Every teacher has been there. You wake up one morning and feel like you've been hit by a bus. Fever, sniffles, body aches…or worse.
Instantly, panic sets in!
You can’t call in sick! Nothing is prepared- there are no lesson plans to share with the substitute teacher and you've got no resources available. The kids will lose their minds if you don’t turn up, and you left a dirty coffee cup on your desk from the day before!
So, what do you do? That’s right, you drag yourself out of bed, your body screaming “NO!” and you struggle on.
As teachers, we are great at struggling through, but there are times when we simply need to hand over the reins to someone else and take time to recover.
Creating an emergency substitute binder is a great way to calm your panic, support the stand-in teacher, and make the transition more manageable for your students. In fact, it is one of the things subs wish all of us would do. After all, organized teachers equal calmer kids.
However, many teachers add ‘Create a Substitute Binder’ to their ever-growing to-do list’ and then never get round to making one. But, this small task can make a huge difference to your peace of mind when you need it the most. Not to mention, making life easier for the poor teacher who arrives to take over.
Today I wanted to share the process I used to create my binder and give you access to some free sub binder templates to help you get started creating your own….because who doesn't like free sub printables?
The basics of what to include in your sub binder
A substitute binder should contain all the useful materials and everything a guest teacher will need to survive. To help you get started, let's run through the all-important features to ensure you don't miss anything.
As an added bonus, I've created a set of free sub binder printables that can serve as your fill-and-print sub binder template to help you get everything set up even more quickly.
Simply fill in these free sub binder printables with your class information and your folder is complete.
So let’s get started, as I walk you through the simple steps to creating a super useful sub binder.
How to prepare your sub folder or binder
Of course in a perfect world, you'd already have this prepped. In fact, the best advice is to make your sub binder at the start of the year. That way, it is prepared for those unexpected days off.
Taking the time to create your binder at the start of the year also means it is ready for you to make additions as you get to know your students and their needs better.
The best part about having the binder prepped is that it takes me less than 30 minutes to finalize sub plans when I've got a planned absence. So let's get started!
What materials will I need to create my sub binder?
You'll probably have many of these materials sitting in a cabinet in your classroom. If not, you can easily get them at any office supply store or via Amazon my affiliate links below.
- A binder (between 1/2 & 2 inches) – Slant/D-rings make it easier to add & remove materials from year to year.
- Page protectors – Reinforced ones are great for dividers between sections
- Cardstock – Great for printing name tags, punch cards, and other items your sub may use
- Pocket Folders – For the printable materials and worksheets you leave for your sub to use with students.
- Snapping Folders – Optional, but great for keeping smaller items (like name tags) from falling out of your sub binder
What should you put in your binder?
Every substitute binder should include essential information and no more. Remember a substitute teacher often arrives at short notice and doesn’t have time to rifle through pages of pointless information.
Keep it meaningful and brief.
Dividing it up into subsections will help them navigate in a hurry.
There are three must-have parts you'll need for your sub. Here's what to include:
School & Class Information
- Overview of classroom procedures
- Emergency procedures
- Arrival and dismissal procedures
- Basics about rules, classroom management, and reward systems
- School contact details
- Map of your campus, if available
- Class list (add phonetic spellings, when needed) and attendance sheets
- Notes regarding special needs, allergies, and student behavior
- Seating chart (we know kids love to try their luck when a sub teacher arrives!)
- Transportation information for dismissal
- Daily schedule – clearly stating times for recess, lunch, etc.
- Planning (more about this below)
- Emergency sub plans
- Resources and printables
Now for plans, the problem with some emergency sub plans is that they are often generic time-fillers that are basically just worksheet after worksheet for students to complete.
So, when it comes to plans try to include as many layers of planning as possible. From long-term plans, medium-term plans, and if you can predict your absence, slip your weekly plans in there too.
Well, like all good teachers, many sub teachers are great at adapting lessons on the spot. If you can provide them with an outline of your curricula and topics, then they should be able to use their teacher initiative to adapt your emergency sub plans to incorporate some topic related learning.
What to add to a long-term sub binder?
If you know your absence is going to be long-term, for example, maternity or paternity leave, then there are some extras you will need to include.
Long-term absence means that your substitute may be responsible for writing reports. They will therefore need detailed information on each students’ progress and attainment.
To ensure pupils' progress continues, your planning will need to be scheduled ahead of time. Using general emergency plans for longer than a few days is not consistent with best practice. Learning intentions need to be made clear and must be planned for.
Your temporary replacement may also be required to hold parent meetings, organize field trips or special events, so think about this when setting up your folder and include:
- Detailed Plans – for the weeks ahead.
- Curriculum Guides and Skill Progression Maps
- Student Progress Profiles
- Parent Contact Information
- School Calendar
Final thoughts on sub planning
At the start of a school year, when there is already a mountain of tasks to get through and students to meet, setting up your substitute teacher binder will naturally fall down in priority.
But, when you do get a minute to breathe in those first few weeks of term, take some time to set a binder up.
It will alleviate some of the worries you feel when you call in sick. The substitute teacher will love you for it and most importantly the students will benefit too. Changes in routine and disruption to their learning can be minimized with just a few moments of organization.
Grab the free sub binder templates
Plus, to save you time when creating your folder, I've created a free template for your Substitute Teacher Binder that you can download. The editable version is in Google Slides to save you precious time and ensure you have everything you need the next time you call for a sub.
Get your sub binder organized and feel the satisfaction of crossing something off your list of things to do.