If you supply teach – Enjoy it!

Supply teaching has its benefits for sure. I know. I did my share. Although the job is unpredictable, the experience is valuable. What is a day like? The phone rings and you answer. It’s 6:00 a.m. so you know that other than a family emergency, the person on the other side of the line is…Yes! You got it. It’s the school secretary asking if you are available.

What you do after this point will depend on your supplying experience – but my advice is to stay cool as a cucumber. If you are available, say yes.

First Things First

Ask if there is a lesson plan. Don’t count on it every time. If there is no plan, don’t sweat it. You have several choices:

Option 1 – You have followed your TESL training and have accumulated a whole set of activities for every level (yeah…right…), which you pick up on your way to your assignment. Wow! I’m impressed (A+ perhaps?).

Option 2 – You begin to plan ad hoc for what to do. Don’t panic. Re-think your strategy. Your students know more than you think, and you know more than you think.

Low Prep Lessons

You could expand on a previous lesson by having students role-play a previous dialogue in their textbook, or if they don’t have a textbook, on a previous topic. My best ad hoc strategy is picking up a bunch of METRO newspapers on my way to my assignment. For beginners, I ask students to circle nouns or other parts of speech. They can then organize them in alphabetical order, draw pictures to identify the words, or write their meanings. They could also search for synonyms and antonyms. For more advanced levels, I’ve asked students to choose a headline from the newspaper and, without reading the article, make up a news story that could fit the headline. I’ve found that gamifying the task reduces anxiety for everyone. The best part is the spontaneity – the idea that we can improvise content that is meaningful while making it fun.

Some General Strategies:

1.     Introduce yourself.

2.     Ask students to introduce themselves.

3.     Write your name on the board, and make sure you know when and how long their break time is.

4.     If a lesson plan is available, follow it to the best of your ability.

5.      Make sure to note what was completed, what needs reviewing, and what was not covered.

6.     Speak slowly. Students will need time to adjust to listening to someone other than their regular teacher.

7.     Record attendance.

8.     Write a note to the home teacher. Let the teacher know how much you enjoyed teaching the group, and leave your phone number or e-mail just in case the regular teacher has questions.

What’s the best part of supplying? Well, it’s like being a grandparent. You can enjoy the experience and have lots of fun, knowing the students will be going back to their regular teacher.

Do you have a supply teaching tip to share? I would love to hear it!

Hi, my name is Cecilia. I love taking part in good brain awakening discussions. Blogging, I find, lends itself for that. I also believe in sharing my skills through scholarly practice, which is why I write regularly and have presented at several conferences, including TESL Ontario, TESL Toronto, CALL, and at Seneca College. My M.A. in applied linguistics along with my skills and experience have led me to my current position at Centennial College, where I teach English and ESL in the School of Advancement. I'm truly passionate about what I do: teaching, writing, creative expression, and helping my students (both L1 and L2) gain agency and take control of their own learning. Thank you for your readership and I look forward to reading and answering your comments. You can find me on Twitter @capontedehanna


22 thoughts on “If you supply teach – Enjoy it!”

  1. Your suggestions are very helpful. Unfortunately, there is very little supply work available. I’m on the supply list with 3 school boards in the GTA and get very, very few calls. I enjoy it when a job comes my way, and I know I’m effective at what I do because students and teachers often ask me to return. But worrying about how to pay my bills is not fun! Sadly, there are just too many of us vying for the same opportunities. I’ve now decided to limit teaching to evening/Saturday and look into other options Monday to Friday. With my skills and experience, I’m discovering that there’s so much more I can do if I don’t limit myself to teaching ESL!

    1. You need to teach out to non profit LINC and esl schools. I supplied for 9 years and made more supplying then I do now as a employee of a LINC SCHOOL. Cold call centres tell them you are looking for supply work offer to come in. You have to work at it but I got called every day and even secured 3 nites a week after supplying evenings.

      1. Thank you for sharing your experience. Many ESL teachers sign up to more than one organization. I agree with you, sometimes there is a lull, and when it rains it pours.

  2. A great warm up when you supply teach.

    I did quite a lot of supply before getting my first class.
    When I arrived at a new class , I would introduce myself and then point to one of the students and ask the others to tell me everything they knew about him or her: their names, where they were from, likes, dislikes, etc… The student they were telling me about could only say yes or no to confirm the information was correct. The students had a lot of fun with it.

      1. Follow-up on your great activity, Ana. Did you try to cover every student? I love this idea – I’m just trying to imagine how to work it in a class of 30 (for example). I guess you could restrict the ‘telling,’ if necessary, to name, where they were from and three ‘other things.’

  3. Hi,
    I will be starting supply work very soon. I found your tips to be very helpful. It gives me direction which I will definitely make use of.
    Thanks for your blog.

    1. That’s so great! How did it go? What strategies did you find to be the most useful?

    1. I really enjoyed reading your blog post, Kelly. It’s something that we have to keep reminding ourselves – let the learners do the work!!

  4. Hello Cecilia,
    Remarkable column. A very revealing account and absolutely on the money! So far, I haven’t had anything close to what you’ve described but if I did I would probably handle it just like you did. The only thing I can think of adding is that if, as a teacher, you get an opportunity to come back and supply teach a second lesson to the same class, bring back a “reminder” about some aspect of the first lesson to further the discussion in Lesson Two about what you brought to the class in Lesson One. A topical and relevant newspaper article referring to Lesson One becomes a good follow-up device – students will take note of this and your interest in and concern about them.
    The residing teacher must always be acknowledged – he or she does all the heavy lifting in class. We can never forget this!

  5. Thanks, Cecilia, for the very practical help.
    I’ll share it with our supply providers/users.

  6. Excellent suggestions. I teach university writing for international students part time at Kings (UWO) but I am also a supply teacher for the TVDSB and those suggestions are really helpful in general. Actually, they are helpful for any situation where you are unprepared or cannot prepare.

    1. Hi Ruth, So glad you found these tips useful! Supplying is a great opportunity to hone one’s skills. And yes! I agree with you, these tips are for anyone who has had or may have to plan on the fly.

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