Gail Larkin has been a Headteacher for 20 years and is currently vice president of the NAHT. In this section of her talk delivered at a Randstad Education Seminar in August 2013 Gail offers advice to help supply teachers once they have secured a placement in a supply teaching job.

Supply teaching tips: video transcript

So the day comes, get in early. Nothing is worse than you [the school] thinking ‘are they going to make it? They're not going to come.’ Get in early. Creates a great impression in the school. It's worth being really, really early rather than getting there late, if anything it gives you a chance to meet relevant staff and make yourself known.

I always say during the day get into the staff room. I know you're busy and I know you're getting ready, but meeting the staff is really important. I always went to my staff and said what was so and so like and they go, “oh she was really good and she was really friendly. Children seem to like her”. I would always go and ask my staff about any supply cover that I had in the school for anything.

Welcome the pupils. I'm sure you'll do that. Children love it if you welcome them. “Welcome. Come on. Come in. We can have a great day today.” They love it. Welcome sign on the board and your name. It is a great introduction to them. For primary children, have their name cards ready or get them to write their name on their cards and put them in front of them so that you know who they are. Then you need to set the ground rules.

"use the school’s behaviour policy to set the ground rules for you in that classroom for that day"

Use the school’s behaviour policy. That's why I always say make sure you know what it is. Use the school’s behaviour policy to set the ground rules for you in that classroom for that day. What you are prepared to accept and what you're not prepared to accept, so there are no grey areas.

This is allowed, that's not allowed. Then you'll find that the children will respond well. They respond to people being firm and fair. It's a normal thing we say all the time.

Another tip for you here. Don't believe “we're allowed to sit anywhere”. That very, very rarely is the case. It wouldn't happen in my school in any class. They are not allowed to sit anywhere. I can assure you that Tom and Jerry are probably kept 50 paces apart in any school in any classroom and if you let them sit together, you're in for a bad day. Beware of that.

Another example that didn't go down too well in my school was the teacher who painted her toenails on the teacher’s desk during the lesson. The thing she hadn't thought of or didn't know of at the time was, unfortunately, the head teacher’s granddaughter happened to be in that class, and she couldn't wait to hop foot up the corridor to my office to tell me what the supply teacher had just been doing in the classroom. Literally painting her toenails on the teacher’s desk in the lesson. You never know if you've got the head teacher’s granddaughter sitting there.

Another tip for you, a PE lesson that I saw quite recently actually was, PE lessons are a downfall for any supply [teacher]. I bet we all dread it. PE would be on the day I’m going out there on a cold, wet, rainy afternoon in December and you're out doing PE.

It's not a good idea to then give everyone in the class a ball while you're on the playing field and then say somebody throw me a ball. It reminded me of a coconut shy actually. I really couldn't help because I was curled up in a ball laughing my head off at everyone who launched a ball at her. You learn from those things anyway.

The value of teaching assistants

TA's are an invaluable resource in a classroom if you're lucky enough to have one in there. They know the children, they can point out when the children are trying to pull the wool over your eyes with “we're allowed to sit anywhere" or some other rubbish that they can come out with. The TA can be sitting there going, “no that's not how it is” and when they say, “well we're allowed to go outside a few minutes early if we're being good”.

I think you're absolutely right, yes. Thank you for that. It's an invaluable resource in any classroom. Use them properly. Ofsted would criticise any teacher that doesn't use the TA properly.

The TA, even if they're working on their own out in the corridor with a group of children, it's still the responsibility of the teacher. If they're not properly used and doing a good job at whatever they're doing, it's your lesson that will be graded down because of it.

It's really important not only for the TA to feel valued and respected and of worth in the classroom, but it's important for you as a teacher to use them. Anything that helps you grab it, I'd say. I think you're right. Absolutely great, TA's.

I should have said at the beginning, I would advise all of you to join a union. I don't know if I did say it before. You really should all be in a union as a safeguard, as an insurance policy. I'm not just saying that because I'm in the NHT, but I've always belonged to a union.

I like it for the advice and support that you get from the union but most people who join I know for an insurance policy and that is really important. I do have a bit of a problem with the teacher unions, things I read about what they say about supply teaching, because they concentrate on the employment law, the legal aspect of it, which is right, but I would say to you take it with a little bit of pinch of salt.

Be flexible. They're kind of saying you don't have to work in your lunch time, you don't have to do this and you don't have to do that. If you want to work in that school again, be as flexible as you can. It's great if you offer to help with a club. If you see there's a club going on, you've got a skill or an expertise, you can go out and help football after school or with the knitting club at lunch time and it will endear you to the staff forever if you offer to help in a club. In all these ways, supply teaching is a springboard to a successful career in education whatever the subject area.

When I asked my friend who's actually president [of the NHT] and I said to her what would you give a supply teacher? She said, “Mark the books.” I think that also is to endear you as well to the class teacher. Make sure if you're the supply teacher that day you don't leave before you've marked the books. Nobody [likes] coming into a mile of unmarked books.