Supply Teaching: 7 Strategies I’ve Used Successfully

Happy Friday! In today’s post, I am going to be sharing a handful of classroom strategies that I’ve tried out in my first few months as a supply teacher, which have been largely successful. Slight caveat here, though: These techniques do NOT work for every single class that I teach, as each group of students is different, and each day that I teach offers a different dynamic. However, I find that these are the teaching strategies I tend to turn to most often, simply because they almost always get a positive response from both the class, and regular teachers that I supply for.

  1. Start every day on a positive note: To me, this is a crucial first step in making the day go smoothly. Every morning, no matter where or whom I am teaching, I always introduce myself warmly to the students, and tell them that I am excited to be their supply teacher. And I mean it genuinely. Every. Single. Time. Children are very intuitive and observant– no matter how young or old they are, they can read your body language and pick up on subtle changes in your attitude/disposition. They know whether or not you want to be there, and I always do my very best to make sure that my students that day are aware of the fact that not only do I want to be in the classroom, but I am blessed and genuinely excited about being able to teach them.
  2. Show up early, and become familiar with both day plans and classroom routines: While this one is rather common sense-based, it’s definitely worth mentioning. Personally, I like to be at my assigned school at LEAST ten minutes prior to the start of my job time, if not more. Although the official start of my work day technically already starts early (15 minutes prior to the first bell), I like to have some extra time to introduce myself to the office staff and my “teacher neighbours” in the classroom near me, become familiar with any students with special needs I may be working with that day, and also try to get a feel for the physical layout of the school. I also enjoy having ample time to gather my thoughts, read any day plans that have been left for me, and try to learn as many of the daily routines and rules as I can before the students enter the classroom.
  3. Make classroom management as fun and interactive as possible: When I first entered my Concurrent Education program (over 5 years ago now– how did THAT happen?), I decided that when I became a teacher, one of my many individual missions would be to never yell or scream at my future teachers. Ever. At all. Under no circumstances. And I have managed to do just that. Having experienced many instances of teachers losing their temper (both as a student and as a new teacher myself), I know that yelling in the classroom is not helpful for anyone involved, so I avoid it at all costs. That is not to say that I will not ever use a more stern tone in a serious situation if need be, but I never become openly angry or overly frustrated with my students. So, how do I prevent this? By bringing fun, joy, and energy into many of my classroom management techniques. Lately, I’ve been doing what many teachers call a “Countdown to Quiet”, and I will start counting down from 3, 5, or 10 (depending on class noise level) before I begin my lesson. With younger students, I also LOVE the technique that asks students to clap, snap, or perform any simple physical movement if they can hear my voice. I repeat this process as many times as I need to in order to get everyone’s attention, and it saves both my composure and my all-too-important “teacher voice” in the midst of noisy students. Finally, I find myself using fun and silly call and response tactics, in almost any grade that I teach. A few of my favourites are “When I say okie, you say dokie!” “When I say hakuna, you say matata,” and “When I say macaroni, you say cheese!” These get the students actively involved, and make classroom management a positive experience for everyone in the room. While they often tend to work better with younger grades, I have also used call and response for slightly older students. By the end of this past school year, all I needed to do for one of the Grade 5 classes at my preferred list school to stop and focus was call out “Hakuna!”, to which I would eventually get a happy chorus of “MATATA!!”
  4. Stay CALM: Especially in potentially stressful or tense classroom situations (e.g., behavioural outbursts), it is absolutely necessary as a supply teacher to stay as calm and level-headed as possible. I use Collaborative Problem Solving tactics (which were more heavily discussed in some of my older posts if you want to check those out!) whenever I can, and ALWAYS ask the students in question if there is anything that I can do to help them. I ask for support if I need it, but always try to do what I can to diffuse the situation in the classroom first, letting the kids know that I am there for them, that I have their best interests in mind, and that I am not looking to fight with them, get angry with them, or get them into any kind of trouble.
  5. Catch the “Superstar Students” in action: Rather than calling out students who may be misbehaving, I always try my best to emphasize the positive by catching students who are doing an amazing job each day. Positive reinforcement has been a universally successful technique for me so far as a supply teacher, and when I acknowledge students and praise them for a job well done, it tends to make their classmates want to follow suit. Even on days where I am faced with more challenges/difficulties, I still make sure that I thank the students who did their best that day and helped to make things go a little bit smoother.
  6. Come prepared: Later this month, I am planning on writing a post about some of my teacher bag essentials (Let me know in a comment if this interests you, or if you have any other suggestions for things you would like to see on the blog!), but overall, I arrive at each supply teaching job as prepared as possible. In addition to bringing the daily essentials I myself may need, I always bring a few extra school supplies, activity pages, and ideas for games/whole-class discussions as well. These are great for those days when my day plans are not as detailed, when days are less busy, or when I have a group of early finishers in need of something to do.
  7. Leave a detailed note: Regardless of whether I work for a half or full school day, I ALWAYS leave a reflective note for the regular classroom teacher about how my day went with his or her students. For half day calls, I leave a slightly more brief overview of the day, and a list of extra helpful students, but for full days, I usually like to leave a bit more detail so that the teacher can return and be completely filled in on what they missed in their absence. I found a great print-out on Pinterest that I frequently use, which is broken down into the following sections: A list of helpful students who “went above and beyond,” a list of students who needed more reminders, a space for discussing which work was finished or unfinished, and an overall notes section for informing the teacher of anything else that occurred that day. I also make sure to leave my name and contact information, any student work collected throughout the day, and any extra copies on the teachers’ desk, and I keep these in separate piles so that everything is organized and easy to find the next day. These notes do not take very long for me to write on average, but I’ve been told by several teachers that they are very appreciated.

On a final note, I ALWAYS ensure that I leave the classroom looking as clean and tidy as I possibly can, recruiting lots of student volunteers to help me do so. This also goes a long way with teachers, and it helps to leave a positive impression as well.

I hope these tips were helpful for any of my fellow supply teachers out there!

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