How to Plan for a Substitute Teacher


Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning for a substitute, plus a short list of the paperwork that goes into a basic sub plan.

When planning for a substitute teacher, here are a few things to remember

No one will teach your students, your way, in your absence.

Most subs won’t teach a lesson for you even if you leave a fabulous, clearly written plan, so don’t use up a great lesson on a day you won’t be there to teach it.

You are asking a stranger to keep your class calm, cool, and collected. Give him or her the tools to do so.

The ideal sub plan involves quiet work kids can do without much help. It uses materials that are easy to find or that are laid out in advance, and backup work in case kids finish early. 

Let the kids know what you expect from them when you’re out.

Threaten, promise, or plan a quiz for the day you return to encourage good work and behavior. If possible, ask the teacher next door to check in. But then, be realistic: you’ll probably  get somewhere between 25 and 75 percent of the behavior you asked for.  When you return, it can be helpful to have some plan to deal with students who created problems for the substitute. (But if you don’t, this is an area where you can forgive yourself, especially because it’s hard to know what happened while you were gone.)

Substitutes won’t always be as responsible as you want them to be. It’s still up to you to do the right thing.

Do not leave anyone in your room with no clue who your students are or what to do with them. If you do this, the most in-demand substitutes may refuse to come back to your class. 

If a substitute does a great job, let them know. And try to get their contact information for the future.

Trust me, other teachers do this.

What to put in your sub folder

Most schools require teachers to make emergency substitute folders and leave them with the principal’s secretary. Even if it’s not required, it’s a good idea to prepare a folder with the following things inside:

  • An up-to-date class list for each class you teach.
  • Any relevant seating charts.
  • Information on how to take attendance.
  • Information on what to do in case of an emergency or severe discipline infraction.
  • Three simple lesson plans with backup activities and directions for finding materials.
  • The name and location of another adult who can answer questions.

Are you reading this because you’re about to take your first “mental health day?” If so, you may want to sign up for the Disillusionment Power Pack.