10 Tips to Plan Well for Your Substitute Teacher

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I’ve been subbing for the past four months, and here’s what I’ve learned so far. I like teachers who are detail-oriented, organized, and (overwhelmingly) over-prepared. Teachers, imagine being put into your sub’s shoes. Can you imagine being thrown into a den of 25+ hormonal adolescents who act as wolves in sight of prey?

For those teachers in need of a sub, here’s how to avoid a mess and retain your subs for all future sick, professional development, or “teacher ditch” days:

  1. Lesson Plan & Attendance
    • I love lesson plans. I love organization. Most teachers cannot survive without either. Classroom instructors have had the whole year to figure out what their students are like and how to teach them effectively. Subs have exactly 45-50 minutes to do that. Be nice; leave a lesson plan for your substitute.
    • I also appreciate it when classroom teachers leave general knowledge and tips on fire drills, tornado warnings, and with the recent turn of events, school shootings and lock downs. It doesn’t have to be incredibly detailed, but make sure you put emergency instructions it in your general sub folder so your admin knows you’re prepared for all situations.
    • Make sure you address student attendance! How can the students learn if they’re not in class? Prepare printed rosters for the sub to deliver to the attendance office or give detailed explanations for how to do it online.
  2. Expectations for the Students
    • Once upon a time, there was a teacher who left a set of expectations and objectives for me, and it nearly made the substitute cry tears of joy. She gave her clear communication for what the classroom guidelines were and her expectations for the sub as the adult in the room. The students knew what was expected from them, and it made it easier to know how the classroom teacher usually runs the classroom.
  3. Seating Chart
    • Every time I sub in a new classroom, I get asked, “How do you know all of our names?” And to that I respond, “I just know.” But realistically, I only know because great teachers leave a seating chart or create “name tents” (tri-folded piece of paper with student’s name) for me to read. I usually take notes about talkative students and those focused on being quiet and doing their work so having the names are helpful to connect, even though you may only see them for 45 minutes. The thought goes a long way.
  4. Student Helpers, Troublemakers, and Helpful Teachers
    • Some teachers leave a list of good and bad apples of the classroom. This allows for your sub to be attentive to those who have a tendency to break trust and integrity while their usual classroom guardian isn’t around. Taking a lesson from Santa Claus and having a list of naughty and nice informs subs to know who to trust and know when the student may be taking advantage of the sub.
    • A short list of 2 to 3 teachers and their locations can also be helpful, especially when it’s the sub’s first time in the school. This allows the substitute to build some camaraderie with teachers, build rapport, and not screw up your lunch duty/supervisory/advisory periods.
  5. Schedule
    • Teachers, leave your class schedule with times and endings to each of the school periods. This is self explanatory, so substitutes don’t need to keep asking their students when the period ends.
    • It can also be helpful to leave a heading in your lesson plan regarding times and subject matter. (Examples below)
      • Period 1: Advisory: 9:00am-9:45am
      • Period 8: 8th Grade Language Arts: 2:00pm-2:45pm
  6. Extra Copies
    • Does your copy room have a code to get in and make copies? Your sub probably doesn’t know that code. Make sure you leave enough copies for each of your classes. Include extras for absentees who didn’t attend school, otherwise, you sub may be scrambling to find where they can get those assignments.
  7. Create a Key
    • Sometimes students need a little guidance on how to to each problem. You as the classroom teacher know this. Leaving a key and allowing the sub to have the answers gives them room to be a teacher like yourself. When I’ve been given answer keys, it’s easy for me to walk around and inform students when they’re on the right track. It also gives me room to correct and help them get the correct answer.
  8. The Just in Case Assignment
    • Sometimes the students are incredibly focused and quiet, and they finish quickly. In preparation for those times, make sure that you leave an additional assignment, worksheet, or set of instructions to lead and facilitate the remaining 10-15 minutes. If you don’t want to leave your kids to have 15 minutes of unorganized, free time, plan ahead.
  9. Rewards or Hard Candy
    • In addition to expectations, you can also leave rewards. Let the substitute know that you’ll reward your students for doing what’s expected of them the following day, or leave tangible rewards for the sub. Some classrooms have team names and points, fake money, or candy to give as rewards. This gives substitute teachers something else to work with.
  10. Be Positive
    • Leave a positive note just to make your substitute feel prepared for the day. Let them know you think they’re going to do great, or say something about having a great schedule. Your substitute is never a robot, rather a person with feelings, principles, and a life. Never forget the common ground on which we meet as humanity.

What are some other tips you’d give teachers as subs or yourself as a teacher? How do you plan for your absence? Let me know in the comments below!




5 Tips for New Substitute Teachers


Hello there,

Just for some background, I received my Bachelor’s in English Secondary Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I completed this degree in the Spring of 2012. I took some time off to pursue dreams in singing, song-writing, and performing. I did exactly that for the next three years whilst managing restaurants, salons, and tutoring on the side. I believe those three years of separation from teaching made me grow tougher skin.

Yesterday, I subbed for the first time, and I wanted to share that experience with you and to my future self. It was a 7th grade English classroom in a population demographic that is 65.9% White/Caucasian, 43.6% Hispanic/Latino, 7.4% African American, and about 5.4% Asian American.  I taught and supervised 7 periods: 3 regular, 2 gifted, and 2 supervisory hours. Surprisingly, I wasn’t as nervous and worked up about teaching as I had been when I student taught. I was happy to see the progress.

Here is a compilation of tips (from subbing workshops, teaching experience, and reading up on the internet) that future subs should keep in mind to have a successful day of substitute teaching:

  1. Get the Job
    • Stay up late or wake up early – check Aesop or be ready to receive the 5:30am wake up call to save those kids from a dreary day without their beloved teacher.
    • Once you get to the school and you like what you see, ask to see if they have a preferred sub list. It can be as easy as asking a question.
  2. Be on Time, and Be Open to Help
    • Get to the school at least 15 minutes before the written or stated time. 1st period usually begins after the start time stated on Aesop, so you’ll have additional time to explore and review the lesson plans if you’re early.
    • I was technically done after 7th period, but I went to the Main Office and let them know I’d be down for anything else they needed me to do. Schools need all the help they can get.
  3. Be Present and Fully Engaged
    • Learn the secretary’s name, as he/she is often the gateway to more jobs, positive recommendations, and knowing the ins and outs of the school.
    • Eat in the teacher’s lounge to get to know the other teachers, especially if you like the school.
    • Ultimately, making connections with the employees can possibly get you more jobs at that school.
  4. Manage the Classroom
    • Take attendance, and do it extraordinarily well. How can they learn if they are not present? It may be difficult remembering names or faces in a short period of time, but make your best effort. Often times, teachers will add “student helpers” or “star students” that will aid you in that quest.
    • Students need guidance and guidelines. They need to know your standards. Since you’re the adult, you make the rules.
    • If the teacher doesn’t state anything about group work or partnering up in the lesson plan, make sure it’s absolutely quiet in the room. It’ll make your life easier.
    • DON’T SIT IN ONE POSITION THE WHOLE TIME. Walk around; let the kids know you’re being serious about your guidelines.
    • If some banter breaks out in a corner of the room, nip it in the bud. Take out the seating chart, and call their names out. Let them know you see them and that you’re keeping them accountable to the standards.
    • Don’t just sit, read the paper, and play Candy Crush. You’re being paid to work and supervise the future of America. Don’t be selfish; invest in the next generation.
  5. Write a Letter to the Teacher
    • Let the teacher know how his/her students were. I listed each teaching period and detailed bullet points, both positive and negative, about the students of each period. They’ll want to know how the students were, especially if they were outstanding.
    • This letter will allow the teacher to see you were serious about following her directions and meeting the learning objectives.
    • Leave a business card with updated information so that they could personally contact you to get things done.

I hope that was helpful to you, either as a substitute teacher or classroom teacher. Let me know what you think about the list and if you’d like to add anything. Thanks for joining me onpagetwo.

With Love,