Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives 2021 – #Potluck – #Teaching – How to survive the Supply Teaching Challenge by Sue Wickstead

Since this series began in January 2018 there have been over 1100 Posts from Your Archives where bloggers have taken the opportunity to share posts to a new audience… mine.

The topics have ranged from travel, childhood, recipes, history, family and the most recent series was #PotLuck where I shared a random selection of different topics. This series is along the same lines… but is a ‘Lucky Dip’

In this series I will be sharing posts from the first six months of 2021 and on occasion I might dip into months either side to share gems. Submissions are now closed but there will be another series in January 2022.

This is the second post from children’s author Sue Wickstead and shares her experiences of being a supply teacher.

How to survive the Supply Teaching Challenge

Supply Teaching

Teaching is always a challenge; each day is different as well as the class you teach.

Lessons that go well with one class may not work so well with another group. Factors such as the weather (rain; snow; wind; sunshine), or circumstances in your day or that of the pupils will alter how it goes.

Supply Teaching – My start

I taught for nineteen years in a school, which had gone through a series of problems. I had felt I wanted to leave the profession but retirement was a long way off and financially this was not a personal option.

I decided I would leave the school I worked in and take on the role of supply teaching.

Different Schools

I have really enjoyed being a supply teacher; seeing all the different schools; meeting all the different children and adults along the way; being able to teach different age groups in a week (sometimes even in a day).

All children in the schools I have visited are the same, with the same problems; it was just their background experiences that change things. There are challenges in all schools and yes there are more in some environments.

Sometimes it is the environment which is great; sometimes the staff team; sometimes the resources or the planning; sometimes the management support; sometimes the Teaching Assistant support. But there were no perfect schools only different strengths.

My Supply Teaching Task/Challenges

At the beginning of every day, I aim to learn as many of the children’s names as possible which I find I can do. I make sure I take the time to read each name in the register and identify each pupil.

  • I tell them they have the easy job as they only have one name to remember – this is clearly on my badge
  • I tell them ‘I can usually pick up children’s names quickly but not the adults’ – true.
  • I tell them when I am not teaching at school I play with my Lego – they like this.
  • I point out my Lego ear-rings which are my guardian angels, named after my two children (Tom and Elly), Elly now always sit on my left as she is left-handed, they smile at the children in case I forget to smile at them.
  • I tell them that I write books about my ‘Playbus’. (I can show the Playbus book with the real Tom and Elly on the front cover – Yes, I managed to write it!)
  • I can show them the story books too. (If time I read the story but I always leave a copy of the first book in every school I visit, just in case they want to read it again.)
  • I tell them about magical rain-sticks which seem to really bring the rain! So, we have to learn a sun-clap!
  • I tell the children that I don’t know if I ever will return and seem them again – but have been surprised how much they remember when I do even if such a long time later.

Most of all I try to capture the imagination of the class and to gain their attention and make them think. It works. I am now known and remembered as the ‘Lego Lady’; I like that.

Reading Books

I would always have a couple of books in my bag to read to the different year groups. I wouldn’t need worksheets or lesson plans because the class teacher or school would provide that. It is amazing how often you can read the same book over and over again; I have some favourites which I know by heart. I also found myself telling my own stories to capture the attention of the class. My stories have now grown and grown and are often a brief tale or instead of reading from a book.

The Author

While on supply it gave me time to write a photographic book about the Playbus project that I had once been involved in. This in turn to me writing children’s picture books based on the Playbus adventures, as well as tales from my teaching.

I have to date written ten children’s picture books with two more currently in the publishing pipeline. (Plus a few more to write).

I undertake author days on request and am also aPatron of Reading’. 

My teaching journey has continued and I write a daily diary to remind myself of all the exciting and spooky events I have encountered along the way. There have been many.

Keep calm and carry on

I know supply teaching is not for everyone but it has been for me.

The down side to supply teaching: –

  • I wonder in the morning if I will be called to work.
  • Where will I go?
  • Which year group will I teach?
  • What will the school be like?
  • You are not part of the school and the staff team.
  • You miss out on events and celebrations.
  • You get given the planning sometimes the lessons the teacher doesn’t want.
  • You get to teach lots or R.E.; P.E. and PSHCE.
  • You don’t know all the children’s names – and they know it!
  • You don’t know if you will ever go back to the school or class again.
  • You don’t know who is who in the school or the systems and procedures in place.
  • You are sometimes expected to over mark the children’s work and are criticised by the teacher for not doing it exactly as they wanted! (Not often)
  • You might not get any work today and only get paid for what you do

The up side of supply teaching: –

  • At the end of the day, you can walk away. If the day went well maybe you will go back, if it wasn’t you don’t have to go back.
  • Usually there is planning and resourcing in place and a great TA to help and support you.
  • You don’t have to produce formal planning. (I have planned for longer cover but it is adaptable).
  • No staff meetings.
  • No assessments to write out.
  • No formal observations. Phew!
  • No responsibility other than to the class for that day, delivering the lessons as best as time, resources and clarity allows.
  • Not knowing who is who within the school you don’t feel under pressure when someone walks into the room. You don’t know who they are or why they are there.
  • You can take a day off or a break in term time.
  • You don’t have to work today if you don’t have to. But I do.

Changes in Supply cover

I have found that schools will use different agencies and sometimes there is no consistency of cover.

The Next Step

The next part for me is to do less supply but more author days. Visit schools share my writing journey and of course read my books.

My husband said, as I started my supply journey, you have a funny look on your face these days: “A smile”.

Books and badges are available from the following:  My Books 

©Sue Wickstead 2021

My thanks to Sue for permitting me to share from her archives and I know she would love to hear from you

About Sue Wickstead

Sue Wickstead is a teacher and an author with Award winning books.
Shortlisted in the Wishing Shelf Book awards. and has written children’s picture books with a bus theme. In addition, she has also written a photographic history book about the real bus behind her story writing.

Her bus stories are about a playbus. Have you ever been on a Playbus?
When Sue’s two children were young, they attended a playgroup on a bus, but not an ordinary bus taking you on a journey, exciting though this is, but a Playbus stuffed full of toys to capture their imagination!

For over 20 years, alongside her teaching career, she worked with the charity, the Bewbush Playbus Association.

As part of the committee she painted the bus, worked in the groups, helped raise the profile of the project and its work and was part of the team involved in raising funds to replace the old bus with a newer vehicle. This led her to write a photographic history book about it.

‘It really was a fun journey to be involved in’, said Sue. The bus really got into her blood and became a work of the heart.

Having written the history book Sue soon found that many children had never been on a bus before, let alone a ‘Playbus’ and they wanted to know more. So, she decided to write a fictional tale, his number plate JJK261, gave him his name.

‘Jay-Jay the Supersonic Bus,’ came out in print in 2014. It is the story behind the original project and is his journey from a scrap-yard to being changed into a playbus for children to play in. From Fact to fiction the bus journey continues.

A small selection of books by Sue Wickstead

Read the reviews and buy the books: Amazon UK – And: Amazon US – More reviews: Goodreads – Website/Blog: Sue Wickstead – Facebook: Stories Sue – Facebook: Teacher Page – Twitter: @JayJayBus – LinkedIn: Sue Wickstead

49 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives 2021 – #Potluck – #Teaching – How to survive the Supply Teaching Challenge by Sue Wickstead

  1. Thank you Sally for sharing my supply teaching journey.
    I have now got 11 story books and another due out next year.
    My wheels are certainly turning.
    With the pandemic my supply teaching stopped for a while. both from necessity and circumstances..
    I have started to do a few days recently and find i still do love both the teaching and meeting with children.
    But now i also have a morning (day) commitment with my grandson. He is two and wears me out more than a class of nursery or year 6 children.It was a lovley surprise to see this today Sally. Thank you.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. What a wonderful post. I started it because I had no idea what a ‘supply teacher’ is–and I’m a 35-year teacher! Figured out it is what we in America call a ‘substitute teacher’. I kept reading because it was so interesting.

    Liked by 4 people

    • There was a time that teachers were afraid to take time off and I saw many teachers soldiering on even when quite poorly. (That was once me -In my case i lost my mojo!)
      The pandemic has certainly changed that a bit.
      A teachers role is tricky enough.
      I’m glad when i have been able to keep a class on task and calm for the teachers return.
      I am not their teacher and can only do the best
      i love the challenges and I love telling stories and talking to the many children I meet.
      I can fill their heads with nonsence, I tell them – but of course it’s just chatter (and waffle!)

      Liked by 2 people

    • Jacquie it is sometimes the schools that see you as a baby sitter /class sitter and i know i am but … The childre will know about my Lego hobby and bus stories (if time to share) but certainly I try to keep them safe.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love the lego earrings! I did supply and home tuition before going back to teaching full time. It was fun but challenging. I thought, as I’d been a teacher of older pupils, that teaching young ones would be a doddle. I was soon disabused of the notion. At least with older ones you could find 30 spare seconds to catch your breath. Most teachers I know hate to do supply because classes tend to play up as they know you’re in unfamiliar surroundings. Sue is clearly one of those teachers for whom it’s a proper vocation and her classes recognise that. All power to her! xx

    Liked by 2 people

  4. In America, we call it “substitute teaching.” I taught for 31 years, but I never was a substitute teacher. It’s a tough gig coming into a classful of kids and not knowing all of the problems or intricacies of that individual group. We have a severe teacher shortage in our country, and substitutes are in high demand. The problem is they are woefully underpaid. teachers are supposed to leave a plan for the substitute to follow. (Not always realistic when you’re sick as a dog), but I dragged myself down to school many times in the middle of the night to get things ready for the substitute when I was ill. It’s good that Sue comes so prepared because not all teachers leave adequate plans or materials.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Yes being a substitute/cover/supply teacher can be tricky.
        You are right, not knowing the intricacies of the class can be a problem but I love it.
        If I don’t like the school/class I just don’t have to go again.
        I do worry about the poor teacher feeling unwell and still having to supply the work.
        Surely the management should do this.
        I do have my books but have to remember my job for the day is to do what the school wants.
        Yes the supply pay is much lower as the agency takes a lot of it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sally I never liked leaving my class with a supply teacher when I was teaching because maybe they didn’t do exactly what I wanted.
        But maybe knowing that I can understand.
        Much like being a Nanny lol

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I am one of those teachers who almost never takes a day off (I have dozens of sick days saved up), but I would love someone like Sue to be there for my class if ever I were absent. Kids want to be seen and heard, and they want to feel valued. It sounds like every student who has shared Sue’s space left with a bit of that magic. Thanks for sharing her with us today, Sally. 🙂


    • I was also a teacher who never took time off. I loved whichever class I had at that time.
      My husband had been very ill and I felt not taking time off would hold me in good stead should I ever need it.
      Sadly, with changes in the school it didn’t and I nearly gave up teaching altogether.
      Make sure you look after yourself too

      Liked by 2 people

      • I agree, Sue. The school system does not value teachers. We are all replaceable in their eyes. I’ve been blessed to be fairly healthy (outside several years of chronic fatigue where I did take days off). I rarely, if ever, get sick now, and I take my vacations during our holidays. My son has never missed a day of school, either (and he’s in this tenth year). I won’t hesitate to take a day if I feel I need it physically or mentally. My well-being comes first always. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Weekly Round Up 21st – 27th November 2021 – Thanksgiving, Relationship WrapUp, Toto, Christmas Book Fair, Book Reviews, Memories and Humour | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

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