Sub Survival Tips

Realizing that school has just started, this might not yet even be on your radar - but sooner or later you will need to have a substitute teacher in your room.  It happens: sick kids, sick teacher, professional development, district or committee meetings, curriculum planning or orientation, there are days when we have to be out of class.

Does it take you hours to plan for a sub?  Do you ever consider that it'd just be easier to be there than to spend time labeling papers, inserting sticky note tabs in your teacher guides, highlighting notes, writing out your daily routines in detail, and typing up minute-by-minute lesson plans?  Then there is the ever-popular organizing by color-coded sticky notes which papers go with what subject.  Heaven forbid it be a holiday or you have a change in schedule!  And - holy guacamole - if you are going to be out for multiple days....well, you might be planning for days!

Even given the time it takes to plan and prepare, there ARE some hidden advantages to having an opportunity to be out.  If you are out for professional learning - think of this as a good chance to broaden your understanding of the subject or to learn something new. It may also be a great opportunity to connect with your fellow educators.

No matter why I am out, I have to admit I do feel a sense of accomplishment when look back at my uber-organized desk and work area just before I finally turn out the lights in my classroom.  I take joy in seeing all the work and materials labeled and set out by date and subject, labeled with fun bright sticky-notes and color-code by subject:  math = red, reading = blue, small-group = purple, etc.  I know, it's a bit OCD, but if it helps the sub, I'm all about it!

And that pretty well sums up WHY we spend hours doing all of these steps to get ready for a substitute - the bottom line is that it's what's best for our students. Can't the sub just read my plan book and find the papers in my daily files behind my desk?  Yes, without a doubt a sub could do that...and at times they may have to, but I have always believed that while a sub won't do everything the way I might - the best way to ensure that everyone's (students and sub and ultimately, me) day goes well is to try to structure our day as close as possible to me being there.  If the kids can expect the same kind of routines, that makes it all worthwhile - and that's win-win for everyone!

Here are some tried and true tips for preparing for a sub:
  • Get rid of any unnecessary clutter - clean up that file pile, pass out those papers; if you have typed out lesson plans for the day you'll be out, put away your regular plan book
  • Leave class lists and schedules
  • If desks aren't labeled, leave seating charts
  • Sort and label papers that will be needed by subject and put these with the corresponding teacher's guide
  • Put a big paper clip or sticky-note flag in your teacher guides (TGs) on the correct page
  • Have answer keys available or marked in your TGs
  • If appropriate, have your classroom routines readily available, typed out in a succinct format (and train students to teach the sub about daily routines)
  • Be sure to note how absent student work is handled
  • Highlight any homework in your sub plans - this is easy to miss if embedded in the text of your plans, so grab a highlighter and mark it so it's clearly seen
  • Identify teachers, assistants, and/or students who can help out the sub
  • Leave a form to allow the sub to provide info about the day (see the link below for one)
  • It's a nice gesture (but not necessary) to leave a granola bar or snack, a water bottle or money for a soft drink
  • Save your sub plans in a file on your computer and label them by day of the week so you can easily rewrite sub plans the next time you have to be out on that day - all of your special classes and routines will already be there!
There's one special thing I like to do when I know I'll be out.  I give each child a sticky-note and ask that they write on it something that happens the day I'm out that would make me smile or make me proud of them.  I put up a poster that looks like this:



Students post their sticky-note around this poster so I can see exactly how their day went! It works like a charm, I've had far fewer unhappy reports from the sub since I started using this.  I note in my sub plans for the sub to remind them that this will be the first place I look when I return.

Here are a couple of files you might be able to use.  One is a fun form your sub can use to leave information about how the day went, and included is also a version of the above "This Would Make My Teacher Proud" poster.  


 Super-Sub-Flubber
Super Sub Report


The last file is an editable template for basic sub directions with space to add a text box and your own routines.  Please leave a comment below and give us your best sub-survival tip - or tell us something you learned here!

Outline of Procedure and Routines for Substitute
Basic Routines

Thanks so much for reading - be sure to leave us a comment with your sub survival tip!