How to prepare for a supply teaching assignment

Jan 19th 2023 in Resources
Supply teaching provides a great work/life balance, including great pay, choosing your own hours and having lots of variety. However, it’s worth pointing out that a first supply teaching assignment can occasionally feel stressful for the less well-prepared. A little supply teacher preparation can go a long way though, alleviating most, if not all, of the stress of teaching as a supply teacher.

This article acts as a reminder for teachers that are either new to supply, or have not been in class for a while. Experienced supply teachers might also find a few nuggets in here as well. So let’s jump right in, to look at some great tips to help reduce any stress and be fully prepped for your next supply teaching assignment. 

Be ready for supply teaching every morning

Supply teaching assignments are often scheduled in advance, but ad-hoc work is often also available. Schools may need to fill an unexpected absence or a colleague may have fallen ill. Waking up early, and being ready to roll will pay dividends. Many supply teaching opportunities become available at short notice. Ad hoc supply teaching opportunities such as these are offered to teachers who are ready and waiting to take up short-notice assignments. For teachers, it’s a great opportunity to try out new schools in the area, and also add a bunch of teaching variety. Many supply teacher/school relationships start this way. Showing the school that you are prepared for the unexpected, and can control a classroom, even at short notice, can help to secure future teaching work.

There is often lots of planned supply teaching work available, and of course, longer-term assignments do become available. Many supply teachers prefer this. Newer teachers may wish to try out several different school settings and may prefer to work more flexibly. Whichever way you are planning to work it’s good to make sure you are clear about how you’d like to work. It's easy to do with Airsupply, just download the app and adjust your preferences and availability (and your rate too!) as often as you like.

Check your route to your supply teaching assignment

This might seem obvious, but a quick look at your brief which may describe parking or travel arrangements pertinent to your supply teaching assignment can be very helpful. Arriving at the right gate, and knowing the procedure will be hugely helpful in reducing stress. 

If you’re using a sat nav, it can be helpful to put in the full school address, rather than the school name - you’d be surprised how many teachers arrive at similarly named schools! A new supply teacher will most likely be required to read school behaviour policy and marking policy and 'checking in' can take time.

Arrive at school as early as you can

Having time to settle and look over classroom notes and familiarise yourself with the school policies can be really helpful. Making a note of who to contact for help, and obtaining any system logins you might need will also reduce any stress you’d otherwise be feeling. Getting hold of a school map, and getting someone to orient the plan for you can be really helpful. Spending a few minutes looking over any paperwork, lesson plans, or other materials you’ve been handed will be time well spent. 


Controlling the classroom - behaviour management

One of the feedback areas that schools provide and one of the areas that can be make-or-break for future work in some schools is classroom control. If you’ve not been in school for a while or are new to supply teaching we’d suggest having a look over our article on classroom behaviour. Supply teachers can occasionally be subject to low-level disruption so it’s always good to walk through how you’ll approach this if it occurs in your classroom. 

Being prepared as a supply teacher is one of the most important aspects of behaviour management. An organised and engaged classroom is likely to run smoothly, which leads us nicely to have a look at what to take on an assignment. 

What’s in a supply teachers bag? 10 items to pack

Being prepared often starts days before your first teaching assignment. Gathering a few items together and running through your processes will be time well spent. Here are our suggestions for your next day in school. 


Supply teacher's checklist - Useful items to bring to class

Experienced supply teachers will have a grab bag of useful items to bring to class. Here we take a peek at what many of our experienced teachers pack away for a day in school. If you have a special item that can make life easier for colleagues, then we’d love to hear about it on the Airsupply teaching community group. A great place to share ideas and see what other teachers are sharing. 


A form of identification, your DBS. plus any other documentation that a school may have asked you to prepare. Failing to arrive with these items, especially if this is a first supply teaching assignment in that school may result in being unable to work. It does occasionally happen. Having photos of the most essential documents on your phone might get you out of a pickle, but originals are often requested so don’t rely on copies. 


Grabbing attention in class 

An item to save your voice can be super useful, anything from a buzzer to a tambourine. Something which is going to cut through conversation and save your voice can be a lifesaver. It’s worth thinking of something both portable and unusual or sticking to the teacher’s bell or whistle, also used by some of our supply teachers.  

A USB memory stick with engaging activities

Useful for “filler activities” or the last 10 minutes of a lesson, a set of slides with paper-free activities can prove to be a lifesaver for our teachers. Activities which could be used in different key stages and for different classes are sure to be used time and again. 

If you’re looking for inspiration, then take a peek at the thousands of lesson plans and activities offered by Twinkl, one of the leading educational resource providers. If you’d like regular access to Twinkl resources then look no further than the Airsupply member discount offer for our teaching staff

A variety of brightly coloured pens

Not for the students, for you! Marking policies in schools are often colourful. Marking in red isn’t a thing of the past, but it’s not surprising for pink, turquoise, purple or green to be used instead. Having the right pen colour isn’t essential, but it does mark continuity for pupils and shows a well-prepared supply teacher.  

Your favourite beverage  - Teabags, coffee, perhaps your own mug?

Lots of our schools cater wonderfully for supply teachers. Some don’t. A travel mug and your preferred hot beverage are a good idea. Going as far as milk (powdered or UHT) might seem extreme, but not all schools will have enough throughout the day.  

A way of tracking time (when you’re distracted or busy)

Kitchen timers are inexpensive, portable and lightweight. You can set them to run for a lesson, to keep an eye on your pace and for when a break might be. Or, set them for an activity to help keep kids on task.

A supply teachers personal name stamp

A couple of our teachers use these. They’re excellent as either a reward (consider putting your own surname on it) or in books if you’re marking. It looks fantastic to permanent staff and students when any marking by a supply teacher can be quickly identified.

A soft item to throw - great for engagement

Basically anything soft. A small soft object to throw around a classroom is a fantastic way to cold call and keep kids engaged. You could work into activities too, such as those that you have on your USB.  

Rewards and recognition

Rewarding students is just as important in a temporary position as it is in a permanent one. Some of our teachers use stickers, but these cost a fair amount (if you do go for stickers, big packets of gold stars can be cheap). A stamp works well, as does simply writing student names with an unusual coloured board pen.

Pack of name stickers

Not essential, and better with Primary where you’re likely to be with the same class all day. They’re a nice icebreaker in the morning and remain useful for the whole day. Big packs cost little.  

Your own contact card

This is quite a nice touch. We’ve written about the importance of leaving a note, but if you have a calling card, it can be an awesome thing to leave with a school and certainly ups the likelihood of you being asked back. Airsupply encourage direct contact between the school and the supply teacher. Good relationships that improve outcomes can be formed - the old ways of traditional agencies being a big, controlling barrier in between are not what we're about.

Well-rehearsed and interesting stories 

Not sure how this would go down with Secondary, but a teacher of ours uses stories to great effect with Primary students. Having collected them over the years, this teacher prioritises stories with a moral message. These don't just make a great stopgap in class but can be used for a whole string of activities over the course of a day.

Supply teacher preparation - Final thoughts

Being prepared is key to having less stress as a supply teacher. Even so, the unexpected can still occur. So it’s good to know who to speak to or call (both in school and agency side if something unexpected crops up). In other words, know who to ask for help (if you need it)

Also, don’t worry about asking for help. You’re most likely saving the day here! 

Teaching supply is one of the most rewarding ways to teach. Also, a fantastic way to gain lots of varied experiences and a better understanding of schools within commutable distance of your home, at times and days to suit you! Having your grab bag ready, and taking a few moments to check over the address where you’re headed together with any documents requested can save a lot of time later. 

Supply teacher preparation starts before your first assignment starts, and sends a positive wave into the travel arrangements and ultimately onward into the lessons. 

Ultimately, provided you have your ID and yourself in the right place at the right time you can make an impact. Having a backup lesson plan or two and a firm handle on classroom behaviour will pull you through your first day nicely. Showing your finesse through prep, and delivering the best lessons you can, will set you up well for schools wanting to see you more often, so the positive loop continues. 

We hope you enjoyed reading up & preparing for your first day as a supply teacher. Collaborating and sharing ideas can be useful for both new & returning teachers. So if you have a question or a nugget of useful information that others would benefit from, we’d love you to join us here at the Airsupply teacher community. If you’re ready to register for work then don’t hesitate to fill out an application form. We’re here to answer any questions surrounding supply teaching job opportunities, so don’t hesitate to call us or contact us here. We’d love to hear from you. 

Team Airsupply 

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