Advantages and Disadvantages of working as a Supply Teacher

In this blog, I will share some of my own experience of substitute teaching and outline the advantages and disadvantages of working as a supply teacher for the school year 20/21.

—By Orla Dempsey

Career Coach and Primary School Teacher

Orla Dempsey, Career Coach and Primary School Teacher.

The government has promised hundreds of extra jobs for teachers for the school year 20/21 to help meet the demands of sick leave and the extra measures necessary to ensure we all return to school safely.

Advantages of Teaching Supply Posts

  1. Variety
    Working as a supply teacher amongst a number of schools provides great variety. You will not be stuck in one school for many months but will be moving around every few days or weeks. If you enjoy variety, getting to know different schools, teachers, and children, this is a great match for you.
  2. Financial security
    These supply posts will mean that you always have work. Being shared between a number of schools means that the likelihood that there will be a teacher absent is very high and working with a base school means that you have a base to go to if there ever happened to be a day with no work. Schools book in staff absences in advance on a specialised calendar, so supply teachers will know where they are working in advance. This gives a great sense of financial security. You will be paid for the holidays and have work every day. That’s a big plus point over substitute work.
  3. Understanding the dynamics of different schools
    Have you ever been to a school that you felt you wouldn’t like to return to? Me too. Working as a supply teacher – while it means that you may have to work there occasionally – also means that you will not be ‘stuck there’ for a number of months or whole school year.
  4. It may give you a sense of taking a break from teaching.
    If you’ve worked in a role for a number of years or have had a tough few years – working in a role with reduced responsibility, greater variety, fewer notes (let’s face it… that’s a big plus!) can feel like you’re having a little break from the ‘humdrum’ of the school admin side of things.
  5. The workload is decreased
    Because most of the absences are pre-assigned in the calendar, the class and Special Education Teachers know that they will be absent for a number of days. This means that they leave work for the supply teacher to cover with the class. Bonus!
  6. Sense of belonging
    Despite working for a number of schools, each supply teacher is employed by a base school. This means that for staff meetings, updates, etc, supply teachers are informed of the changes in the school, giving them a sense of belonging. Knowing that there is some connection to a particular principal, staff and pupils can help build a sense of belonging (even though you might not spend much time there).

Disadvantages of Working as a Supply Teacher

  1. Numbers of schools
    It is difficult to gauge how many schools should be in a cluster. How many staff will be absent? On leave? Attending courses etc? You may be working closely will just a few schools in your cluster because of the demand in schools for relief teachers.
  2. Sense of belonging
    Yes, I feel that this is both an advantage and a disadvantage. For some teachers, working in the same school, meeting the same teachers and teaching the same pupils may be important. Why? To develop a sense of belonging. If the ‘substitute teacher lifestyle’ suits you (popping in and out of different schools without feeling the need to connect on a deeper level), working as a supply teacher might suit you. You may feel a little nomadic at times.
  3. Classroom management
    Children will probably take the opportunity to ‘act up’ for this new teacher. You won’t know their names. You may just have the gist of the classroom and school routines – the pupils (may) act up if you are not firm but fair. Classroom management skills are a must in this role!
  4. Yard duty and extra work
    Some sub teachers feel that sometimes they do more than their fair share of yard duty. When you go from school to school, some people may try to take advantage. How are you at saying no? Are you a pushover? If someone is overstepping your boundaries, how good are you at saying “Let me have a think about that and I’ll get back to you”?
  5. Lack of a bond with a class
    As teachers, we love the satisfaction that comes from taking a class from beginning of the year to the end (usually!), creating the connection with the child that nobody understands, laughing with them about an inside joke and the feeling of achievement we get at the end of the year from seeing how far they have come. Creating a bond with a class is short-lived when working as a supply teacher.

My Experience of Substitute Work as a Lifestyle Choice

At the moment, I’m developing my coaching business. In the interim, I continue to work part-time as a substitute primary school teacher. My preference is to work short weeks – teaching (3-4 days max per week) or days here and there.

What does that lifestyle provide me with? Financial income; connection with other teachers; freedom from massive planning expectations; the opportunity to work with fantastic children and share my knowledge and experience.

What does this not provide me with? Financial security long-term and a sense of true belonging in a school.

It’s definitely a ‘swings and roundabouts’ type of situation but it suits me at present and allows me to help my clients in other ways.

Applying for a Supply Panel position

If you’d like to apply for a Supply Panel position, or if you’re unsure whether you’re a good match for the role, reach out to me by emailing for mentoring or coaching in the education sector.

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