A Day in the Life of a Supply Teacher

Hello again, it’s Witgirl! I’m here to help out Chase who is busily preparing report cards this week. He feels he absolutely cannot go a Tuesday without posting a Teaching Tip, this is where I come in.

I’m not exactly sure if I’m offering a tip, maybe more of a suggestion. As I am a supply teacher I have had the pleasure of experiencing many different planning styles. The kind I prefer are the ones that follow:

1. Written clearly, as in legible on an actual day plan. How many times have day plans been written on the back of a piece of scrap paper? Where is the professionalism in that?

2. Follow a routine the students are familiar with. Now is not the time to mix things up.

3. Grade appropriate, enough of the word searches and colouring pages already. The school year goes by quick enough, let’s try giving them something a little more challenging.

4. Materials are at hand, not hidden away in some back storage room. I do not want to root through everything.

5. The day plans should be on the surface of the desk, not mixed in with all the garbage on the desk.

6. Lastly, it is also nice to do more than just give handouts. I did not spend 4 years in University and a 1 1/2 years in teacher’s college just to sit behind a desk while students do desk work. It’s boring for me and them. Let me teach them.

Thank you for listening, I feel much better with that out there.

Teaching Tip Tuesday Archive – over 100 tips and counting

10 responses to “A Day in the Life of a Supply Teacher”

  1. Thanks a lot Witgirl,

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Let me add one more thing to your list.

    7. If you are a gym teacher, please don’t leave the gymnastic lessons to a supply teacher.

    Kids go crazy when they see mats and beams and they don’t tend to listen well on those days in the best of circumstances.

    This happened just last week in my school.

    I don’t see why the supply teacher cannot simply play with the kids on these rare days that the gym teacher is absent. There is nothing wrong with playing basketball or soccer and delaying the gymnastic lesson for one day.

  2. Hi WitGirl!

    Thanks for your entry. I hadn't looked at it that way before. Especially the part about handouts. Someone (maybe a principal?!?!) mentioned once that it's not the supply teacher's job to actually teach a lesson, and that seems to be the general consensus. I agree with you, you're qualified, so why not? I tend to leave a mixture, but it's nice to know that you, as a representative of the supply teaching community, feel comfortable doing so. Not that I expected anything different, but I hadn't given it a lot of thought before now.

    I have encountered a few supplies who basically view the day as babysitting and nothing more. It's therefore obvious why classroom teachers like to choose their own supply teachers. I like being able to trust the person who is coming in and know that they are going to do the job at the same level that I expect for myself. It's supply teachers like you who get the work and who will get a contract (assuming that's what you're looking for) before others.

    I like to give new supply teachers a chance. If I'm happy with how the day went, I will put them on my list of people to request. A couple of things in particular really impress me:

    1) A repertoire of extra things to do with the class. If you have extra time, it's nice to know that a teacher has grade-appropriate activities for the kids to do so that I don't have to worry that I've misjudged some time for an activity. It shows initiative, and really goes a long way in my book. I'm sure it happens where a teacher has an emergency and does not have the time to make appropriate plans for the day. In that event, I'd like to know that whoever is in for me can and will enthusiastically cover the day. This has not happened to me yet, but it's always in the back of my mind.

    2) Positivity. No matter what kind of day you have with my class, I DO NOT need a negative note at the end of the day. Sure, communication is great. I like to know what happened in my class, especially if there is something I need to follow up on upon my return. However, if this note is nothing but negativity, don't write it. I know the day probably isn't going to be perfect, but there must be something positive you can report on as well. I have had a couple of particularly challenging classes, and was fully aware of their behaviour. I absolutely loathed coming in the day after an absence because I knew what was waiting for me. What a crummy way to start off a day.

    3) Reliability. I used to teach Core French. I can't tell you the amount of times that someone would accept my job the night before only to cancel it because something better came along, leaving my school with a vacancy for the day. I understand it's not the most desireable job for a lot of people. That said, if you really don't want to teach it, then don't accept the job.

    Anyway, most supply teachers are there because they truly want to teach and do the job well. I don't mean to sound negative, I just sort of figured that this was a good time to throw in my 2 cents.

    I will do my very best to leave day plans the way you have outlined above. WitGirl, I'd love for you to work in my class – sounds like you are one of those true gems. I know supply teaching must be difficult, and I commend you for being so enthusiastic about it. 🙂

    – Elle

  3. I loved this tip since I have subbed most of the past two years and I love it. You get to deal with all grades and subjects and I think every teacher should be forced to do it at some time in your career. It makes you think on your feet and really hone your class management skills. You find out really quickly that humor and understanding go alot further than going all power mad on the kids. I do have my magic briefcase with me for those teacher that poorly plan for me and that is essential. We all could use a class during teachers convention or PD time to learn how to do that kind of planning right.

  4. Oh and another thing…leave the kids wanting more. If you can afford to relax and give the kids a bit of a fun day when they are not forced to move forward by the relentless rush to complete the curriculum that seems to get bigger every year. Then they KIDS will ask for you back when the teacher has to be away and I get many of my sub jobs off that kind of referal. Principals hear about that and that is how you get offered your dream job.

  5. Hi Elle,

    I would really like to use your ideas here as next week's Teaching Tip Tuesday. I was thinking about writing a post about what I expect from my supply teacher. I just haven't gotten around to writing it.

    So are you up to the challenge? We could use some of this comment and just reformat it and repost it.

    Send me an email if you are interested. Thanks!

  6. Hi Calvin,

    I like the idea that all teacher's should supply as a way to build classroom management skills.

    Maybe I could suggest this at the next staff meeting. We could do a teacher exchange one day next year where we would just be randomly assigned another class for one day. That would be cool.

    I also like the idea of letting the supply teacher actually teach and have some fun with the class.

    Thanks for the comments.

  7. Hi Elle and Calvin,

    Thank you for your comments.


    I try to keep the notes positive for the teacher. I also attempt to handle the matters of the day myself rather than push them to the next day. Being a supply has really given me ample opportunity to practice my classroom management skills and patience.

    One more thing, I would love to supply for you.


    I definitely reward the students for their work. I usually let them know what the incentive is and quite often they complete their work and enjoy the reward. I also make sure that I follow through on what I say, positive and negative.

    Thank you again for your comments.


  8. Hi Witgirl:

    You made a good point.

    Unfortunately, in my system the computer chooses our supply teacher so the school and teacher have no choice about who their supply is.

    I do try to give lessons that are easily handled, however, some subjects are challenging for those not versed in those subjects.

    On the rare occassion the lesson plans, that have taken time to create, were not even attempted to be followed. If there is a reason for major changes – not a problem (like the library computer melts down, which happened this last week).

    I do struggle with the issue of the use of i-pods and other devices during class work time.
    It is a RARE treat in my normal teaching practise because I find that students are focusing more on the songs playing then completing the work.

    Other issues can include inappropriate language (especially when the student starts singing along). Some supply teachers allow i-pods for extended periods of time because it decreases classroom management issues.

    Thanks for the chance to talk about these things!

  9. Hi Anonymous

    I feel sorry that you are not able to choose your supply yourself. I am asked personally by the teachers to supply for them. I have had the opportunity to become acquainted with the students as well as each teacher's routine.

    I have allowed i-pods to be used in the Grade 8 class before. However it is on an incentive basis. Students must complete a certain amount of work before they are allowed to be used, usually during math. I have found that this benefits some students who are easily distracted by other. I have noticed a change in the amount of work they complete.

    Thank you for your comment,


  10. Hi Anonymous,

    I once taught for a board that had a computerized system for booking supplies as well. However, we could choose a specific supply if we wanted to., We just needed to know their ID number and we could enter it into the system. The supply had to accept the job but would be given first refusal. I don't know why all systems wouldn't be set up this way.

    I have only missed a handful of days this year and each time I have had the same supply teacher in my class. It's comforting to know that she knows my routine and that she knows the students well enough that I don't have any worries when she is there.