What happens at your child’s school when a teacher is absent?  Hopefully, a suitably qualified replacement will take over, but few schools have a bank of teachers sitting in the staff room waiting to cover absence.

At primary level where one teacher may teach several subjects, it’s unlikely that there will be a spare teacher.  At secondary level it’s possible that a subject teacher may have a spare period, but won’t be available to cover a full time-table.

For most schools the answer is a supply teacher, which, in business terms is like contracting a ‘temp’.  Supply teachers cover anything from a one day absence, perhaps where a teacher has to attend a funeral, to a long-term fill in, maybe to cover for maternity leave.

However, some schools have a temporary solution where a teaching assistant will supervise work set by the usual teacher.  This often works well for the occasional absence, but isn’t a longer-term solution.  If the teaching assistant is already known by the class, they will have an established relationship and know who to keep an eye on and who needs a bit of support.  However, they are NOT teachers and should only ever act as supervisors.

If a teacher is away for a longer period of time, due to ill health or injury (or, as mentioned above, on maternity leave) a supply teacher will be needed.

So what’s this got to do with parents?

There are two sides to every coin and a temporary teacher is probably going to be a little apprehensive – after all they’re new to the relationship with the class.  If your child understands what that must be like, they’ll be more inclined to support the teacher than to give them a hard time.  You can help them to imagine what it must be like to face a class of people they don’t know and have to take the lead.

All teachers are not created equal – and some are gifted with the ability to get rapport with their classes.  However, if you can get your child to understand that teachers who seem to be too strict, grumpy, picky or otherwise difficult are still the source of the knowledge that will help the student to succeed.  Their choice is how they decide to interact – what will they gain or lose from their choice?

If your child is in a class with an absentee teacher you need to know that their education is progressing.  The occasional lesson with a different teacher or pre-set work supervised by a teaching assistant is unlikely to have much effect, but if this happens often continuity of learning can suffer.

It’s hard to get used to a new teacher, the relationship/rapport isn’t instantly created, that takes time.  Some schools do ask their teaching assistants to actually teach a lesson – and they shouldn’t.  If that’s happening in your child’s school, you need to know – and take action.

The first step would be to talk to the school about why this is happening and get reassurance that this won’t happen again.

If you want your child to do well in their exams, it’s important that they are getting the learning they need in the classroom.

Keep your ears open when your kids get home from school – a ‘new’ teacher is often the subject of conversation with their friends.  Find out more, get the facts and then decide if you need to get involved.

Of course, if you want to ensure your kids are up to speed you could always enrol them for a free assessment.