6 steps to survive supply

As a supply veteran I still feel anxiety entering an unknown class but experience has taught me how to manage my anxiety and stress.

When full time I wondered why supply teachers struggled with my ‘lovely’ class.  Primary children recognise the non-verbal signals of their teacher, they know boundaries and expectations, the significance of changes in the tone of their teacher’s voice, they know their teacher knows them and they feel safe. A supply knows none of this.

I often get the impression children see supply as not ‘proper’ teaching, a time to try it on. My anxiety intensifies when I’m told which children I need to be ‘firm’ with.  No one ever says, ‘watch out for Charlie, he works tremendously hard, so make sure you praise him’ – the subconscious negatives feed my anxiety.

Anxiety rises further if the work set is a ‘holding task’, boring or tedious and destined for that ‘special place’. I hate ICT, laptops not charged, not enough to go round, wifi painfully slow and a chorus of ‘I don’t know my password’ after being assured with a dismissive ‘oh they all know,’ and it would be an easy lesson.

My welcome at a school sets the tone, many schools have an assumption you intuitively know their routines. Some are more welcoming and in these the children have greater respect. These positive and negative subconscious messages impact on my anxiety.

So, here are my steps to success:

1. Create a positive first impression, put on your best smile, ask the children what their teacher does if they are good and then praise several children for something, anything, as long as it sends a positive message.

2, Tell the class you are not their teacher so may do things differently – get them onside by saying something along the line of ‘I don’t like people who shout so please, if I get something wrong, don’t shout at me,’ think about the subconscious message here.

3. As the day progresses assess progress and perhaps try a little humour – children love funny teachers but this can be a double-edged sword, so be careful.

4. Keep your voice calm and maintain a happy or at least a neutral expression. Practise in the mirror by placing the tip of your tongue between your teeth.

5, Have a pre-prepared calming mental image fixed in your subconscious so if things go wrong you can call up the image and immediately feel the associated relaxation, this helps maintain your composure and reduces the ‘fight – flight’ effect.

6. Always pause before responding to any incident, train yourself to take a breath, pause and turn slowly toward the source. In my experience, once children sense you are rattled they push right on…

And a final thought, if another teacher enters the class and immediately the children go quiet and you receive the look that says, ‘you must be a terrible teacher,’ just know that teacher has never done supply!


Author: Robin Tucker
Robin is psychotherapeutic counsellor and hypnotherapist with his own private practice www.plainsailingtherapy.co.uk. He is a member of the Hypnotherapy Society and the Counselling Society. After a 26-year career in the Royal Navy he qualified as a primary teacher and maintains an interest in the wellbeing of fellow teachers. Having seen many fantastic practitioners become stressed and disillusioned his aim is to share his experiences and enable others to better cope and continue to teach, which benefits everyone involved in education.


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