Snapshot of a supply teacher’s day.

For the majority of my teaching career I have been working as a supply teacher. It is my job to walk into a classroom with very little notice and somehow work out what I am teaching, how to teach it, how the school operates and how to care for the twenty something individuals within that class (on some days when I am floating I can work with up to 100 different kids in a day). At the end of one of my supply days (a mostly delightful day hanging out in Prep) I thought I would give you a snapshot of what my day looks like and the amount of problem solving that is often involved.

A typical supply day :

  • For a day not already marked on my calendar I receive a phone call in the morning between 6am and 8am. I have had the odd emergency call in the middle of the day but that is very rare. Most of these calls come from a booking agency, though I get direct communication from the schools as well. I highly recommend developing a good relationship with schools because receiving bookings in advance is far less stressful. If you can develop a working relationship with the Principal of a school that can lead to being specifically requested for contracts (long term work) as well as for more work in the short term.
  • Reporting to the administration. I normally arrive at a school at least 30 minutes before first bell. I recommend arriving earlier if it is your first time visiting that school. After signing the registry (take note if you have to report back again to sign out at the end of the day) I am handed a combination of the following items: a classroom roll, supply information folder (with maps, student profiles and emergency info), classroom key, an assigned lunch duty written down, and a daily plan. If you receive all five that is a sign that your teacher and school are highly organised and that you are all set up to have a great day. If you receive none of these things, try not to panic.
  • Reporting to your classroom and making the most of your quiet time. Don’t open your doors until you feel somewhat confident about your first hour-unless it is a prep classroom. Prep works a little differently as the kids (and their parents) are encouraged to come in early, practice writing their names and show their loved ones what they have been learning in the classroom. Arriving a little earlier for Prep is always a good idea.

My quiet time consists of: 
-Reading the classroom plan that was (hopefully) handed to me at the office or is sitting on the teacher’s desk. I will take note of my lunch duty time as that informs me of how much planning time I can utilise within my lunch break. Having a second lunch duty is fantastic because that means I can focus on planning one quality morning session (from 9am to 11am) and worry about figuring out the rest later on. If my duty is within the first lunch, I need to look ahead into the middle session as well and get some grasp of what that session is going to look like.
-Writing out a script/ checklist if I wish to elaborate upon the provided plan. If the students are learning about a new concept I will brainstorm my leading questions, the teaching sequence and possible activities to support the lesson provided. 
- Locating photocopying and resources.
-Determining if I need to set up a laptop and often figuring out where I can acquire one. Acquiring a supply internet login if I don’t have one already. I will peruse the USB stick if the teacher has been kind enough to leave behind lessons, videos or powerpoints. .
-Figuring out how to turn on the interactive whiteboard and testing the speakers. 
-Walking around the classroom playing detective. I do this to locate resources, behaviour charts, the student’s books and anything else useful in order to keep up the classroom routine.
-Co-ordinating with the teacher aide (if you are lucky enough to have one). 
- Writing up the date and the daily schedule up on the whiteboard for the class to follow.

If you are in the situation where you are left without any planning I recommend the following.

  • Inform the administration. Quite often there will be an email waiting for you in cyber space that the office has yet to discover.
  • Co-ordinate with your teacher aide. These wonderful professionals, especially in a Prep classroom are worth their weight in gold. They are the expert of these rooms, the routine and of these kids. Use them.
  • Make friends with the teacher next door. Pick their brains. If they are the same year level as you then there is a good chance their class is on the same learning schedule as yours. Beg, borrow and steal ideas from them or arrange for some team teaching (both classes learning at the same time).
  • Go on your detective walk. Look in the students books and get an idea of what they have been learning. Locate textbooks and materials that you can utilise. The perk of being left to your own devices with no direction is what you say goes. If you see a set of clocks in the corner of the room then guess what, kids? You are learning about time today.
  • Talk to the kids in your class. If they are already working towards completing a current project then give them some quality time to continue that work. Make up a learning schedule together with the kids at the start of the day. There is a good chance that they will be able to inform you about what needs to happen.
  • If you are still in doubt try filling in the day with the following: journal writing, handwriting, grammar, story writing, spelling practise, silent reading, shared reading, tabletop activities, counting, maths puzzles, any maths concept that aligns with your year level, art, outdoor games, free play (prep), practising using dictionaries and atlases and creating powerpoints on the computer. The more time you spend in the classroom, the more ideas you will be exposed to that you can use to fill this space.

If you have survived this phase of the day, all that is left is to make it happen. Typically the rest of the day looks like this:

  • Open the classroom and supervise before school activities and play. Packing up when the bell rings.
  • Classroom greeting/ Roll call/ Morning jobs/ Classroom expectations. Going through the rules, routines and any classroom incentives such as stamp charts is incredibly useful for setting everybody up for a great day. Use these incentives and remember to use lots of positive praise. Also use this time to learn the consequences for the students not following the rules. Usually there will be a chart with every child’s name on it to track their behaviour. Follow through with the established consequences as there are kids that will try to test you. Use time outs, buddy class and the loss of play time if you need it and contact the administration if the removal of a child from the room becomes necessary.
  • First session commences: If there is a school assembly scheduled it is usually now. Otherwise this is usually a literary session (reading, spelling, English) with a fruit snack in between.
  • First lunch. Typically I will be assigned an eating duty or a playground duty this lunch or the next. Otherwise this time is used for eating, socialising in the staffroom, marking, preparation and additional planning.
  • Second session: Usually this is a Maths session.
  • Second lunch: Similar to first lunch.
  • Last session: Other (Science, History, Geography, Art, whatever else needs to be covered in the schedule). If the kids have been working really well I like to pack them up early and reward them with some free play, sport or a game.
  • End of the day. This involves a last minute tidy, checking off the plan and leaving behind notes for the classroom teacher. It is important to check that the windows are closed and that the lights, fans, air conditioning and computers are switched off. If I am working consecutive days I will start my preparations for tomorrow.

Just to make the day more interesting there are also specialist lessons to account for (music, physical education, LOTE, library, health). The expectation for these lessons vary. Sometimes I will be required to attend with the class. More often I will be assigned to another room during this period.

There is also the unknown factor. There are some days that look nothing like the one I just described. Athletics carnivals, swimming lessons, arts council, special assemblies and excursions make the day even more unpredictable and interesting.

To all of the supply teachers out there, I salute you. At times it can be a tough gig but thanks to your professional problem solving we make it come together and work somehow. Let’s keep these kids learning and give them a great day at school.

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