Classroom Clinic – Starting Supply Lessons


“Dear classroom clinic,
I am struggling to cope with the starts of the lessons I’m covering as a supply teacher. I know it’s only the start of the term but as it seems that no matter what I try there is always something that goes wrong. Any advice?”


Firstly, each school and lesson is different so a different aspect going slightly awry is not the end of the world, and it’s also only the start of the term, but I can see how it might be frustrating when it’s happening frequently. You are right in that, if the lesson does not get off to a smooth start, this can lead to other problems. The start is also a time to establish yourself as a confident person in charge of the classroom. Here is a sort of checklist that you can mentally prepare yourself with each morning:
  • Presence on the corridor – Greeting students at the door is an expectation in Secondary Schools, but even at Primary this serves as an important first step in behaviour management. It both allows the students to enter the classrooms on your terms and also lets you greet the students as they arrive. Give the students a ‘Do Now’ activity and keep reminding them what they should be doing as you meet others at the door.
  • Do Now activity – The work you have been set may contain a ‘Do Now’ activity, but if not then using mini-whiteboards (if available) or post-it notes is a good way to get students to do a quick settling activity. Examples would be:
    • Write down two things you learnt in the last lesson.
    • Make a spider diagram of everything you know about X.
    • Write down three keywords from this topic.
    • Draw a diagram of X.
    • What do you think X means?
  • Expectations – State your rules for the classroom to the whole group. Keep these simple and short so that you can refer to the ‘rules’ later if it becomes necessary to address behavioural problems.
  • Register – Usually, schools take a register using SIMs at the beginning of each lesson. Ensure this is done promptly as children may be reported as absent if the register is not completed within a certain time limit.
  • Learning objective(s) – Make sure students know what they are learning by sharing the objective(s) with them at the beginning of the lesson. They will be used to this as part of their routine, and may also write this statement down at the beginning or end of the lesson. Check students’ books to make sure you are following the usual procedure.
  • Emergency work – Occasionally schools will have issues getting the cover work to you for the beginning of the lesson, so make sure you have a few generic starter activities with you in case you need an activity to fill their time.
  • Equipment – Students should have the correct equipment for each lesson, so make sure they have everything they need at the beginning of the lesson to avoid delays later on.

Hopefully, these tips will help moving forward. Having a strong initial presence and an activity for the students to immediately engage will help assert your expectations that they will work in your lesson (even if inside you’re panicking and the cover hasn’t arrived yet!). It also gives you a breather to take the register and sort out anything else that might have gone wrong.

Each week we hope to publish advice on the issues that you are facing within the classroom or as part of your role. Whether it be behaviour, planning or workload we are here to help. Even if your question is published anonymously to help those experiencing the same issue we will still reply to you personally by email or phone with some advice.

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