5 Pieces Of Advice I’d Give To New Supply Teachers Starting in September

Gary Cunningham
4 min readAug 9, 2021


Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I’ve just completed my first school year as a supply teacher and oh my goodness it’s been a journey! I have learnt so much about what it is to be thrown into the deep end of a classroom full of kids you’ve never met, teaching a subject you don’t specialise in at a school you’ve never been to!

This being said, I enjoyed every moment of it and consider myself very lucky to gain as much experience in the classroom I can whilst I complete my teacher training. I know a few friends who will be starting supply teaching come September and I decided to compile a list of advice for them, I recorded a video which can be found on my TikTok and LinkedIn accounts but I know that some people prefer to read, so without further ado, here we go!

Set expectations and do NOT waver from them

This was integral for me and I learnt it the hard way! Kids will take every opportunity to spin the new guy a line about being allowed to leave early and love the chance to doss around whenever they have a supply teacher. It’s important that when you first meet a class, you introduce yourself and then outline basic expectations relating to behaviour and standards of work in your classroom. My go to line is always “I’ll treat you with the same amount of respect you treat me with” — this has worked well because it’s simple for everyone to understand and doesn’t make you sound like a dictator!

Once these expectations have been set, they must be adhered to and consequences must be followed through should they be broken. If you don’t stick to your guns, you lose the room and that’s it, not only for that one lesson but for every other time you teach these classes in future.

Be prepared for things to go wrong & remain calm when they do!

At some point in your time as a supply teacher, something is bound to go wrong, this could mean anything from cover work not being set to a pupil having an accident in class. It is vital for both you and your pupils that you remain calm should something not go to plan.

A prime example of this from my experience was when a year 11 physics class had no cover work set. At first, I had no idea what to do to keep these kids entertained, I’m not a science specialist whatsoever. I then looked to my left and saw a stack of plain paper and the light bulb went off in my head PAPER AIRPLANES! With that I had the pupils move all the desks to the side ( we were in the sports hall, i know, don’t ask!) and had them make their airplanes, thrown them and then we all discussed which ones worked the best (travelled the furthest etc) and which ones didn’t and why. Before we knew it the hour was up and it was home time, I had a bit of cleaning up to do but it gave the kids a lesson to enjoy and hopefully remember!

Also another key thing, don’t be afraid to ask a full-time member of staff for help if you have a situation such as no cover work or a projector not working. Those staff members are there to help and know the school much better than you so would always see you right!

Build relationships with students and staff throughout the day

This is something I struggled with when I first started, it was very daunting for me going into a new school and not knowing anybody and I tended to isolate myself a lot amongst staff as I wasn’t sure how to start a conversation. However, after a few weeks on the job, I realised that in order to succeed I needed the staff and pupils to know who I was and what I was about.

As I took time and effort to learn a few names and know more about the adults and kids, it made my return visits to schools a lot easier, I didn’t need to always start from the ground up and could pick up from where I left off. Whenever returning to a school I’d always ask the kids I was teaching “have any of you had me as your teacher before” if they said yes, I’d pick out the faces I recognised and have them help me with things like taking the register to reception, handing out worksheets etc & make it known that I’d let their usual teacher know how helpful they’ve been, it went a long way and most importantly improved behaviour!

Don’t let imposter syndrome get to you

It’s very easy to feel out of your depth and that you don’t deserve to be leading the class on your own, to feel like you’re “just a supply teacher”. This is 100% not the case, what you’ve got to remember is that if you wasn’t up to the job, the school wouldn’t book you and the agency wouldn’t have you on their books or send you out to jobs in the first place. It’s natural to feel nervous but you can do it, just breathe and learn something new with each day.

Enjoy it!

I don’t know about you, but the reason I’ve gone into teaching is because I have a passion for it. I love sharing my passion and imparting knowledge onto students and watching them shine! That being said, make sure you enjoy your time in the classroom and leave the kids with a fond memory of your time together!

There we are, my five pieces of advice for any new supply teachers starting September, I hope it all helps!



Gary Cunningham

Musician | Music Educator | Brand Founder | Music Education Advocate