Idea BankIdeas you can use right away.

What DID the Supply Teacher Do?

by Neil Finney

Ever find yourself asking this question? You return to your classroom having been away from work for the day and glance over the carefully-crafted lesson plan for the results of the activities you left. But, you find yourself at a loss when there are no notes, no comments and no clear picture about what your students accomplished in your absence.

Your first inclination is to ask a student.

“What did you do when Mr. So-and-So was here?” The trusted child, unassuming and honest, says “I don’t know. He told us some stories, we went outside to play around, and then we did a cartooning activity.”

You push harder. “Did you read and talk about the story from Nelson Literacy?”


“Was the class behaving well?”


“I bet.”

There is a dichotomy of effectiveness when you leave your classroom in the hands of another. The truth whispered amongst many teachers is that it is far more work to be away from school than it is just to come. Preparing lesson plans, arranging resources, fine-tuning a seating plan, writing notes about student behaviours to expect and reward/management systems that are in place, routines not related to teaching (collecting food orders and money, permission forms, duties, teaching and educational assistants, scheduling) and many other things must be left in an easily-identifiable spot for a supply to find.

Don’t get me wrong. I know how hard it can be to work as a supply teacher. I have been one.

I have been a supply teacher in some of the weirdest situations. Whether it was blocking doors to prevent students leaving or teaching classes that have more support staff than students, a day in the life of a supply teacher can be anything but normal.

Regardless of how challenging the circumstances, we do trust in our supply teachers to get the job done. It is difficult for a supply teacher when the students don’t know them. It is even more difficult when you have only left something ‘mechanical’ for them to teach.


Here are 4 easy things to do in preparation for a supply teacher:

1. Write a clear lesson or day plan

2. Leave a seating chart

3. Suggest two students who can be leaders and helpers

4. An offering of chocolate or a “thank you” gesture for coming in.


Keep an open mind about the situation your supply is entering and be realistic about what can be accomplished in your absence. Empathy can go a long way in understanding the world through the eyes of a supply teacher.

What expectations do you have of your students during your absence? How do you prepare for an absence?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  • Kathleen

    Neil, you mentioned some of those weird, or tricky situations. When I first started teaching I had a half day (morning) LTO. I was also working part time at a drug store to make ends meet. But after some time I felt ready to also take on some afternoon supply work. I was very excited when I was offered (with advance notice) my first job. I decided to go over the day before and check out the day plan (I soon learned that there are not always day plans, especially if a teacher gets sick in the morning and you come to cover the afternoon). However, there was a day plan. The Grade six class I was to cover turned out to be a rotary afternoon. All afternoon, grade six, seven, and eight grammar! What fun. I took the book home and spent the whole night completing all the assigned work so I knew what I was doing (have you ever parsed a sentence and used formal notation to identify the modifier of the bare subject, etc. on the fly, in front of bored grade eights? Not a pretty sight). So like Neil said, be gentle when you wonder what the occasional teacher did, recognize it may not all go the way you planned, but know that the “supply” is also a teacher and he or she will have led your students to new and different discoveries.

    • Janet Lee

      Being gentle with your expectations is a good thing when returning from an absence. I learned a new strategy from Sandra…check out her comment on this link
      Sandra presented a new way to get students thinking about their own reactions and responsibility with a “guest” teacher. I’m going to try it out!

    • Neil Finney

      Kathleen, parsing sentences and identifying modifiers – wow! Sounds like you were left all the fun stuff. You’ve put a personal face on this post by adding your own connecting story – thank you. There are some many wild and unexpected turns that a day can take when you are in as a supply teacher that it is so important to maintain perspective as the teacher who has been away.