10 Immediate Actions to do NOW to Prepare for a Substitute Teacher

Whether you woke up feeling like you were hit by a truck or stayed up all night taking care of your sick child, we have all been there. . . in desperate need of a Substitute Teacher! I have always heard it said that for teachers, it’s more work to be out of school for a day than it is to actually come in and teach. But what if I told you there was a better way to plan for a Substitute Teacher? Well, there is! Read on for easy ways that you can prepare for a Substitute Teacher. And the best part? You can do these right now!

Use these helpful tips and tricks to easily prepare for your substitute teacher.

Organize Your Substitute Materials

First, choose a binder or a file box that will be used solely for your substitute plans. I actually like to use both!

Keeping your supplies, papers, and check lists organized in a substitute binder will be a life saver for you and your substitute teacher.In my experience, using a binder works well for planned absences. You can use tabs to separate sections of information from the work you leave. It also makes it easy to further categorize the work by subject or class. 
A file box works well for unplanned absences because you have room to include printed-out activities, books, and manipulatives your sub may need to complete lessons. 
I like to organize my substitute materials at the very beginning of the year.  This way, I am prepared as soon as possible and I can forget about it until I need it.  Knowing that I am ready for a sub takes some of the stress off of being sick or an emergency situation. 
However, since our student needs change during the year, this isn’t a one-and-done activity. I do check periodically to see if I need to update the materials in my sub-box. Not even a sub wants to complete an apple activity in January. 
I have found that checking in once a month or once a quarter allows me to keep the sub materials timely and make any changes to the information. But don’t worry, this is a quick check and is usually done in 5-10 minutes.

The Sub Binder

When preparing for a sub, there are many important pieces of information you will want to leave them.  Here are ten items that your sub will NEED to have a successful day in the classroom.  

1. A list of names of several responsible student helpers

Your student helpers should be students you can trust to answer questions and help your sub with class routines.  Also, leave names of teammates or other staff members that can help the sub if needed. Make sure to let the sub know where to find them, or leave a phone number, in case your sub has questions before students arrive.

2. A list of procedures for the classroom

This is a must for a smooth day in the classroom. We all know that kids do best with consistency. If we add a new teacher to the mix, the best chance for a great day is to keep everything else as consistent as possible. Here are some of the daily classroom procedures your substitute will need to know.
    Filling out an Important Information sheet will help your substitute teacher easily find all of the information they need quickly.

  • how to take attendance
  • making lunch choices
  • expectations for lining up
  • how to take bathroom breaks
  • how to ask questions during class
  • snack time expectations
  • how to handle dismissal

and anything else your sub needs to know to get through the day.  Think about all those procedures you teach at the beginning of the year and jot them down for the sub.  

3. Classroom Rules / Behavior Plan

It helps a sub to know how you expect your students to behave.  When the sub knows and understands the class rules and expectations they are better able to keep the day as normal as possible.  
In addition to the rules, don’t be afraid to jot down some notes on what you expect from your students when it comes to behavior. Provide details on your classroom behavior plan so that they can use it just like you would. 
I also like to leave a visual incentive so my students know their good behavior will earn them a reward!  I (or the sub) will write “FREE TIME” on the board, and the sub can remove a letter anytime they see whole group behavior is not acceptable. If there is at least one letter left when I return, my students get free time! 

4. Class List and Seating Chart

A sub’s life is so much easier when you leave this!  They need to know the names of those they are talking to.  If students have assigned seats or places in the classroom, leaving the sub a seating chart is also very helpful.   

5. Schedule 

For the day to run smoothly, your sub needs to know how long each subject should last and at what times they should take your class to other places.  Also, give them the heads up when staff members will come in or pull students out (such as a Speech Therapist, Counselor, etc…).  And if any special activities are going on, be sure to leave the sub all the important details.

6. A list of all medical issues they need to know about (asthma, food allergies, etc…)

Subs should be trained on how to handle this information, but always copy this page on colored paper and mark “CONFIDENTIAL” at the top. 

7. Important Safety Procedures

Fire Drill, Tornado Drill, and Lockdown Drill procedures should be very explicitly written.  Include a note to speak to a Team Teacher who would know this information if they have even the tiniest question about these procedures!

Leaving a list of students who may need extra support or have important medical conditions your substitute should be aware of is important for your substitute and your students while you are away.

8. The names of students who may need extra support

Many students need support in different ways during the day. This may include things like repeated directions, help focusing, assistance with transitions, and more.  Letting your sub know this information before they happen prevents misunderstandings and possible behavior issues. 

9. Directions for using classroom technology

There’s nothing worse for a sub than not being able to access the classroom technology. This includes how to turn on and use equipment and any passwords they may need to complete the day’s activities. I would suggest keeping things very simple or leaving a trusted “Student Tech Helper” tasked with helping the sub. 

10. Lesson Plans (planned absence)

Leave as thoroughly DETAILED lesson plans as possible.  Don’t assume subs “just know” what they should be doing when it comes to the work you have left.  If applicable, copy teacher textbook pages and highlight what should be completed.  Save your plans so that you can use them as a template for your next substitute lesson plan.  Since the format and times are already there, you can simply change the text as needed.  
When I know I will be out, I leave the binder out on my desk so my substitute can easily find it. Right next to the binder, I leave any copies or supplies the sub will need and I make sure to label everything!

The Sub Tub

While it would be great to have advance notice of all absences, we all know that is just not the case. In fact, more often than not, our need for a substitute teacher arises at the last minute. By preparing in advance, you can have some ready-to-go sub plans at a moment’s notice.

When leaving lesson plans and student work for an unplanned absence, a file box or basket is a great way to organize your resources.  Simply fill your box with plenty of ready-to-go printed-off worksheets/activities that will review grade-level skills.  I do not differentiate the work I leave as I don’t know what my students’ levels will be when I’m out and I also want to keep things easy for my sub.

Because I don’t know how long I’ll be out in an emergency, I leave 3-5 days’ worth of these activities.  Leaving a good number of assignment options also gives my sub the freedom to choose the work they give for the day. 

In the lesson plan or on a sticky note, I will say: “Choose one of the following Math activities”, “Complete one of the following Reading Pages together as a whole group”, etc…  

Having this amount of work already prepared not only means that my sub has plenty to choose from, but also keeps me from having to replenish activities as soon as I return.

My “Sub Tub” stays in a prominent area of my room where it is easy to find.  But just in case, I have gotten into the habit of leaving a note on my desk at the end of every day that shares the location of the tub.

Here are some essential resources and activities to keep in your Sub Tub.

1. A read aloud

A picture book along with a reading graphic organizer makes a great activity any time of the year. On the back, they can draw and write about their favorite part of the book. As a whole group, students can make a list of character traits on the board. Time Frame: 30-45 min

2. No Prep Skills Review

A no prep activity that reviews a skill you have already taught is the perfect addition to your sub tub.  Review is an important part of the learning process, and a great activity for students to complete without needing a lot of assistance.  Color by Code activities make students think and review important skills, but allow coloring which makes it fun for students to complete. Time Frame: 30-45 min

3. Spelling Practice for Any List

Spelling activities and worksheets allow students to practice spelling correctly and writing neatly.  And since this is often a skill that gets cheated out on time, adding them to the sub tub is perfect.  Check out these creative spelling ideas that are perfect for a sub!  With versatile activities that can be used with any spelling list, the sub can use these any time of the year!  Time Frame: 20 min
Leaving fun and engaging activities like this Crayon Spelling worksheet will help your students keep occupied and learning while you are away.

4. Journal Writing

Journal writing is a great way for a sub to provide some dedicated writing time without the need for an extensive writing lesson. Students can write a journal entry about their day, something funny that happened to them, or anything they want the teacher to know and illustrate their story.  If you don’t use writing journals, simply provide the sub with a list of writing prompts they can choose from. Time Frame: 30 min

Leaving fun worksheets like this math mystery activity will be easy for your substitute to assign to your students while you are away.5. Math Mystery

Looking for a super engaging and academic activity that will make the sub’s life a breeze?  Look no further than Math Mysteries! These math activities include lots of critical thinking and math review, but working in partners allows students to feel like it’s just a normal school day.  These math mysteries take a little longer than your typical math lesson, but students love them! Time Frame: 1-1.5 hours

6. Word Search

Word Searches are a fun way to keep students busy, but are also good for critical thinking and focus!  Easy and low stress for students and substitutes alike!  Time Frame: 20-30 min

7. Craftivities

Craftivities that ask students to color, cut, and glue while reviewing important skills are perfect for sub-work!  They are more fun than a typical worksheet and students love them.  Anything that engages students means they are more focused on work and are less likely to cause disruptions or have behavior issues. And . . . the demands placed on teachers and time, these “fun” activities sometimes get pushed to the back burner. Time Frame: 1 hour

8. Games

Games such as bingo, Scoot, or game boards with task cards are a great way for your students to have a break from worksheets!  Grab a bingo set or task card set that reviews a skill and let students have some gamified learning time.  Games are great for small groups or the whole class!  Time Frame: 30-45 min 

Free Resources for Planning for Your Sub

Planning for a sub does take some time, but by getting this set up and ready before you need it, you can save yourself a lot of time and stress.  Grab this free Substitute Information pack! This resource is exactly what you need to get your Sub Binder or Box in tip-top shape!

Use this substitute teacher information pack to help you quickly and easily prepare for a substitute teacher this year.

Pin this Substitute Prep Plan!

I hope this Blog Post was super helpful in getting you prepared for a Substitute Teacher- whether you planned to be out or your absence was an unwelcome surprise! There is a lot of information to retain, so be sure to Pin this post to your favorite Teacher Pinterest Board so that you can come back when you’re ready to prep!

Use these helpful tips and tricks to easily prepare for your substitute teacher. From coloring sheets, to activity sheets, to leaving a super organized binder, you can prepare for an emergency situation requiring a substitute on short notice. Once you have your substitute teacher binder prepped and ready to go, all you have to do is periodically update student info. That's it! How easy is that? Use these helpful tips and tricks to get organized and prepared for a substitute teacher this year. #subfolder #substituteteacher #subplans #substituteteacherplans #emergencysubplans


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