I used to dread planning for a substitute teacher.
I will be the first to admit that I have been at work on days when I probably should not have left my bed.
I’ve also been at work at 5 AM preparing sub plans.
Why is having a substitute teacher so much work?
Of course, planning for a substitute teacher often isn’t the worst part!
How many times have you come back to the 2-page note about how horrible your class behavior was? or even worse, had the substitute walk out halfway through the day?
Substitute teaching is hard! You walk into a classroom already the odd woman out. Then you are required to:
- Execute lesson plans you didn't write
- Keep students on-task
- Maintain engagement
- Monitor behavior
The list goes on and on. I mean, seriously, good subs should earn AT LEAST twice what they are paid.
So how can we ease the burden on a substitute and save our own sanity at the same time?
Here are 5 quick tips to make having a substitute a better experience.
What you'll find on this page:
Planning for a Substitute Teacher To Create a Better Sub Experience
1. Do Some Research and Snag the Best Subs
Most schools have a list of preferred subs.
If you are new to the campus, or just remarkably healthy and non-PD bound, you might not be familiar with the list. However, I can guarantee you it is there in a written or unwritten form.
Start asking around now and watching substitutes on your campus to see who is recommended or who is regularly around.
Chances are if your colleagues call in the same substitute frequently that substitute is good. At a bare minimum, they are already familiar with the campus and general expectations and your students have probably seen them before.
Both of these are HUGE positives.
2. Show Your Appreciation
Everyone likes to be appreciated.
When you get a good sub, don’t be afraid to leave a small token of appreciation for the hard job they are doing. A piece of chocolate, $5 Starbucks card, or just a quick handwritten note are all perfect.
Those are all fast, easy ways to show your appreciation.
3. Prepare Emergency Sub Plans & Keep Them Accessible
Planning for a substitute teacher in case of an emergency is a requirement in our district, but I learned early on if no one can find them in an emergency they serve no purpose.
Create a spot for your plans and let EVERYONE know where you keep them. Make sure they are so clearly labeled that your students could come grab them and hand them to the sub in case of emergency.
I like to do the majority of my sub planning in the summer. I create my sub tub (clearly labeled) with a folder for each month. You could also easily do a binder with tabs divided by month…especially with a set of the three-hole punched folder inserts.
Inside each folder is a set of plans designed to last 1-2 days and any printables that go with the lesson plans.
Once I have my class list and know my students a little bit, I add some general information pages to the folders. These contain information the sub might need about different student needs, possible issues that might arise and how to manage them, and any other things that are particular to that class.
From then on I am good to go.
4. Make Them Good…No One Likes a Day of Worksheets
You know what makes students lose their minds faster than anything?
A full day of boring worksheets and packets.
Being a substitute is already hard enough. If the goal is for students to have an engaging and productive day, why are we leaving them work that is not engaging?
Of course, there might be some review work or paper-pencil tasks. But if all you leave is boring work, misbehavior is a guarantee.
If the work doesn’t engage them, they will find something else that will…even if it is poking their neighbor with a pencil or humming loudly.
When I create sub plans, I build in movement and collaboration. I make sure there is at least one opportunity to be creative and engage with gross and fine motor skills.There is partner and group work.
Since I set up my sub plans in summer, I structure all the months with the same format so my students become familiar with the expectations and routines when we have a sub. You can see an example of my format below:
Each month contains lessons that connect with common themes to that month – like holidays or special events.
The reading is an engaging picture book and foldable, and it connects to writing. This gets students thinking, talking, and lets them break out the scissors and crayons while practicing some important comprehension skills.
I also always build in a no-prep/low-prep STEM challenge. The students need some less-structured time that won’t get too out of hand for a substitute. The kids love this opportunity, and it doesn’t take too much prep.
For example, my STEM challenge in January involved students making paper snowflakes and involved exploring how the shape of their cuts changed the outcome.
The kids had a blast and I was able to hang the snowflakes to make sure fun January decorations when I returned.
To help with behavior, I always create a list of groups in advance to help avoid any personality conflicts.
I also warn students that if their behavior isn’t good there may not be another STEM challenge when we have subs in the future.
Students stay engaged with these interactive learning activities, and the idea that they may lose them for poor behavior is really motivating.
If you're short on time or planning for a substitute teacher seems too overwhelming, I've created print & go lessons for subs that you might like.
Click on any of the photos below for more info
5. Encourage Positive Feedback From Your Substitute
I get more than my fair share of challenging behaviors because of my strong classroom management plan. However, when a substitute is there things tend to fall apart a bit.
I receive more than my fair share of not-so-great notes as a result. Talk about a depressing way to return to the classroom.
To remedy this issue, and save my sanity, I started leaving a feedback template for subs to fill out.
I purposefully structured the top section to include specific positive feedback because even on the worst day, I know there are always some students in the class making the right choice.
I want to be sure I am recognizing these kids. Here’s what it looks like:
I discovered this helped me look for the good, and I got fewer negative notes. There are always a few students who test out the limits.
I feel like this really encouraged the sub to look for the positive, even on those rough days.
Planning for a substitute teacher may seem like a lot of work, but it's well worth the time and effort. To get your started, Grab a copy of the templates above for free below.
I hope this article gave you some ideas when you are planning for your next substitute.
If you’d like more ideas from The Third Wheel, be sure to follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers, Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram to keep up to date and on the latest tips, tools, and freebies for your classroom.