Relief Teacher Survival Guide

Hi everyone, it's Christie from My Mum, the Teacher 

As we head into cold and flu season, I thought I'd share my tips for casual teachers, especially those just starting out in this area of our industry. 
Getting that phone call for your first casual teaching day can be exciting yet daunting all in the same moment. Being a relief teacher is probably the toughest teaching job going - you're expected to walk into a classroom full of students you don't know, teach them, keep them safe and engaged.

The following information about being a casual or temporary teacher can be found on the DEC website:
  • As a relief teacher you are employed on a day-to-day basis replacing permanent teachers who are absent or participating in other activities.Reliefl teachers are paid a daily rate, based on years of training and experience, which is loaded to include a component for sick leave and vacation pay.
  •  As a temporary teacher you are employed full-time for four weeks to a year or part-time for two terms or more. Temporary teachers receive most of the entitlements of permanent teachers, including annual salary, on a pro-rata basis.
  • Engaged to provide release for permanent teachers who are absent or participating in other activities, relief and temporary teachers ensure that a positive and challenging learning environment for students is maintained. They are responsible for providing proper and adequate supervision of classes or areas assigned to them, ensuring the safety and well being of students at all times.
  • Your role involves:
  • knowing your lesson content well
  • preparing lessons;
  • providing homework where appropriate and follow up the homework;
  • participating in whole school activities;
  • performing any rostered playground duty; and
  • contributing to school or faculty activities, special events, excursions or meetings.
While being a relief teacher can have its benefits, including providing a new or returning teacher the
opportunity to gain vital classroom and teaching, flexibility and the opportunity to gain professional skills when working towards obtaining a permanent job, it can, however see many teachers' leave the profession before having their own class due to difficulty in managing student behaviour. To ensure that you don't end up in that position, I am sharing the following strategies that I have gained during my own experiences, as well as from reading and talking to other teachers:

Have a survival plan:

Make sure you arrive at the school as early as possible (I aim for an hour before school commences). Introduce yourself to executive, administration and other teaching staff, especially those who will be in surrounding classrooms to you. While prior planning is important and schools that provide sufficient warning will be rewarded with a better prepared teacher and a less disruptive day, unfortunately that is not always possible. It is vitally important that you have a range of planned activities in your teaching bag - make sure you have things for each stage/year, ability and subject as well as a range of reward and behaviour management strategies that align with the school's policy.

Check school procedures and policy:

Once you arrive, ask about school policy on discipline, rewards (class points, school points, use of sweets etc.), removal of students and also whole school and class procedures - this could include lining up at the end of each break/bell time, eating time in class, procedures for sport/music/art etc. Also ask about what is expected of teachers when on playground duty and how to enforce rules. 

Check on students with special needs, behavioural and emotional needs:

Some students may have medical conditions that you need to be aware of, and asking about these things tells the school you are 'on the ball'. You should also ask if there are any specific learning needs in the class, students on behaviour contracts and how to cater best for these students.

Familiarise yourself with the classroom, school grounds and class program:

Once you get shown to the classroom you'll be in for the day (or the classes if you're in a high school) set up your equipment and then familiarise yourself with the layout of the classroom and where equipment can be found. Hopefully the class teacher has left work for you to work through with the students with detailed instructions of where to find equipment, classroom procedures, class jobs etc. etc. If there is no work for you, get out something you have and make time to get any photocopying done and organise any equipment you'll need. Then go out and get acquainted with the school grounds and some of the students.

(***If you think there will be an issue with seating then create a seating plan for your time with the class. It is often worth isolating the more difficult students in strategic positions rather then allowing these students to sit together and create havoc).

Establish a timetable for the day:

Check out this great example of a class timetable by Ms A.
A written or visual timetable on the board demonstrates that you are prepared and have a plan. This could be the usual class timetable or something you have created to work with your planned activities. A timetable will also help students who have ASD, processing disorders or poor time management skills prepare for events the day.

Gaining initial attention and respect:

This will be your hardest skill to accomplish, especially in a new setting where you don't have the luxury of knowing students' names and circumstances. Demonstrating an assertive but pleasant manner will show that you are in control and aren't going to be duped.
  • Establish expectations: It's not always possible to have a class discussion about class rules, but a few minutes spend establishing your expectations will be time well spent.
  • Build in a class reward/mystery element: A built in reward or surprise will keep the class motivated, even if you follow the regular class timetable. Place it strategically, generally towards the end of the day (or lesson) and try and make it something that the students will really enjoy e.g. one hour to play board games; an outdoor game; listen to their favourite music etc. Write this on the board with the timetable, but don't give too much away - just write MYSTERY PRIZE or SURPRISE. 
  • Establish routines: This is where you can refer to the class routines or create your own. Use or create a class job list, explicitly state how you want students to enter and exit the classroom, how they can get your attention etc. Read more about classroom routines here.

Get to work!:

Academic engagement is the biggest factor in preventing disruptive behaviour. If you don't understand the work left by the classroom teacher then use your own grade appropriate activities - try not to use time-fillers (check out our DBT stores for some great activity packs and fun games). Plan your whole day around a story or activity and make sure you mark any work!!!!! 

Concluding the day:

Always try to finish the day on a positive note - despite of how tough your day might have been! Try to identify a positive incident, student or group from the day. 

Leave relevant notes for the teacher:

Ensure you mark any work done by students throughout the day and leave relevant notes regarding significant events or child behaviour (good and bad) that occured. Make sure you check in with the admin staff, executive staff and the teacher doing casuals on your way out.  

Teaching can be an extremely rewarding career - and at the same time a challenging one. At the beginning stage of your career you are finding out who you are, what your style and strengths are (if you don't know what your teaching style is, take this quiz to find out your teaching and learning style and this quiz to find out what type of teacher you are) and how to use these to work with a group of students you may or may not be familiar with. I hope these strategies help you prepare for your entry (or re-entry) in the world of teaching and give you strength and confidence in yourself.

For more information about surviving as a casual teacher, here are some sites for your to peruse and I highly suggest joining the Facebook groups as they're a great form of support and help:

Survival Kit for Casual Teachers - Ocean View Learning Centre

Relief Teaching Activities - Australian Curriculum Lessons

Relief Teaching Ideas Community

Casual Relief Teachers in Australia

Surviving Casual Teaching

Konza, D., Grainger, J. & Bradshaw, K. (2006). Classroom Management: A Survivial Guide. Social Science Press: South Melbourne.


  1. How to Make Pemmican The Ultimate Survival Food

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    Click on the link bellow to find out how the early pioneers - who had a long hard journey ahead - built the Self-Feeding Fire in order to take a much needed refreshing nap (no need to add logs).

    How to Start a Self-Feeding Fire That Lasts All Night Long

    People really should avert their gaze from the modern survival thinking for just a bit and also look at

    How folks 150 years ago did it.

    These guys were the last generation to practice basic things-for a living-that we call survival skills now.

    Survival Things Our Great Grandfathers Did Or Built Around The House.

    Remember... back in those days, there was no electricity... no refrigerators... no law enforcement... and certainly no grocery store or supermarkets...

    So I really can't think of anyone more qualified in sharing real-life survival lessons than people who lived through times like these.

    Survival Things Our Great Grandfathers Did Or Built Around The House.

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