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Life of a supply teacher

John has found the change from permanent work to supply teaching an interesting transition. 

There can be many ways to describe what it’s like to be a supply teacher, but boring certainly isn’t one of them.

When I started supply teaching I didn’t really know what to expect. After teaching for around twenty years in a variety of schools, I thought that I had a good idea of what may be in store for me. After all, while working as a head of department and head of year I had often been called upon to support supply teachers when they came into school.

To say that my first few weeks on supply were an eye opener would be an understatement. A lengthy assignment at an FE college quickly showed that there were still challenges that I had not come across. Teaching literacy and numeracy skills to those who had become switched off to academic lessons while at school was challenging, to say the least, but very fulfilling.

One of the big draws of supply is the variety. Not just the variety of students and the variety of schools, but also the variety of expectations of what you are expected to do. I quickly found that some schools had everything ready for you, all lessons planned and resources to hand together with seating plans and notes about where support could be found if needed, others expected you to deliver exciting and wonderful lessons when all you are given is a vague note which has been quickly scribbled on a scrap of paper. This is fine if it’s my own subject (mathematics), but more challenging if it’s languages or history or ……. You quickly learn to adapt and be flexible. I’ve always carried a usb memory stick with my own resources for my own subject with me but a second one with ‘odds ‘n’ ends’ for other subjects can be a real help.

I quickly learned what to expect from schools and now always approach any assignment prepared for anything that may arise. I even tend to have a supply of spare pens, paper and other things with me. I try not to have to search through desk drawers for such things if it can be avoided and always try to make sure that anything borrowed is returned (I once had a lesson of my own covered by a supply teacher who ‘forgot’ to leave the remote for the IWB projector in my desk drawer, I got it back several months later when he came back for a day’s supply, it had been in his bag since that day).

Now I tend to mainly get long term (a school term or longer) assignments within my own subject area, but a day doing ‘general supply’ is always looked forward to as a new challenge.

Are you a teacher who has made the move to supply teaching? Are you interested in sharing your experiences? Please email Megan ( in our Teacher Services team for more information. 

John is a secondary maths teacher who works with our Sheffield and Humber branches. We'd like to give him a warm welcome to our blogging team and look forward to his next blog.

Tags: JohnD, Sheffield, Humber, supply,

Category: Australian Teachers

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