Essential Tips for Cover Teachers
27 April 2023

10 Time Tested Tips to Help Supply Teachers

Becoming a cover teacher, also known as a cover supervisor or supply teacher, is an excellent way to gain classroom experience, get a foot in the door at local schools, find out more about life in UK schools and of course, earn a living until you secure a more permanent position.

Many cover supervisors that come through James Ray Recruitment end up securing teaching jobs on either a permanent or long-term basis in schools that they have been placed in, showing that it can be a great gateway into the profession!

When you start out as a cover teacher, there’s plenty to learn. Even experienced teachers who transition to cover supervisor roles very quickly learn that there are differences in the day-to-day work. So this guide has been written to help new cover teachers be prepared, and excel, in their roles.

At the start of the day:

Get There Early

You will hear some people move into cover teaching because they think that they can rock up at 8:30am, leave at the sound of the bell and life will be a breeze. The reality can be somewhat different, and although it is possible to arrive later and leave earlier than the teaching staff, who will have more planning and admin tasks to complete, it is definitely worth arriving to a school early. This is especially true when it’s a new school.

Getting there with plenty of time to spare before the pupils arrive will allow you to complete some very important tasks that will help make the rest of your day run much more smoothly. Simple thing such as navigating your way around the school building, knowing where the staff room is and where the toilets are may be more difficult once the hustle and bustle of the school day begins.

You’ll also get the chance to look over the work that has been left for your classes, check that all of the resources you need are in place and that the IT is working. These are definitely things you don’t want to be doing once the pupils show up, or you’re going to have a difficult time.

Speak to Staff

The teaching staff will spend most of their Monday – Fridays in the school, so there’s nobody better to speak to if you need any help or support. Most schools will welcome you in and give you an information pack or have someone show you the ropes when you arrive, but there can be things that get overlooked.

It’s vital that you know how to take a register, as this is a legal safeguarding duty, so make sure you have logins to the school system and you know how to record a child’s attendance or absence. You’ll also want to know how to dismiss a class, and whether there is a bell / buzzer system to signal breaks and lunches or if you need to keep a check on the time yourself. Finally, you’ll need to know who to reach and how if you need urgent support. Many schools use an email alert system, but some may use telephones or walkie talkies.

Understand Important Policies

There are a myriad of policies and procedures for school staff to abide by and you’ll need to know all of them, especially if you’re on a long-term placement where you’ll become more like a permanent teacher than a cover supervisor. The most important is the safeguarding policy, which sets out the school’s statutory responsibilities for keeping children safe and how they are implemented in that establishment. Many of these policies will be similar from school to school, but you should always go over it in a new setting to look out for any subtle differences. You’ll also need to know who the Designated Safeguarding Lead is, in case you have to pass on any concerns about a child.

If you join James Ray Recruitment as a cover teacher, you will receive a full safeguarding induction from our experienced staff before you go on any placements.

You’ll also want to find out other policies that you may be expected to abide by, such as the ICT policy. Some schools may be happy for you to use your own devices at breaks and lunch, or browse personal websites outside of teaching hours, while some won’t allow it. Understanding this in advance could save you from any awkward conversations if you unknowingly breach a policy.

While You Are Teaching:

Managing Behaviour

The phrase ‘behaviour management,’ or sometimes called ‘classroom management,’ may conjure up images of a strict old teacher from your own childhood shouting at unruly children. Nowadays, classroom management is more holistic than just punishing bad behaviour, and is considered an essential component for children to achieve the learning outcomes for the lesson.

Ultimately, your goal is to maintain an orderly classroom so that children are safe and learning. Teachers achieve this in different ways that suit them, their personalities and their classes. Where some are strict and solemn, others are fun and jokey. In our experience, the best way to act is to be yourself. Children generally respond well to authenticity.

One thing that you will need to do no matter what, is follow the school’s classroom management policy. This will set out the school’s expectations from both and children, including how to reward positive behaviour and how to deal with unwanted behaviour. Following this will give you consistency with the school’s teaching staff and pupils will know that your expectations are the same.

Answer Questions

Kids are naturally curious. They’ll want to know who you are, where you’ve worked before, where your accent is from if you were born in another town, even whether you’re married or have kids. This may seem very mundane to you, but when children ask you these things it is their way of trying to build a relationship. Go with it. Just don’t spend too long answering questions as this is a well-known work avoidance tactic by the more astute students, and feel free to not answer anything that you’re uncomfortable with.

Utilise Support Staff

Support staff are there to help children who have additional physical, social or emotional needs. You won’t always have support staff with you in every lesson, but when you do you should use their skills and experience to help you. Support staff will be used to the classes they are assigned to, and will know names as well as dynamics; such as which pupils will or will not work well next to each other or who may need some extra help with work.

At Lunch Time:

Try to get to the Staff Room

Staff rooms can be a hive of activity at lunch time. It’s when teachers get a few minutes to eat lunch, have a coffee and catch up with each other. If you get the chance, you should go and sit in the staff room for lunch. It’s a great way to meet other staff, get yourself known in the school, and just chill out after a hectic morning of teaching cover lessons.

The staff will also know pupils and will be able to give you some much needed information about classes before you see them, such as who might cause behaviour problems or whether a particularly studious pupil might finish all of the work early and you’ll need to give them something to do.

Walk Around the School

It won’t take you very long to learn that lunch breaks aren’t as long as they need to be! After you’ve eaten and had a catch up with other teachers, you should also try to get around the school if you have the time. Being seen around the building helps pupils to see you as a regular member of staff rather than just a temporary fixture. Pupils also behave differently outside of the classroom than inside it, and it could be a great opportunity to build relationships with them which will be very important if you take cover work regularly in the same school, or receive a long-term placement.

After School

Leave a Handover Note for the Class Teacher

This may be easier if you are working in a primary school, where you will likely teach the same class through most of the day, than a secondary school where you may cover various teachers around the school. But if you can, you should always try to leave a brief handover note to the class teachers. Let them know where you got up to with the work as this could be important to help with their planning for the class. You should also leave praise for the classes / pupils who have worked well, and let the staff know of any problems that arose.

Teaching staff really appreciate knowing what happened in their absence, and it helps inform them of their next steps with their class.

Leave Classrooms Tidy

One massive bugbear for teachers is when classrooms are left in a mess when they’re not there. Teachers spend a lot of time in their classrooms, and although they belong to the school, they’re often treated as their own room. Teachers may have spent a lot of time creating displays, and spent money on bringing in nice supplies for the children, so they’re naturally upset if these are left untidy or worse, damaged.

Tidying up books, equipment, ensuring chairs are tucked away and scraps of paper are picked up will create a positive impression of you as someone who respects the school environment and generate a lot of goodwill among your colleagues.


Being a cover teacher overall is a very enjoyable experience for many people, and they love the variety of teaching different subjects and pupils within different schools on a day-to-day basis. But it’s important to remember that it does come with its challenges, typically because staff are unfamiliar with the children and school systems.

By using these tips for cover teachers, you can set yourself up for success while you’re working on supply and help to make your time in schools run more smoothly.