relief teacher

Overcoming Fear Of Relief Teaching

It can be hard overcoming fear and anxiety of being the teacher in front of the classroom. Here’s 7 tips to help yourself overcome that fear of relief teaching.


Don’t even give those kids the perception that you are super nervous. I’ll tell you why – because they will rip you to shreds. From age 9+ kids can be brutal. Walk straight to the teachers desk, put your personal belongings down and check for a lesson plan or work that needs to be completed if you’re a casual relief teacher.


From the first moment you step foot into a school you should be fake smiling to parents, students, staff and other teachers. You might be nervously sweating bricks, but that smile might just pay off when you need to ask for help. It pays to be kind to the librarian and it certainly pays to keep teacher aides happy. These people will be your new smiling buddies for the foreseeable future – do not – I repeat! Do not get on their bad side.

Smile at the students you are about to teach as soon as they walk in the classroom. Even if they are sweaty and stinky because that first 10 seconds they will have already judged you.


My dad taught me this and we always had a chuckle, but there are just some classes that you will literally be counting down the minutes to get away. The only way you can get through a whole day as a relief teacher is to break it down into 7 x 40 minute blocks. You can also break this into 3 sections: Class roll to morning tea, after morning tea to lunch, Back from lunch to school’s over.


As soon as you walk into that class you will lock eyes with a student who has already been working you out. They want they’re old teacher back but they also want to please you. You have literally made an ally without the work. Use this kid or group of kids to help you when there is no lesson plan. Let’s face it, walking into a class, getting to the desk and having nothing for the day happens. It’s a sad but true reality some days and these kids are going to be the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.

Without getting into a spin, ask the teachers pet what you would normally do for that day. They will list it off and give you the lesson plans for the day. So don’t forget! When that kid locks eyes with you, don’t dismiss them – use their knowledge.


Always take with you:

  • A whistle
  • Hat
  • Water bottle
  • Rewards Box/bag (cheap toys not food in case of nut etc allergies)
  • Snacks
  • Folder with printed worksheets organised into year levels

Having a folder with worksheets that was already organised into year levels, has saved me for those days when there is nothing left to keep kids occupied. Or for when the teacher hasn’t left a daily plan. It can also save you when students get work completed early and you can just hand them a worksheet to get multiple copies of for the rest of the class.

The whistle is for impromptu physical education. Some days, some kids need to just get outside and run the entire oval before starting work. I call this a FIGHT SAVER. Students will literally stop fighting with each other and put all their energy into hating you. It’s great because they become like a family unit and you’re their drill sergeant. They may hate you, but they will respect you. You can thank me later for that one.


Finally, the rewards box is a secret system I created for behaviour management. After roll call, draw their seating arrangements onto the bottom of the whiteboard. Like your drawing a map of the classroom but with their desks. Label the groups of desks into numbers (roughly 3-5 groups). Ask each group that you have drawn on the board to choose a group leader and a group name. Ask the group leader to come up to the front and write their group name on the whiteboard map.

Congratulations, you have now created a DIVIDE & CONQUER behaviour management approach. You can also thank me later for that too. Every time you notice a group working quietly or helping each other. Ask the leader to put a tally on the map for their group. I don’t usually take tallies away, it’s just mostly noticing positive behaviour that other students get jealous of. It’s like playing a strategy in class game of chess. The kids who want to break the rules end up having to answer to their group members. Rather than you the teacher having to do the behaviour management. At the end of the first break the group with the most tallies get to choose a prize from your rewards box. Wipe the whiteboard off when you come back from the first break.

At the beginning of the next session of lessons, re-draw the classroom map of desks and ask them to allocate new group leaders. Usually a different group gets to win prizes by the end of that session so keep an eye out for more positive behaviour from other groups. It also means you gain more kids liking you and keeping their attention on what they are learning. Repeat in the last session of the day and make sure you hand out prizes before bus kids have to leave early.


When I first start relief teaching at a school, I make it a point to go and see the principal or deputy and say thanks for a wonderful day. Even if it has been a day of pure survival they have given you paid work. If they like you, they will give you more paid work and eventually give you the good classes. I call this PLAYING THE GAME OF SCHOOLING. When you think about it, school is like a chess board. Every piece has their part to play. In relief teaching, you’re just the piece that fills in for another piece. Eventually, being positive (even on hard days) pays off quicker than if you weren’t. You’ll get to be a piece on the chess board. Stand out from the crowd and be happy and kind. Everyone has had to teach those classes and everyone can relate. Then you can start to build solid relationships with other teachers and bring down walls of fear.

I hope you enjoyed this laugh. It’s quite a real and scary feeling of fear and failure. With practice and strong coffee you will enjoy ‘playing the game of schooling.’

Written by: Sarah Courtney

See also our article of LOW SELF EFFICACY IN TEACHING.