At the moment, I am a short term supply teacher for two school boards in Ontario, which means I am one of the "lucky" ones considering the teacher jobs shortage here (even in French, contrary to popular belief). When supply teaching, some days are better than others. Last week, I worked for two days in the same school with different classes (a grade 4, and a split grade 2/3). This is a school where I teach regularly, so I am usually quite comfortable working there. My two days of work unfolded quite differently though. In one case, I had a perfect supply teaching day, and in the other my stress levels were very high. It is interesting how a few details can drastically change a teaching experience.
1- When possible, let your class know in advance that a supply teacher will come
I know this is not always possible in case of illness or emergency, but if you know ahead of time that you will be absent, please tell you class that a supply teacher will come. Even better, prepare you class and provide behaviour expectations (with consequences) that the students should followed with the supply teacher. I know some teachers who give stern warnings to their class, and this really helps with class management! In the split class, one grade 3 child (previously unknown to me, and who seems to have severe behavioral issues) seemed surprised to see me instead of his teacher. He started throwing things, kept on interrupting me just as I was trying to introducing myself and refused to do his work. I had to call the office several times that day, which was a first in my supply career. He ended up spending most of the day with the VP or spec ed teachers, but every time he came back to the class, he started throwing class supplies everywhere without any provocation on my part. I did not know that child and tried to be very accommodating, but it was clearly not enough. When I talked to the VP during the first recess, she advised me to send him to her as soon as trouble started, and I did as I was told, but this was unusual for me. I can't be certain that knowing in advance that I was coming would have helped this student regulate his behavior, but maybe it would have.
2- Make sure that your lesson plan is detailed and that all the working material is on your desk or easy to find
Last week, when I arrived in one of the classes, 15 minutes before the official start time, the teacher was actually there (they had an in-school training that day) and was frantically putting together her lesson plan and worksheets for me. She told me that they had had a morning school meeting and therefore she had not able to finish preparing the work. I know teachers are very busy but I had accepted the supply work for that day more than a week in advance, so I was not too impressed with having to help her sort out the work (she has a grade 2/3 split class too!), make photocopies, etc. We were still doing this when the kids started coming in, and it was difficult to be as calm as I like to be when starting to teach with a new class. In contrast, in the other class where I worked, the lesson plan and photocopies were visible on the desk and I was able to sit calmly and read the plans of the day before the students came. What a difference it made!
3- It is great if you can plan extra work "in case"
I always bring spare sudoku puzzles and colorings, but obviously it is better if you leave extra work in case the lessons run short. The students in the split class consistently finished their work in half of the planned time, and I was running out of ideas by the end of the day...
4- Tell me which students I can trust and which students I have to keep an watchful eye on
I know some teachers who write the names of 2-3 helpful kids in the lesson plan. This comes in handy when I teach in a new school, or I don't know the class routine, or when I need extra photocopies. Similarly, please leave specific notes and advice about kids with behavior issues. I always try to put these kids on my side at the beginning of the day. A simple acknowledgement, compliment or asking that student for help goes a long way. Many teachers call me back to supply in their classes because I have successfully struck up a respectful relationship with their more challenging students and we usually all get to spend a good work day when I am there. So please, give me a little extra information on some of your students, for the greater good!
5- Leave detailed emergency instructions (lock down, evacuation, etc.) for your supply teacher
This one should be mandatory, and maybe it is, but in fact I have been in lockdown (practice) situations twice, and on a fire drill once, and in all three cases I had no idea what I was supposed to do exactly! Some school offices keep this information and will show you if you ask, but not all of them. And besides, it is more handy to have it in the class when I need it than to read it quickly at the beginning of the day.
Most teachers are already doing all this, and more! If you are not, then please consider some of these points above, because it is really for the benefit of your students too if they are working well at school when you are away!