Sub plans are such a pain, aren't they? The idea that, as teachers, we crawl out of bed when we are sicker than sick to prepare emergency sub plans really does borderline on crazy. Sometimes it feels like preparing for a substitute teacher is harder than teaching while sick.
Being sick shouldn't be more work than ACTUAL WORK! Am I right?
As I got further along in my teaching career, I got better at creating my sub plan template. This shaved off about 30 minutes from my sub prep, but it did not make things less overwhelming prepare when I felt miserable.
Of course, life goes on. I got married and had kids. Then everything changed.
I'm sure those of you with kids know, prepping sub plans – even if you have the most amazing template – is next to impossible with a sick child. Not only is it hard to do, it should also be the very last thing on your mind when your baby is sick.
Creating emergency sub plans for elementary doesn't have to take hours. Whether you are departmentalized or teach everything – reading, writing, math, science, social studies – you can create all the activities you need for your substitute teacher in less than 30 minutes. Don't believe me? Keep reading to find out how!
How to Prepare for a Substitute Teacher in 30 minutes or less
Creating lesson plans for your substitute can feel like a daunting task.
Finding engaging, appropriate substitute teacher activities can take hours…but when you (or your child is sick) that is the last thing you want to do.
With these steps, you'll be able to have your sub plans ready for your guest teacher in mere minutes rather than hours. Let's start with the prep work that makes it all possible.
3-step prep to speed up preparing for a substitute teacher
Step 1: Outline the basics for your substitute.
Before you dig into 30-minute sub plan prep, you'll need to do some prep work. Unlike writing actual sub plans, this part is a more like that old infomercial – set it (up) and forget it.
There is some basic information your sub will need regardless of whether you are sick in September or May. These things are essential for a sub to know in order to keep your classroom running smoothly while you are gone. They are likely things that won't change all year long like:
You might have a sub binder…or maybe you prefer a folder. Regardless, including these core components is essential to helping your guest teacher acclimate to your classroom culture quickly.
And since these things will stay (relatively) consistent through the year, I like to prepare them in early fall and print them on colored paper.
I also use bullet points or tables to organize the information. This helps them stand out so a sub can quickly and easily scan the information.
Step 2: Create a template for your sub plans.
Now that you've got the basics set up, you're ready to create your sub plans template and learn how to prepare for a substitute teacher in under 30 minutes.
Your template will be the foundation of your sub plans every time you are out. I, personally, create a Google Doc and add a table with 3-columns that align with our daily schedule. This lets me use the “make a copy” function and fill in the specific details much more quickly.
So do my columns include? Three things – time, directions, and notes.
In the first column, I write the time. For example, if I start the day with math from 8:00-9:30, that is what I write in the first column.
The second column is labeled with the subject (in this case, math) and I add the basic directions for the activities.
The final column is for special notes. For each part of our day, I record related notes that the sub might find helpful. Things I include in this column are:
- Names of students who leave for special services – intervention, special education, or gifted supports – and when they go.
- Names of students who may need extra help with a certain subject or task.
- Who to contact if there are questions
- Other important information related to changes for the day – a counselor visit, etc.
While it seems like a minor detail, it helps the subs day run more smoothly and it makes sure my students receive the services and supports they need.
Step 3: Save time by planning lessons & activities for your sub now.
The core principle of writing 30-minute sub plans is having a consistent set of substitute teacher activities that allow you to change out 1-2 components quickly and easily.
For example, for younger students (or even upper elementary), your reading plans might always focus on story elements using a whole-group picture book. Older students might read a non-fiction article and discuss.
Write generic fill-in-the-blank directions.
Once you've decided what the key activities are for each subject, write down the basic directions for each subject in the corresponding box of your template. I number the steps to make it easy to for a sub to scan and revisit mid-lesson.
I also create my directions using a fill-in-the-blank format so I can easily see what specifics I need to add later.
For example, the generic directions for reading might look like this:
- Introduce the book [INSERT TITLE HERE]. Have students share what they predict the book might be about based on the title and cover.
When you are writing out your step-by-step directions, be sure to write them as if your substitute has never stepped inside a classroom. Hopefully, that won't be the case, but it is better to be overly detailed. That way you'll end up with a positive experience for your students. You'll also be less likely to deal with the behavior issues that result from a clueless, overwhelmed guest teacher. (Get more tips for a successful sub experience here.)
I also focus a good deal on how students will transition from one activity to the next and what early finishers can do. Since these are common things that can lead to behavior issues, I want to make make sure the substitute has everything he or she needs to keep students engaged.
Gather your printables.
Once your directions are complete, gather any generic printables your students will need for the lesson.
This will let you quickly print a class set for last-minute sub prep. You can even print a few sets of generic printables to shave even more time off your prep.
Keeping with the reading example from above, you might print a generic foldable to have students record story elements or write a summary or retell of the story.
The 30-minute sub plan process
Now when you wake up under the weather, you'll be able to finalize your sub plan preparation in less than 30 minutes.
This means you can get back to resting or taking care of your sick kiddo without having to run around like a chicken with your head cut off. Plus, you won't feel guilty for having your team pull something together last minute if you can't get to school.
First, make a copy of your template and fill in the blanks. You might choose a seasonally appropriate book or writing prompt…or just whatever you have top of mind. Whatever works because the directions are written to allow you to slip in anything.
Next, double-check that the special notes are still appropriate and no major changes have occurred. Add or delete where needed.
Finally, print your lesson plans and make any last-minute copies (or send them to a colleague to print).
Then you can head back to bed and relax. You know your students will still be practicing important skills.
Best of all, you didn't have to spend hours sitting at school trying to pull the plans together at 5 AM hoping your head doesn't explode in the process (not that I would know anything about that).
Wish you could skip all the prep work of preparing for a substitute teacher?
Taking the time to put together easily-modified activities that you can use again and again will your stress. You'll also make it easier for a sub to manage behavior. Things go more smoothly when your students know what to expect.
Alternatively, you can make things even easier with my ready to use emergency sub plans. Read more about the details of what's included in these Print & Go Substitute Plans or purchase them from my TPT store here: Ready-to-use Emergency Sub Plans.
These no-prep plans include step-by-step lesson plans designed to align with a holiday or seasonal theme. Instead of having to write out your plans, you can cut and paste my pre-written plans into your own template. The coordinating printables are all included to make preparing for a substitute teacher as easy as 1-2-3.
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