the children might not listen to me until they've gotten to know me. With day-to-day supply that isn't an option. I have to maintain control from the second I enter that room. Additionally, it's the first time I've properly had a class to myself for a full day, without a class teacher to fall back on or direct parents to at the end of the day. I now have a much greater confidence in my own abilities and a bank of ideas for teaching, displays and classroom management ready for September. I believe that all of these shall contribute to me 'hitting the ground running' for my NQT year.

Have you any advice for trainee teachers thinking of doing supply teaching before their NQT year starts?

DO IT! By far the best thing I could have done. It has boosted my confidence so much for September and I have been able to get so many ideas for displays, planning, classroom organisation and behaviour management, along with a few ideas to avoid. I honestly don't think I would have got my full time job for September so soon had I not done supply, as it gave me so much self-confidence of being able to manage a full class by myself and know that I was in control. My advice: just keep it to two days a week as dissertation, other assignments and job hunting must take priority. Stick to the children's usual routine as much as possible and if something doesn't work or you don't enjoy a school just treat it as a learning curve. You don't have to go back again the next day!

How could the lives of NQTs starting out on supply be improved?

Luckily the teachers at my first supply schools had left work which meant I could focus on tackling my behaviour management strategies. I think it would help if agencies ensured NQT's were given preferential bookings of schools where planning has been left in order to support this. Also, as great as my teaching experiences may have been on placements they are restricted to certain year groups and it takes time to build up a bank of lesson ideas. On many bookings the school have seemed surprised that I am still completing my degree. I feel it would help if agencies made the school aware that you are an NQT so that they can provide more support as it takes time to get used to quickly stepping into someone else's shoes. Knowing where to turn for good advice and support would be a great help too.

Did your university course cover supply teaching?

No, not really. They only mentioned it as a backup option if we failed to get full time jobs by September. They held a careers event at the end of April for students to meet representatives from various agencies but I was already working by this time.

Who would be the ultimate supply teacher?

Of course - Mary Poppins!

And finally, what is your favourite supply teacher resource?

My quick thinking initiative! I have a "supply bag" ready to pick up and go any morning. My Supply Toolkit: Sat Nav! Stickers, Flat Stanley (so many wider curriculum opportunities), a KS2 book, a USB pen full of worksheets, lesson powerpoints and other resources, hand sanitizer, various coloured pens (all schools use different for marking) and of course my CRB and supply paperwork.


You can find Katie on Twitter @TheMissW, and read her blog here:

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