How to Successfully Prepare for a Substitute

by | Dec 17, 2019 | Educational Resources, Teaching Resources | 0 comments

You love your students. You really do. But you don’t love the germs they share with you – or the ones that your own kids bring home. 

At some point, you will end up missing a day or two of school. 

You might miss due to illness – yours or your kiddos. You could be absent because of a family emergency. And we all know that professional development will call you away at some point in the school year. 

Whatever the case may be, you most likely won’t receive the “perfect attendance” award. We have to not only be okay with this reality but prepared for it. 

So how do you do it? How do you prepare for a substitute teacher? 

Will you ever be able to be gone for a day without worrying about how your classroom is managing without you?

Keep reading for ideas on how to prepare your classroom for a substitute teacher.

Create A Binder

If you haven’t already, you should create a substitute teacher binder that is full of all the necessary information, as well as a few “Lifesaver lesson plans” in case of an emergency. 

Throughout the year, you should add lesson plans to this binder. You also need to be sure that the information is accurate throughout the year. 

Most of the following information should be placed inside of this magical binder. Read on!

What Goes In The All-Inclusive Substitute Binder?

Clear And Organized Information

Assume that the substitute coming into your classroom has never been to your classroom before. With that in mind, what do they need to know about the location of your room? Make sure the following information is in the binder:

    • Bathrooms
    • Emergency exits
    • Break room

You should also make sure they are aware of things like: 

  • Campus map
  • Staff contact info
  • Bell schedule
  • Emergency protocols


Know Your Class

Do any of your students have a medical condition? An allergy? Does a student leave your class at an unusual time? Write all of this down for your substitute. The more they know, the more prepared they are.


Behavior Policies

Every school has a specific behavior policy that your substitute should know. Be sure to have this written out, so they know how to proceed.

Dismissal Policies

In a similar vein to the behavior policy, your substitute should know exactly how dismissal works.


Evaluation Paper

Create a sheet that your substitute can use at the end of the day to let you know how things went in your classroom. This paper can include how individual students behaved as well as how things went in general, so you know for next time. 

PRO TIP: Let your students know that their substitute teacher will be evaluating their behavior and reporting directly back to you. Let your substitute remind them of this fact when needed. Some teachers use a reward system for the sub, such as giving the class a star every time they stay on task. A certain number of stars equals a specific reward.

What Else Goes In The Binder?

Classroom Technology

Does your classroom have a projector? A computer? A group of computers for classwork? Write down how to turn on and operate all of the technology in your classroom, including the phone. (You wouldn’t believe how many different ways there are to call out on phones!)

Have Extra Work Prepared

You know your students. No matter how precise you are with your planned assignments, one of your students will finish early and need something else to do. Get ahead of this for your substitute and have extra work prepared for early finishers. 

Of Course, Don’t Forget the Lesson Plan and Schedule of the Day

On top of all these little things, don’t forget the main part; the lesson plan! Your lesson plan should include easy to follow directions for both student and teacher alike. 

You should also be sure to have a detailed schedule of the day. Your students will be all over your substitute if they don’t follow the schedule. 

Other Tips For Substitute Preparation

Don’t Give Out New Types of Assignments

Help your students out and don’t assign work that looks completely new on a day you will be absent. If you know you are going to be out, you could show students the assignments they will encounter the next day or leave work that is normally part of your classroom routine.

Just keep the assignments simple and straightforward.

Have Support

No matter how much you prepare, your substitute could have a question or minor crisis. Ask a teacher buddy to be “on call” for your substitute teacher to call on when they need something. This is preferably a pod mate or someone nearby.

Make Sure They Have Some Fun!

Allow some time for your students to play a review game or fun activity with their substitute teacher. You also can provide stickers or candy to give away.

It can be hard to leave your classroom, even if only for a day. Sometimes it seems easier for us to come to work sick than for us to prepare for a substitute. Hopefully using these ideas will give you the confidence to take a sick day when you need it. 

How do you prepare for a substitute? I would love to hear your ideas!

The Upper Elementary Teachers’ Lounge

If you teach upper elementary, I’d like to invite you to join the Upper Elementary Teachers’ Lounge, a Facebook Group I created for teachers to collaborate and provide support to each other.

The group is free to join – and I’ll even give you differentiated writing rubrics for grades 3 – 5 as a gift for joining. I hope to see you there!

Over twenty plus years, my educational career has spanned four continents and two states, as well as eight grade levels!

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