Teaching in a New Classroom: The Survivor’s Guide to Supply Teaching

By Horizon Teachers

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Whether you're a newly qualified teacher or have been moulding the young minds of our future for years, supply teaching can seem like a different entity; an unknown beast with new challenges. Whilst supply teaching does come with its own challenges it also comes with some great benefits.  

Supply teaching can be as flexible as you need it to be. For those with childcare requirements or other commitments, supply teaching can offer the flexibility to work around your needs. Supply teaching can also help you create a better work-life balance giving you more time to enjoy the simple things in life.

For those returning to teaching it can be a great way to get back into the swing of things whilst getting to know local schools. If on the other hand you're near to retirement and want to drop the amount of work you do, supply teaching could be just the ticket!

Whatever your reasons for supply teaching, you will need to approach this new challenge with vigour and guile. With over 70 years’ combined experience in Education and Recruitment we thought we'd share some of our tips for not only surviving, but thriving in new classrooms as a supply teacher!

Prepare to be unprepared

As a supply teacher you'll realise that some teachers are better than others at providing what's needed to have their lessons covered. Some will provide detailed lesson plans with more than enough work to fill the expected period of cover, whilst others will fall abysmally short of the mark. We've all been there. The best solution is to prepare to be unprepared.

Take along a few of your favourite lesson plans or teaching activities with you in case the inevitable happens and you're left to wing it. Over time you’ll build up a portfolio of engaging lesson plans, ice breakers and mop up tasks to ensure that you can rock into any situation feeling confident.

Other than the annoying lack of lesson plans you'll also come across issues such as the wrong text books being left in the classroom, or technical issues such as a lack of computer logins. The best way to overcome these technical niggles is to do your due diligence and call ahead before you get there. Ask for all the necessary logins and technical information needed for that classroom. It's also worth asking if there is a colleague on hand to help you begin setting up before the class starts. Doing this will help to show that you are as organised and dedicated to making this period of cover run as smoothly as possible.

Utilise your resources

Adjusting to a different teacher's learning environment and lessons can be tricky. Fortunately there are usually key figures around to help you get up to speed and adapt. Teaching assistants and other staff members are a god send and can really help you learn about the classroom that you're going to cover.

Make sure you introduce yourself to as many professionals as you can and discuss what the classroom and its students are like.

  • What work needs finishing?
  • Who are the students and what are their strengths?
  • What areas are they struggling with and who needs the most support?

Having this information can help you to make a real impact even in the short period of time that you're covering for. Effective teaching isn't about the quantity of time that you spend with the kids, it's about the quality of the interactions that you have with them. If you approach new classrooms with the same intent and awareness that you would bring to a full-time role, schools will notice and want you to return in the future.

Count on wait time (and bring a plan B)

One of the most common challenges that supply teachers face is the class completing all the work that has been left ahead of schedule. Having a plan B is pretty essential if you want to have a panic-free time.

Do you have a favourite game that you’ve played with students in your former classroom? Can you think of an interesting story to tell that ties in with an over-arching theme of that subject or age group? Are there any knick-knacks lying around that you could bring in for an educational “show and tell”? Some supply teachers keep a box of interesting items in their car that can be used to start engaging discussions.

If you count on having wait time at the outset, you'll be much better prepared helping to remove the fear and uncertainty of what can often be an inevitable situation.

Discuss your questions and concerns with your teaching agency before jumping in

Many of our recruitment consultants have worked on both sides of the fence so they understand the challenges that you might face when going into a new school. They've often worked with the same schools for years and have built up a relationship with them.

When you talk to us be open and honest about any concerns that you may have and we'll do our best to give you the insight you need about the role and school. Questions about the class, the teacher that you're replacing, the learning style of the students, and the personnel that may be on hand to support can all help you to feel better prepared and ready to do what's asked of you.


Horizon Teachers is a London-based Education Recruitment Consultancy that specialises in supplying talented teaching and support staff to Primary, Secondary and Special Schools throughout London and the South East.

If you work in Education and are looking for your next role, or are curious to discuss your career with a recruiter that specialises in your field, then do reach out to us.

3rd Floor, 107 Cannon Street

London, EC4N 5AD
Telephone: 0207 444 0009
Fax: 0844 740 0827
[email protected]


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