Teaching Tip Tuesday – What a Classroom Teacher Expects from a Supply

I am very honoured to be the guest columnist for Teaching Tip Tuesday! I hope I can live up to WitGirl’s fabulous column from last week. I suppose I should start off by introducing myself. My name is Elle, and I’ve known Chase for years: He and I went to teacher’s college together. I, with a fellow teacher friend, have a beloved (at least to us) blog entitled “The Complaint Department”. We’d be honoured if you’d have a read sometime.

I’m actually writing to give the opposite perspective of last week’s entry. If you recall, WitGirl wrote about A Day in the Life of a Supply Teacher. This week is about what the classroom teacher expects from a supply teacher. I’ve been teaching for a while now and have encountered many a supply. On the whole, supply teachers are fantastic; schools cannot function properly without them. There are, however, a few who are destined to be minimally employed supply teachers for life because they lack the drive and enthusiasm to impress a principal and obtain references.

I am an elementary teacher. I currently have a regular classroom assignment. My kids are really well behaved, though some are challenging in terms of their specific learning needs. When I first started out, I had two very difficult assignments in a row with a group of children that were considered to be difficult and dysfunctional (not my words – they were a challenge but I loved every minute of it). For the next couple of years I taught Core French. These details will be important as I continue.

As I wrote above, 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.

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 few things in particular really impress me:

1) Initiative. I love to find little business cards in the office made by supply teachers who are looking to work in my school. It shows initiative and if I can’t get one of my regulars in for me, that’s the first place I look. I figure that if someone has taken the time to print business cards and advertise themselves, they must be enthusiastic about teaching and really want to work. Also, since it’s hard to get steady work at first, why not volunteer in my classroom? If you show initiative by talking to me and offering to come in on a regular basis to work with the kids I will be more apt to give you my supply days. If I’m impressed by the way you work with my students, I’ll spread the word to my colleagues. You’ll have steady business in no time!

2) A repertoire of extra things to do with the class. If you have extra time, it’s nice to know that a teacher has meaningful, 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.

3) A positive attitude. 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.

4) 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 desirable job for a lot of people. That said, if you really don’t want to teach it, then don’t accept the job. This often happens with half-days. Sometimes teachers book off only half of the day because they have an appointment or some sort of workshop to attend. It often happens that the night before said appointment there is a supply teacher slotted into the job but the next morning it’s been cancelled because the teacher has taken a full-day job. It is also very important to be on time. Do your supervision duty. If you don’t know something, ask! Manage the classroom as if it were your own. The day does not need to be a party for the kids. Of course you can incorporate fun things into the day; just don’t let the students run wild and make the day redundant.

5) Flexibility. Teachers, no matter what their assignment, need to be flexible. It seems to me that this was one of the very first things I learned in teacher’s college. This goes along with the positive attitude. I find it truly off-putting to hear a supply teacher complain about their assignment for the day, or the actual teaching the classroom teacher left for them to do. I understand that perhaps supply teaching isn’t their dream job. That said, it is often the ticket to the dream job so you’re probably best to keep your complaints inside and vent to family members after hours. Conversely, look to those around you for support and suggestion if your day is not going well. We love to help out! It is also imperative that if something happens like your gym time gets cancelled or you’re asked to cover something that’s not in the original plan (within reason, of course – don’t let anyone take advantage of you) don’t complain! Approach it like it’s a new experience, and do your best to learn from it!

6) Trust your instincts and fantastic teaching skills! If something isn’t working during the day, don’t be afraid to try out your own ideas. Also, don’t be afraid to teach the lesson the way you think it should be taught. You aren’t me. You have to do what works for you. The way I see it is that if the material has been taught, who cares what the approach was? I would much rather come in the next day to see that a teacher has tried different things to help the kids grasp the material than find that I have to re-teach it. As WitGirl outlined in last week’s post, she “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.” Classroom teachers need to remember this, and so do supply teachers. We’re a team. When a supply has my class, it’s their job to teach it. We’re all professionals, so let’s work together to make that happen!

At the end of the day, most supply teachers are there because they truly want to teach and do the job well. Again, schools can’t function without them. Classroom teachers need to view supply teachers like the qualified professionals that they are, and supply teachers need to hold up their end of the bargain. I will give as much work as I can to supply teachers that I trust. I will also pass on a good word for them to colleagues and most importantly, the principal. This is a sure-fire way to get a contract when the opportunity presents itself.

I’ll step off of my soapbox now. Thanks, Chase, for letting me contribute. WitGirl, I thank you for the original entry. Looks like we’re working together to make the supply/classroom teacher relationship a positive and successful one! I’m definitely going to take your ideas into account the next time I need a supply, and encourage my colleagues to do the same.