My Favorite Ways To Prepare For A Substitute

by | Sep 6, 2022 | Teaching Strategies | 1 comment

Would you rather….

Go to school when you aren’t feeling 100%


Figure out how to prepare for a substitute?

Let’s face it, prepping for a sub can be so tough. There are moments when it feels easier to just deal with how you are feeling and teach. 

But we have to be okay with missing a day or two of school, whether for our illness or the illness of a loved one. 

So how do you prepare for a substitute teacher? 

Can you ever be away from your classroom and not be wondering what is happening in your absence? 

Here are some ideas on how to prepare your classroom for a substitute teacher so you can have some peace of mind when you are sick.

Make A Binder

If you’ve seen the show Parks and Recreation, then you’ll know what I mean when I say that I love binders the way Leslie Knope does. 

Creating a comprehensive substitute teacher binder will save your (and that substitute’s) sanity. 

This binder should have a few “lifesaver lesson plans” instead of trying to right plans for what your class is currently studying. You almost always have to come back and reteach that material anyway, so just make your sub binder stand-alone. 

Great activities for your binder are review work, low-mess activities. You never know how experienced your sub will be, so the easier the activities are (direction-wise) the better.

I would check the binder once a month to make sure all of my information is still accurate (names, contact information, etc.).

What Do I Put In This Binder?

Precise And Organized Information

I always assumed that the substitute walking into my classroom had never been there before. So I thought about things that I needed to know on my first day and went from there. 

  • A list of the students for each class
  • Seating chart(s)
  • List of any regularly-occurring activities, like when students go to other teachers, etc.
  • Location of the bathrooms
  • Location of the emergency exits
  • Explanation of emergency protocols
  • Location of the break room
  • A campus map
  • How to contact staff and who to contact for different issues
  • The bell schedule



Know Your Class

Are there any students in your class with IEPs, allergies, or an unusual schedule? Write as much down as possible. The more they know, the more prepared they are. 

Note: IEPS and 504s are confidential. Subs need to know what they need to do, but they do not have access to the confidential information. Example, if Johnny needs notes provided, then that is what you tell the sub. You don’t need to say that Johnny has an IEP.


Behavior And Dismissal Policies

Every school has a behavior policy. Keep yours in the binder so your substitute knows what they should do if they need to. 

You also should have your dismissal policy in the binder!


Evaluation Paper

I always found it helpful both to me and the substitute to have a way for them to communicate with me how their day went with my class. 

This helped me better prepare for the next time I needed a substitute.

What Else Goes In The Binder?

Information On Technology

There is nothing quite like the panic of not understanding what to do with the technology that has been handed to you. 

Help your substitute out by writing down the ins and outs of your classroom’s technology. 


Have Extra Work Prepared

You know your students better than anyone else. You know that you have at least one student who will finish early and ask the substitute for something else to do. Or the class may run through the activities you leave. 

Be sure to have a lot more in the sub binder than you think they will need – better safe than sorry!


Don’t Forget The Actual Lesson Plan

I know I’m giving you a lot of different things to work on, but don’t forget to actually write up your lesson plan for the day. 

Your lesson plan should include an easy-to-follow instructions for the teacher and your students. 

You should also include a detailed schedule of the day. You know how students are: they will be all over your substitute if they go off script. 

This plan can be written in a generic way and just check it for any updates regularly. Just write out a plan with the skeleton outline. 9:00 ELA 11:00 Math, etc – and have the activities in the binder listed under each class.

Other Ways To Make A Substitute Teacher’s Life Easier


Don’t Hand Out A New Type Of Assignments

Help out everyone in your classroom by not assigning work that looks totally different and new on the day you are absent. 

If you have a planned day off, you can show your students the assignment the day before so they are familiar with it. Otherwise, it is wisest to only hand out assignments that your students are confident in.


Find A Support Teacher

Even the most prepared substitute will have a question or two. Ask a teacher buddy (maybe someone in your pod if you have one) to be on call for your substitute if they have a question. 


Let Everyone Have Fun!

Allow time in your lesson plan for students to play a review game or a fun activity (this is a great time to use no prep games like my BalloonPop™ games)

Hopefully using these ideas will give you the confidence to take a sick day (or a mental wellness day) when you need it. 

Do you have any tips for preparing a substitute?

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

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