Earning respect as a supply teacher

Paul Boyd

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

When you ask people about their memories of supply teachers at school, they are usually positive or eventful remembrances.

Positive because they loved the ‘free lesson’ as they saw the stranger as a herald of little work or eventful as it was often the scene of class jokes or mischief.

Earning meaningful respect as a supply teacher is no mean feat.  A lot has to do with personal style and gauging boundaries.

supply 1

Firstly, it’s important to recognise that the context of your presence may not be as drastic as you think.  With in-house training, job sharing and learning walks etc. classrooms today are places where new faces are a regular occurrence.

One of the challenges for a modern student is often the lack of continuity, rather than the prevalence of it. Use this to your advantage and adjust your mindset; you are part of the wider team within that school so allow yourself to behave accordingly.

Connect yourself

The students may engage in some light interrogation; who you are, where you are from, etc. One way to establish yourself quickly is to link yourself to someone familiar. Find out the Head of Department’s name, or the Vice Principal, then refer to them. Mr Y asked me to join you for the day, or Miss S hopes I can help with exam preparation. Doing so will create a subconscious feeling of connection for the children which will make your presence more acceptable to them.

Find out the lingo!

Each school has a different set of vocabulary for the same things. Knowing this will help you appear as an ‘insider’ as you speak their language. Do they call it ‘form time’ or ‘registration’?  ‘Diaries’ or ‘planners’? ‘Head of Year’ or ‘Year Lead’?

Failing that, avoid these terms altogether and ask broader questions instead. Rather than saying "Who is your Head of Year?" try asking, "Who is in charge of your year group?". That way you avoid any clunky vernacular that reveals your ‘otherness’.

supply class

Make your presence special

Whilst taking on board the previous two tips, don’t pretend like you have been there forever! They know you’re a supply teacher. Don’t pretend otherwise. Use it to your advantage. Indulge in a little flattery. Tell the children that you’ve never been to the school, but that you really like it and are having a good day or ask them what they think of their school and agree with the positives you hear.

Maintain your authority

Maintain the mindset of authority, but never try to assert it in a bombastic or excessive way – you will most likely fail instantly.  If anything, it reveals your insecurity and opens you up to being undermined – remember, children smell fear!

Show up as your best self

Remember – you show others how to treat you. Be your best, enjoy the opportunity and know your stuff. Ultimately respect is earned naturally by delivering a high standard of professionalism and as much quality teaching as the situation will allow.

Finally, with the teachers in the school, be sure to thank anyone who helps you and tie up all loose ends.  Even if you have had a difficult day and want to sprint out the door, if you maintain your standards and round off the day with poise and efficacy, you will hopefully earn respect from the team who see you doing your best for them.



About our Community Expert


Paul BPaul Boyd
Community Expert

Paul is an actor and English teacher from Northern Ireland. Alongside his acting career working in theatre, film and television across the UK, he also teaches in primary and secondary schools throughout London.

Paul provides performance coaching to both individual clients and businesses.


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