I don’t know about you, but this time of year is when all the germs and allergies start affecting my immune system, and I inevitably lose my voice or get sick. I never learned how to plan for a substitute in college, and I thought it’d be helpful to share some tips I’ve learned through feedback from my substitute friends.
I’ll share how to plan for a substitute in this blog post. Plus, I’ve got a great activity for your students to use with every substitute teacher, so keep reading!
Tips for how to plan for a substitute
Tip 1: Welcome Letter
Have you ever stayed at an Airbnb? I love staying at them, and I’ve taken notes from them. As a substitute teacher, going into a classroom is exciting, but taking ownership tends to be difficult because it’s “someone else’s classroom.”
Welcome your substitute with a small handwritten letter. Just say, “Hi, there! Thanks for taking my class today. Enjoy yourself, and if you need anything, you can grab it from my Substitute Survival Kit. I hope you have a great day!”
Writing a welcome letter is such a small gesture, but it’s powerful! I clip this note to the front of my lesson plans, and I’ll talk more about that, but let’s talk more about the “Substitute Survival Kit.”
Tip 2: Substitute Survival Kit
I want my substitutes to feel welcomed in our classroom because I want them to take ownership of the day. I want my kids to see that I respect the substitute by welcoming them, so I try to make it a point to welcome our substitute with a letter and survival kit.
Our Substitute Survival Kit consists of water, chips, candy, floss, feminine hygiene products, and a thing of Tylenol. Also, include a pen and pencil, so they aren’t scrounging around looking for one.
If this sounds over the top, it’s not.
Imagine what it would be like to rush your family out the door so you can get to a new job on time, only to discover that you left your water and lunch at home. Then, 10 AM rolls around, and Aunt Flo decides to join in the fun.
That Substitute Survival Kit takes a lot of that stress away, and it’s easy to maintain. You can use them for yourself too! Buy in bulk at the beginning of the year and pull these items when necessary.
Tip 3: Rules – Routines – Procedures
This tip is placed before anything else about lesson plans because your substitute should feel confident about what is and isn’t allowed at school. Most schools have general rules given at the beginning of the school year. Keep these rules in a folder or binder along with a student handbook.
If you make this at the beginning of the year, you can simply pull it out, so it’s available for any substitute teacher throughout the year. They may or may not reference it, but at least you’ve provided them with a way to determine school rules.
Tip 4: Organize your day
When creating your lesson plans, you tend to go from the start to the end of the day. It’s what 99.7% of teachers do anyhow. I know you’re not always there to give your substitute teachers your printed plans; sometimes, they’re digital plans.
If you have printed plans, organize your papers by placing the copies students need first on top. Continue organizing your documents in the order they need to be used.
If you have digital plans., consider changing the file name to any resources that need to be printed to the time of day, page number, and activity name. For example, Halloween Activities becomes “0815-page 12-Halloween Activities.pdf.” That means that page 12 is scheduled for 8:15 AM.
If you make this clear in the notes at the beginning of your plans, your sub will have no problem printing and preparing the resources!
Tip 5: Overplanning Hacks
Overplanning doesn’t have to be time-consuming or difficult! I like to include Ketchup-Mustard-Pickles time at the end of my lessons so that my substitute has a plan in place in case they finish everything early.
I also have resources like Simply STEAM Math Games, Simply STEAM Grammar Games, and STEM Boxes readily available for my students. I love using these for extra activities because they don’t require more copies to be made.
Tip 6: Relationship Building
It’s no lie that your students will miss you while you are out. That’s because they know you and care about you. It’s important to allow them to get to know their substitute since this person will be entrusted with their care for the entire school day.
It’s also essential to allow your substitute to get to know your students, so they become invested. I like to do that with this simple morning work. Have your students create a name card so the substitute can place a name with their face. Students keep these on their desks for the entire day.
We use the back for the next tip.
Tip 7: Take Ownership
Have your students take ownership of their behavior throughout the day. Use the back of the name card for students to keep track of their behavior. At the end of the day, the substitute teacher can sign off on their behavior.
If the behavior is negative, the student must take the paper home to get signed by a parent. Read this next time about when the behavior is positive. It’s my favorite!
Tip 8: Give Incentives
One of my favorite things is to leave a roll of tickets with my substitute teacher. If students have positive behavior, they receive a ticket at the end of the day. They keep one ticket at their desk and place one ticket in our ticket basket.
The morning I return to school, I draw two or three numbers to come and select a drawer from our Surprise Box. My students go crazy over this!
Tip 9: Give Opportunities
I believe that all children hope to do well. Some may struggle to meet society’s norms for what we consider good behavior, and that’s because they may be overstimulated, have different social models in their homes, etc. But this is probably the most important tip: give your students opportunities to do good work.
Avoid sharing things with a sub that says something like, “Ted talks too much.” For one, your sub may not agree with that statement, and Ted may react differently to the substitute than to you. You don’t want your substitute looking for those negative behaviors. Please give them the benefit of the doubt.
Tip 10: Share Some Student Information
Okay, there are some things you do want to share about your students with the sub. If your student has a health condition and needs to see the nurse regularly, then state that. If you have students who see other teachers, state that, but remember you don’t need to say why they see that teacher. Keep that information confidential.
Let’s recap how to plan for a substitute teacher
- Write a welcome letter (preferably handwritten)
- Set out your “Substitute Survival Kit” if you’re able
- Keep rules/routines/procedures notebook in sight and easily accessible
- Organize your printables and pdf by the time of day
- Over plan with activities that are already prepped
- Create name cards so the substitute can learn their names
- Let students take ownership of their behavior with their own tracking
- Provide your class with incentives
- Give all students an equal opportunity to do good
- Share your students’ teacher and health schedules (if applicable), but keep confidentiality.
I think making a substitute’s job as easy as possible is important because you never know when something is coming up. You’ll want your class to be covered.
Believe it or not, some teachers develop reputations (good and bad) with substitute teachers and don’t have to accept your opening. I speak from experience! Doing these things will leave a lasting, positive impression on your substitutes, who will want to take your classroom.
I’d love to hear your other tips for planning for a substitute teacher. Comment below if you have one you’d like to share.
I am a substitute teacher. Please encourage teachers to include what to do with handouts when students are done: put them in their mailbox to take home? Collect them for the teacher to look at? Take them home to complete for homework? Put them in their desk? Too often, teachers don’t include that, and I have to guess.
Sarah Barnett says
I really appreciate this advice. Thanks for sharing your perspective!