8 questions to ask as you walk in to a supply teaching job

If you’re lucky, you may know in advance which year group you’re going to and you may even be supplied with planning. However, on some days, that just isn’t the case: the leadership are all out at a conference, the inclusion manager has been called away and you’re in to cover a teacher who’s been taken ill half way through the morning. The children have been ‘reading quietly’ for half an hour and are getting creative with their behaviour. So what does a substitute teacher need to know to hit the ground running?

What’s the school reward and sanction process?

The golden rule for behaviour management when supply teaching is to stick to the school policy for rewards and sanctions, because that’s what the children are trained in. It also shows that you’re part of the staff and not a guest with less school savvy than the children. In the few seconds you have before the class arrive, this should be one of your first questions to the adult leading you in. Is it two verbal warnings, or three? What’s a typical sanction for back chat or swinging on a chair the third time: two minutes of golden time or ten? There may also be an additional in-class incentive system the class teacher has implemented: reward charts, marbles, golden time, stickers, so you can ask the children about this, or implement your own. There will likely be a display on the board telling you how everyone is doing today.

What’s the escalation process?

Prevention is better than a cure, and most of the power of a behaviour management tactic is the child’s knowledge of what’s to come. As you arrive, ask the names of the next teachers up the process and write them down. That way, if anyone’s behaviour pushes beyond the normal warnings, you can make it clear that you would really rather regret having to send him/her to Mrs… so they now need to choose whether to do as you’ve asked or be sent off.

Who has a medical or behavioural issue to note?

Primary schools will have photo cards of any children with allergies on the classroom wall, but for all other settings and needs you are relying on being told who’s who on the hop. If there is potential for a medical emergency issue, you need to know where the inhaler/ EpiPen/ treatment is and, before you’re left alone, have the adult recommend a pair of responsible young assistants who can walk at sensible speed to the office for help.

Where can I see the timetable, and what’s next?

You need to know what your timings are, and more importantly it reassures the children not to upset the routine.

Do I have any adults?

Find out how who you have, which lessons you have them for, and if they belong to a certain child. These people will be your saviours today so introduce yourself immediately. Find out if they are looking to you for direction as a classroom supporter or if they have their own interventions timetable.

Where are the resources?

Toilets, photocopier, PE shed keys, classroom equipment for the day’s lessons. You might also be expected to use the school handwriting so ask their expectations.

Where can we get outside?

Take the children out for ten minutes to refresh and reset. For little ones, the sunlight plus the lining-up process does wonders for switching them back into learning mode. For the older ones you can explain you respect the effort they’ve put into sitting patiently and you want to give them ten minutes now in order to maximise what they get out of the remaining lesson afterwards.

How do I log in?

Many schools now have an automated register and lunch ordering system. If you can’t log in, expect a written class list. Verbally calling the register anyway is a good way to calm them, engage them and learn their names.

Don’t forget to introduce yourself, first and surname, to everyone. It’s great to network and it does no harm getting noticed so you’re requested next time. If it goes well, share your tricks with our other Eteach supply teachers.

Good luck and have a good day!

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