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Successful Supply Teaching – Making the Most of Your Day

by Neil Finney

The demands of being a supply teacher are constant and challenging. You arrive at new schools and attempt to learn new names and faces each day. The effort you exert and the strategies employed will often dictate whether you are given a future return call.

 So, how can you ensure that you leave a lasting impression with both students and teachers?

Be responsible. The office will often give you the essential items – key, schedules, emergency procedures, day plans – but it is also important to introduce yourself to the classroom teacher next door, department or division leader. These are the people that you can count on for advice or answers when you need them.

Familiarize yourself with the day plan and do your best to follow it. Find the seating chart, and if one hasn’t been left, have one made by one of the “helpful” students in the room.

Be sincere. Start your day by greeting students at the door. Introduce yourself – and smile when you do it. Use an ice-breaker to allow students to learn something about you – much more effective than just your name on the blackboard in chalk!

Circulate and show interest in what the students are doing. Ask if help is needed during seat work tasks or start conversations with the students one-on-one about how their year is going so far or what interests they have.

Be flexible. While there is a plan in place for the day, recognize that sometimes you will need to make adjustments based on student need and how the day is going. More time for some activities will be warranted and necessary – don’t be afraid to make changes as long as you leave the details in your end-of-day note.

Find a small chunk of time that you can use as a ‘preferred activity’. This will go a long way in helping with classroom management and building a rapport with the class.

Leave a lasting impression. Make sure that you leave a note. It allows the returning teacher to understand, not only how the day was, but also how to follow up with the students (with rewards or consequences). No matter how much of your news is bad news, try to find one positive thing to relate. Remember to be honest and confident in what you have accomplished.

If you have made a genuine attempt to connect with the students and follow the plan – word will travel around the staff about your success. Make sure your leave a business card so that everyone knows how to contact you for the next time.

What is your most effective way to connect with students as a supply teacher? What creative methods do you use to help with classroom management?


During Neilʼs 9 years of teaching experience, he has taught in London, England; Ontario; public and private schools; elementary and secondary; junior; intermediate; core french; developmental skills; and now junior gifted (grades 4,5,6). He is a Reading Specialist that has been incorporating technology in his practice consistently throughout his career. Neil has recently published his first book entitled “Ignite. Incite. Inspire.” – Examining 21st Century Issues in Education, which is a collection of teaching articles and posts written from January to December 2011.

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  • Rachel

    Being a supply teacher for the past three years in a variety of school settings, I have had to come up with some quick, easy and portable ways to manage classroom behaviour. What works best for me is when students are in learning groups. I assign each group a number and then give them points for particular behaviours. I let them know that they can lose points, but also gain them back. If there are only a few students who are distracting others I use the traffic light system (this has worked on grades up to and including 7!). The students that are doing a good job of staying on task will have their names written in green, those who receive a warning will have their name in yellow and those who still cannot turn their day around will receive their name in red. Red usually means time spent with me during nutrition break or a consequence decided by the classroom teacher.

    I find it particularly hard to connect to students who you only see for a day; however, it is easier with the younger grades as long as you are smiling and are interested in their stories. I still find myself struggling to connect with older grades. What I have realized is that I have to flexible yet firm, but also relaxed. Allowing time for those side conservations is a great way to help students stay on track but also get to know them in the meantime!

    • Julia

      Thanks for sharing your insights Rachel! There are certainly challenges when you only have one short day to connect with students.

    • Janet Lee

      Rachel, I can completely relate to the balance you describe with older grades. Being flexible yet firm and relaxed takes special expertise! I have found that students read me very well from the moment they walk in to the room. If I am having an off day, they know it immediately. I always greet students at the door and make sure they have a clear understanding of my expectations from the start. I agree that getting to know students in older grades is difficult but key to a successful day.

    • Neil Finney

      Rachel – I really like the idea of placing students in learning groups and creating an internal reward system – even if only for the day. The intermediate and senior students absolutely need a particular flavour to quickly buy in to your message and follow through on their expectations.

      As a supply teacher, I always tried to find time to tell a personal anecdote or story that made me a person – not just a “supply” to the class. It was these travel stories, funny memories and my own school experiences being dramatized that drew them in and helped to connect in a positive way.

      Thanks for the great examples and advice!