As a substitute teacher, I always go in with a smile on my face and I put my best foot forward, whether it’s Kindergarten, 3rd grade, or High School Math. However, there are always road bumps. These bumps would normally not even phase the normal teacher because it’s their classroom. They know their exact routines and the perfect way to deal with each of their students. When you have a sub coming in, we all know you need stuff to get done.
If you can be there the day before to make sure you have things set out and ready to go, it cuts down the amount of time we have to waste hunting for things. I love the few teachers that gave me little welcome notes; one teacher even left me some candy to fuel my day and invited me to have some tea or coffee from the Keurig in their room. It made me feel welcome and appreciated. However, sometimes it’s an emergency. Forget having enough time to get lesson plans in, you barely have time to call for the sub! I once had a teacher writing me sub notes frantically in the E.R. in his paper gown. This is just a little list of things that you could put in place to make your life, your sub’s life, and your students’ lives easier when you can’t be there.
The Sub Binder
Useful things that won’t change (often)
This is a binder that you can create that can be in your room for whenever you need it. It’ll take a little while to put it together initially, but it will be worth it! It would also be good to update it every so often, just to make sure everything is up to date. Once you have it ready to go, make sure another teacher knows where it is, in case you have to leave in an emergency. This way, you’ll always have something for the sub.
Emergency Protocol – This one seems basic, but you’d be surprised. I have been surprised on several occasions when we had a shelter in place or a fire drill and I had no idea how they are normally dealt with in that school. There were no signs or folders in the classroom. I had to do what I felt seemed best and what I had done in other schools, and figure it out as I went along. Not a comfortable position to be in. And what if it wasn’t a drill? Make sure you have written what the routine is in these situations, maps of exit routes, and a list of any students that may need extra help or accommodations in these situations.
Map of the School – Always helpful! I’ve been in some pretty fantastic labyrinths. If you want to be really awesome, highlight areas that will be of use, i.e. the closest bathroom, elective classes, teacher’s lounge, etc.
Seating Charts – I know many schools have their attendance online, where you can arrange it into a seating chart as well. My mentor teacher and I liked to have a physical copy to play with that we would give to subs. If you don’t have any particular seating chart, make a note of it, and make sure to note if there are any students you don’t want to sit next to each other.
Tech Tips – Today’s teachers are always using tech. Give your sub a hand and have a section to help them know any quirks with dealing with your classroom technology, such as smart boards, projectors, Wi-Fi passwords, and any login information if you intend to have them watch a movie from an account or you have websites you want them to use. The more we know, the smoother class runs.
Fellow Teachers/Volunteers – Do you have aides, adult or student, that come in? Do you have volunteers that come in? It’s always nice to know when you’re going to have others teachers/volunteers in the room as a heads-up. Also list a teacher or two that they can ask for help. It’s so much nicer being able to talk to another teacher rather than having to bug administration.
Rules and Daily Procedures – These would be your regular classroom rules and procedures (cellphones, bathroom use, lining up, etc.) that are pretty constant. Please also include your consequences as well. It’s nice to think that nothing will happen while you’re gone, but it probably will at some point in time. I had an incident with a student’s cell phone. The teacher allowed them to have their phones in class as long as they weren’t playing games or using Snapchat. I was at my wit’s end with a student after asking him several times to use it appropriately or put it away, and I took his phone, which is something I’d normally never do. I had no idea what a serious issue it was to take a student’s phone at that school. He called his mom, the secretary talked to me, as well as another teacher. The teacher had my back, but made it a point to make sure I never did it again. It was frustrating and humiliating. Let your sub know how you would like issues that may arise to be dealt with.
Insight into Your Students – This one would be really helpful for any sub. This would be the perfect space to let us know of any students with IEPs or accommodations we should know about, health concerns, or even that student that needs a little help or encouragement. Is Sarah going to tell me she’s sick 5 minutes into the lesson like she does every day? Does Liam need to be able to walk around while reading? Let us know so we can be prepared!
Above and Beyond - If you anticipate having some emergency leaves of absence (illness, family in the hospital), it might not be a bad idea to have some emergency plans. Make it productive and similar to what you would normally do, but maybe something a little more general. Something to tide the class over until you can get the day’s plans to the school or even for the whole day if necessary. For instance, while I taught 6th grade, my general plans would probably to have them silently read for 20ish minutes, then have a few writing prompts for them to choose from and write, and then have a few mini bonus info lessons to choose from ranging from literary devices in short stories to discussing authors and their contributions to literature. I would also make sure to mention that my homeroom (yearbook) should be working on the yearbook and getting it ready to publish.
Daily Sub Binder
Stuff specific to the day you will be gone
This Binder would be the binder that changes whenever you have to go. It would be helpful to have any papers you want handed out to be next to this, including homework, worksheets, books, etc. Paired with the general sub binder, it shouldn’t take as long and your sub should be super prepared!
Lesson Plans – The more detailed you can be and the more information you can give us, the smoother it will run. It doesn’t have to be a minute to minute play-by-play by any means, but if you want them to go over their homework, how do they do that? Do they do it in groups? Do I lead them? Do you prefer no one write on the board but the teacher? Even simple things like ‘read’ can lead to a lot of questions from your kids and the sub trying to figure out if they’re trying to get away with something they normally don’t get to do. If you don’t tell us, we have to take our best guess.
- Make sure to include if you have any extra responsibilities like lunch or recess (and what we’re supposed to do).
- Let us know if you anticipate having kids pulled out of class for anything, just we have a heads up.
Sub Feedback – I always leave feedback, just so the teacher knows what we did while they were gone and how things went. If there is something specific you would like the sub to focus on in her feedback, just print up the questions you have in a word doc and have them printed and in the folder. You get the feedback you want, we know what you want to know about. Everybody wins!
What do you do when you have to leave school at the last minute? How do you prepare your sub and your kids for when you are gone?