Interview with... Gareth, secondary supply teacher and entrepreneur!

Interview with... Gareth, secondary supply teacher and entrepreneur!Gareth Tanswell, creator of The Cover Teacher’s Planner, talks to us about his work as a supply teacher.

Why did you choose to go into supply teaching?

Throughout my school life I thought that I wanted to be a primary school teacher, I couldn't imagine ever teaching in a secondary school. My parents persuaded me not to go for an Education degree but to go for a degree that might give alternative options and to then follow that up with a PGCE, and so I went to University of Wales, Aberystwyth and studied Human Geography. I chose Aberystwyth because I had attended Welsh-medium schools and wanted to continue my education in that language as best I could. However whilst I was in Aberystwyth, I decided to do some voluntary work and so ended up helping out at a Youth Club once a week. I also decided to join the Special Constabulary, on what was (in all honesty) a bit of a whim. I genuinely had no desire whatsoever at that point of joining the Police. But I then caught the bug for policing and decided that I wanted to pursue a career in that route. When I finished University I got myself a job as a Learning Support Assistant at HMP & YOI Ashfield in Pucklechurch, Bristol. I just saw that as a stepping stone for getting into the Police. In fact I applied to join the Police in February 2007 whilst working at Ashfield. I didn't hear anything from the police for a while, and later in 2007 an opportunity came along for me to complete a PGCE on a part time basis, and the prison were willing to support that, so I joined the course, and that same week decided that I wanted to be a full-time student again and took the dive and switched to the full-time course. During that year the economic crisis began hitting, and the prison were unable to take me back once I had qualified, and so I found myself with a PGCE but no job. I first went into supply teaching in 2008 just as I had finished my PGCE because I wanted to get some experience of working in schools and to see whether it was for me. I was seeking full time employment but was still living at home. I worked in 2 different schools at that time, and I didn't really enjoy it, the one school was in quite an affluent town and I found the students to be quite snobbish, and then on my first lesson on the first day in the other school which was deep in the Gwent valleys, a fight erupted in my class, and the teaching assistant just looked at me to sort it out. I quickly found myself a non-teaching full time job late in 2008, but began teaching Welsh in Community Education classes as well. In 2008 I had managed to get myself extra teaching with The Open University teaching on their new L196 Croeso course (Welsh for beginners). Then in March 2009 I finally got into the Police and began the career that I am now in today. This unfortunately meant that I had to give up my teaching commitments because I was going to be living away during my initial 30-week training course, and I knew that I wouldn't be able to commit to teaching in the community whilst also working a shift pattern. But even on a police wage, being a single man with a mortgage meant that I needed something to supplement my income, and so I kept working for the OU as I could easily schedule tutorials around my shift pattern. More than the need for money, I wanted to keep teaching because I had always been passionate about facilitating learning, and wanted to keep my own professional development going. By teaching with The OU I was able to complete most of the masters for a MA in Online and Distance Education and didn't have to pay a penny for it! So it was definitely worth it, and I really enjoyed watching the course develop and mature, and working with students from across the UK who were passionate about learning Welsh. In 2012 I was made redundant from my teaching role with the OU due to cutbacks which affected the whole of the HE field, and in all honesty I missed it, and although I wasn't being paid grandly by the OU as it was only a few hours’ work every week, the extra bit of money was useful, and so in early 2013 I made contact with my old agency and signed up again.

How did you choose your agency?

When I first joined my agency I had seen them at a stand at a Careers Fair at my University where I was completing my PGCE in 2008. I signed up and got work quite quickly. But as I mentioned before, I didn't really enjoy it and so only did a few assignments and then left them. Then in 2013, I went to find them again but found that the office had been relocated to Cardiff. The staff were the same and remembered me and were happy for me to give it a go again. I dragged my feet at this stage and kept putting off my appointment to bring my documents to them and to sign up, I just wasn't sure whether I wanted to do it as I hadn't enjoyed it before, and then one day I decided to just do it! If I didn't give it another go I would never know, and I couldn't think of any other way of keeping my teaching qualification current. The staff at the agency were really warm and welcoming, and I very quickly began getting assignments. They understood my shift pattern and only called me when I was free, but I felt valued by them, I almost felt that by taking assignments that I was doing them a favour, and so I stuck to it. Now, 18 months on, I really enjoy supply teaching, and have no intentions whatsoever to stop doing it any time soon.

What do you take with you on assignment?

I make sure that I am smartly dressed, and have learned that the absolute most important thing to wear is a massive smile. It’s pointless trying to be too firm, respect is something that has to be earned, and I won't get a second chance to make a good first impression with students, and so I make sure that my first interaction with a class is friendly, happy and most importantly, funny!

How do you ensure you'll be called back to work at that lovely school by your recruitment consultant?

By getting a class on side, I find that it means that I tend not to attract attention! I have had some classes which have been a nightmare, and you end up getting other teachers come and assist a lot, which is great for me, but I often wonder whether they then think that I am not doing a good job, and so I prevent it at all costs by trying to get along with the students, and finding a happy medium. I fully know that I am a 'Supply' and I see their eyes rolling in their head when I stand there and pronounce their names incorrectly, or when I expect them to do some work, but I generally find that within about 5 minutes of the class starting, I can get them focused on the task in hand. But then I don't mind them chatting with their mates as long as they are doing some work. I find that by not constantly being negative and oppressive, the students soon think that I am fantastic, and I often now get students cheering when they see me walking towards their classroom! I also keep a good dialogue with my agency, so they know exactly where I enjoy working and where I don't. There are schools where they don't even bother asking me to go now because they know that I would rather have a day off work and earn nothing than to go to those schools, conversely, there are some schools where my agency will forward my work rota to them so that they know when I am free!

You've created the Cover Teacher Planner, what prompted this?

I was losing track of where I was teaching, and what I had been doing. I also had lost track with what subjects I was teaching. I had taught some really good lessons and picked up some great resources, and wanted a way of tracking these things. But when I looked into the various teachers’ planners I found that they were more focussed on teachers who worked in the same school every day, they didn't give spaces for details of more than 1 school, and they had loads of wasted pages for things like timetables or records of student marks/assessments which I simply had no use for as a supply teacher.

What are the key benefits of using the planner?

I need somewhere that I can keep a track of where I have been working and what expenses I have incurred, so far I have been useless at keeping track of these and making the claims for rebates from HMRC that I am entitled to. I have also had a couple of incidents that have occurred in the classroom that I felt needed to be reported back to the school, and so the incident form was designed to be a generic way of recording those concerns. There is also a place for information from each lesson to be recorded as a reference point in case it is of use in the future, perhaps when working with the same cohort or covering for the same teacher.

How do you envisage the Planner moving forward in the future?

The planner is still a new concept, and so I really do welcome suggestions from others. I would like to make the planner friendlier for all teachers, and a suggestion has been made of making a Welsh-medium version. If there is a demand then I will start working on a 2015/6 version in the autumn. Another idea is to have a generic version which isn't year specific.

What would your top tip for supply teachers be?

Be nice! If you are in the teaching profession for the right reasons then your absolute top priority should be to the students. If you put your students in the centre of what you do then you will naturally build lasting relationships with staff and also with the school. Also, recognise that you are one of many supply teachers that your students will have encountered. They know plenty of excuses to get out of doing the work that has been set, and they have an answer for everything, some students will see you as a target and will deliberately want to wind you up, but if you just respond with a smile and remain pleasant and calm, then other students in the class will realise that you are one of the good ones and will help to manage their co-student's behaviour for you. Focus on positive behaviour, and don't give unnecessary attention to negative behaviour.

What is your favourite resource for supply teaching?

My favourite resource is YouTube. I use it all the time to find clips that I can show to students to help them to understand a concept in a new way, and sometimes to help me to understand things before I begin a lesson. For instance, when I am teaching a subject that I am not necessarily comfortable with (maths, English, science etc.) then I would have a look at the work which has been set and I would then try to increase my own understanding of that subject prior to the lesson by watching a YouTube clip on my phone in the staff room.

And finally! Who would be the ultimate supply teacher and why? 

Caractacus Potts from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He is so friendly, joyful and loving to his family, and also is experimental and innovative.

Experienced secondary supply teacher A. Barrett has kindly provided us with a review of The Cover Teacher Planner, and resident blogger and EYFS supply teacher Jenny's reviewed The Cover Teacher Planner in her June 2014 blog post. The Cover Teacher Planner, created by Gareth, is available to buy from his website.


Interview with... An SEN Supply Teacher

Interview with an SEN Supply Teacher
An SEN Supply Teacher working through Randstad Education, talks to us about the privilege of working with SEN children.
Why did you choose to be a supply teacher?

Because I want to be in control of when I work and not at the mercy of the LEAs and their Human Resource teams. Also the holiday and travel companies charge a fortune for holidays taken at the end of school terms so really I felt I was working to pay their astronomical fees to go away at the same time as everybody else.

How did you get into supply teaching?

Once qualified many years ago I did not want to go into an LEA pool so I registered with an agency.

What do you take with you on assignment?

Very little because I can think on my feet. Also I work in SEN a lot where the planning is very prescriptive because the pupils need routine.

How do you ensure you'll be called back to work at *that* lovely school?

By being dependable, approachable, flexible and good at what I do. I am also a very good colleague who does not expect the people around me to do all the work. I would not ask somebody else to do something that I am more than capable of doing myself.

What special qualities are required of an SEN supply teacher?

A sense of humour first then the ability to empathize with the pupils and try to have realistic expectations of what the pupils need to achieve. The focus has to be on the individuals needs not what the average student needs. Flexibility is a must and don't ever patronize somebody with learning difficulties. You will probably find that they have more talents in other areas than you do!

Do you have any advice for those wishing to do supply teaching in SEN schools?

Be prepared to be traumatized some days and incredibly humbled on others. Working with pupils who have SEN is a privilege to be earned not something to do because there is nothing else on the day. Their lives are in your hands.

What have you learnt from being an SEN supply teacher?

That I lead an incredibly charmed life and to take nothing for granted. Many of the parents of the children I have taught over the years struggle much more at home with their children than I do at work with them and for some of the pupils coming to school is possibly the only time that they get some individual attention.

How could the lives of supply teachers be improved?

By being paid through the holidays one way or another. By having some sort of back up fund for when you don't get any work. It is my choice to be a supply teacher but not getting paid when I don't or can't work is very worrying. Supply teachers have bills too.

Who would be the ultimate supply teacher and why?

Morgan Freeman because of that voice he could read any story and make it sound amazing.

And finally, what is your favourite supply teacher resource?

I always have the French alphabet with me with the letters written down phonetically to help me teach the pronunciation. For example A is said "aah". The primary children love it because they have a go a spelling out their names in French.

Randstad Education
6th Floor
100 Grays Inn Road
London, WC1X 8AL
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: 020 7400 6035 


Randstad Education - Interview with an SEN supply teacher


Interview with... JT Griffiths

The Sewer Rats - JT GriffithsJT Griffiths, supply teacher and author of The Sewer Rats, give tips and advice for supply teachers.
Why did you get into supply teaching?

Long story - I qualified after doing a PGCE in 1983. Then after a short spell as a secondary RE teacher I did a Post Grad computing science course and spent many years as an analyst/programmer. When my mother suffered a series of strokes I became her carer (for about 5 years). Meanwhile the computer industry moved on and I had always enjoyed training new recruits so jumped at the chance to complete a return to teaching course. Once my mother died I saw supply teaching as a means to get back into teaching.

How did you get into supply teaching?

As a keen dog walker I met the headteacher of a local primary school whilst out for a walk. She suggested I went and helped out and very soon was doing a regular day a week supply via the county, plus many extra odd days. I tried signing on with agencies but was rejected until I had 2 referees from 2 different schools. I had to do half a term as a volunteer in another school to get that reference. Approaching several agencies I found two that now give me regular work (and a further two that never found me anything.)

What do you take with you on assignment?

I have a selection of folders I have compiled marked year R up to year 6 - full of resources for that year. I also take a separate bag (usually kept in the car boot) with track suit and trainers and an assembly ideas book - hoping I won't have to use them. I usually take a John West Pasta & Tuna ready meal that can stay in my bag until needed. I also take spare pens, pencils and pencil sharpeners (all needed in the school I was at yesterday). Perhaps my most important tool is the satnav I got for Christmas, making the journey much easier. Most of the time I don't need the resources, but you can guarantee that when I am told by the agency that all the planning is set there will be no work left. I also take a large diary where I can note down where I was, what was taught etc.

How do you ensure you'll be called back to work at that lovely school / by your recruitment consultant?

If I like the school (and luckily it's most of them) I always try to find the secretary, administrator or headteacher to let them know. Funnily enough those schools where everyone has disappeared by the time I have finished my marking are usually the schools that I am not too bothered about. I usually ring my recruitment consultant on a Friday afternoon to let them know my availability and tell them then if a school has been very good.

What have you learned from being a supply teacher so far?
Organisation. When I worked in the computer industry I was very disorganised. Supply teaching requires a high degree of discipline, from having everything ready at a moments notice, to thinking on your feet when you enter the classroom having been called late and the TAs ask you what you are going to be teaching that day. 
Many supply teachers don't feel they earn enough money, and some seem to have a lot of time on their hands. What have you been doing in your spare time?
My big project over the last year has been writing an ebook. On the many days I was left twiddling my thumbs after 9:30 in the morning, I wondered how I could make a little more money - and enjoy myself. I had worked in several schools that used Berlie Doherty's book 'Street Child', where the children have to guess what comes next at the end of each chapter, and I thought it would be good to write a sci-fi story that could promote class discussion. I set the story far in the future but tried as much as possible to keep to the possible rather than fantasy. The story follows two young sisters escaping from a gang of bullies and finding themselves on an adventure with two young brothers and their bio-computer tattoos. The children stowaway on the skylift into space earning themselves the name of 'the sewer rats.' Escaping from the authorities that want to destroy them they must use their wits and tattoos to foil both a military coup and some strange bugs that we learn are out to destroy humanity. One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing the book was taking it into different year 5 and year 6 classes and testing out ideas. Publishing an ebook on the Amazon store for the kindle is quite easy and hopefully if I sell enough eCopies I will be able to approach publishers to see the book in print.
Do you have any words of advice for those wishing to be a supply teacher?
Don't be nervous, most schools are very supportive. Remember that everyone, even those in permanent posts, learn new things and new ways of teaching every day. It's a dynamic not static profession.
Story time!

I've only once been to a school and had to leave half way through the day, and it wasn't because of the children but because a member of the staff kept coming into my class egging on the children to misbehave. When I first started teaching the occasional child would accidentally call me 'dad', now many years on I get called 'grandad'. Recently a 5 year old boy asked me my age. I replied 53, he said 'you don't look it' and I thought how nice, until he added 'I thought you were much older!'

Who would be the ultimate supply teacher and why?

Well the obvious answer is 'anyone but Michael Gove.' But having said that I would love to watch him try! Otherwise I would choose David Attenborough who I am sure would captivate the children with his knowledge and memories.

And finally, what is your favourite supply teacher resource?

My favourite resource is 'Always Eat Your Bogies' a collection of poems by Andrew Collett. One year 6 boy described me as an adult Horrid Henry for reading a poem about cowpats with gusto.

JT Griffiths' book, The Sewer Rats, suitable for upper Key Stage 2, is available from Amazon here.

Interview with... Mr M N Cliff, supply teacher

Mr M N Cliff, supply teacher with School House Recruitment in the north east of England, talks to us about his work.

Why did you start supply teaching?

It was an ideal way to develop my teaching skills across all year groups and subjects. 

How did you get into supply teaching?

I'd spoken to several experienced supply teachers about the opportunities and challenges presented by supply teaching.  School House Recruitment came highly recommended. 

What do you take with you on a supply teaching assignment?

I take a variety of textbooks and worksheets covering all age groups.  A tin of soup.  An A to Z (I haven't got a Sat Nav).  Several children's novels.  Excitement, (mild) anxiety and a sense of adventure! 

How do you ensure you'll be called back to work at that lovely school / by your recruitment consultant?

I concentrate on the lesson and doing the best for my pupils.  If you can earn the respect of the children and staff members, one or both groups will ask the headteacher for your return.  This will happen before you finish your placement. 

Do you have any advice for those wishing to be a supply teacher?

Developing a good relationship with your agency is crucial.  Make sure that your feedback is balanced: tell them what you have enjoyed and what you have found challenging. 

What have you learned from being a supply teacher?

My experience as a supply teacher has been invaluable; I now feel confident teaching every year group. 

How could the lives of supply teachers be improved?

For all supply teachers and permanent teaching staff's mugs, to come together in the same cupboard.  Let's see beverage holders unite, because at the end of the day - they all do the same job. 

What is your favourite supply teacher resource?

George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl.


I once turned up to a school that had recently been demolished.  I could see the new building, but for the life of me, I couldn't reach it by car. I hopped over a fence, marched through a field, taught my lessons and returned to my car later that day with mud up to my ankles! 

And finally, who would be the ultimate supply teacher and why?

Dr Who.  If the lesson is going badly, he can always regenerate into a more effective incarnation. 

School House Recruitment - The place to find teaching jobs



Interview with... Sophie, an NQT on supply

Sophie, an NQT on supply, talks to us about how schools could make life easier for supply teachers!
Why did you get into supply teaching?

I decided to get into supply teaching when it was apparent that the area in which I live did not have many vacancies for newly qualified teachers.  After a few months of applying, I decided to become a short term supply teacher whilst I was on the look out for a more permanent job.  I contacted my local authority and they instructed me to submit an application, attend an interview and some courses and then I was placed onto the supply register.

What do you take with you on assignment?

I always ensure that I am well prepared and have collected together a box of items that I take with me to schools. These include lesson starters that I have devised as well as books with photocopiable ideas in. I also have resources that will assist me in my lessons as well as white labels!! I give each child one to wear throughout the day and this makes it ten times easier!

How do you ensure you'll be called back to work at that lovely school / by your recruitment consultant?

I always ensure that all work that I have done with the children is marked and left neatly with a note for the teacher to explain how the day went as well as any details I feel that they need to know. The classroom is always left tidy and that all resources are put away in the appropriate place.

Do you have any advice for those wishing to be a supply teacher?

Ensure that you are always prompt on arrival and prepared to do anything to help the teacher/class that you are working with. Always be polite but make an impression upon the school as then you are more likely to be asked back. Always take your box of tricks and keep an open mind :)

What did you learn from being a supply teacher?

The ability to think on my feet and it has given me many experiences as I deal with such a variety of children and varying needs/abilities on a daily basis. As well as giving me an insight into many different schools in my area.

How could the lives of supply teachers be improved?

If schools were more open to supply teachers and supported them better. Many schools aren't too fussed about looking after the supply teacher or making their job any easier. What they forget is that supply teachers usually work outside their comfort zones in places and with people that they have never met before so ensuring that a friendly face is around would make things better.

Who would be the ultimate supply teacher and why?

I think the ultimate supply teacher would be someone who is inspirational, motivating and ensures that all children are engaged by their teaching. Someone that wants to see the children do well and encourage them to become life-long learners.

Resources for Supply Teachers - Thinking Dice
And finally, what is your favourite supply teacher resource?

Probably my thinking dice, they are a great tool to use in a starter or a plenary of a lesson and I enjoy using them as an AFL technique too.

CPD for supply teachers

Free! The Five Ds

The Five Ds - Five little words supply teachers need!

Supply for Lunch

#SupplyChat Tuesdays 8.30-9pm

Supply Teacher Top Tip of the Week

Home of #NSTW

Supporting and Celebrating Supply Teachers

Supply Teacher Room 101

Have Bag, Will Travel

Have Bag, Will Travel: The trials and tribulations of a career supply teacher


Free! Otis Stickers

Free stickers for supply teachers

King / Twin En-Suite in family home, Penny Bridge

Cumbria, United Kingdom
We have a lovely guest room with en-suite bathroom. The room can be made as a double (extra king size) or as a twin (full size single beds). The bathroom has separate bath and shower. We are in So...

Takeover Thursday - Supply Teacher Network