Preparing for the Inevitable: 10 things you should always have available for a substitute

I wrote in a previous post (Substitute Survival Guide) about my recent return to the classroom as a substitute teacher and I offered some advice for my colleagues who teach on an ad hoc basis. This post offers the flip side – what you can do as a classroom teacher to make life easy on your sub and your students.

There’s no one who can run your classroom as well as you. From the carefully organized bookshelf to the exact location of your favorite stapler upon your desk, everything has a place and purpose. You have the flow of the day calculated down to the minute, making sure everything is accomplished with enough time to fully explain the homework and wrap up the lesson. Even the climate and ambience of the classroom has been carefully cultivated. Perhaps it’s this personal attachment and investment with our classrooms that makes it so hard for teachers to allow someone to step in and take over – whether it’s for an afternoon dentist appointment or a 6-week parental leave. I hated calling off sick when I was a classroom teacher. Even more than the unplanned absences that come about from illness or emergencies, I would stress over writing down each detail for a upcoming day off for PD or an appointment. Sometimes, it feels like more work to prep for a sub than to just go to work!

Whether you leave your sub a well-detailed novel about what should happen in the course of a day, or you scribble, “Students should continue yesterday’s assignment – they know what to do” on a post-it (I’ve encountered a number of variations of both!), here’s a quick list of 10 things you can prepare ahead of time and have accessible for when a substitute comes to your classroom:

  1. Class rosters: Are all of these students supposed to be here? Who is missing?
  2. Schedule: When does that bell ring? What subject should you be teaching at that time? Most importantly, when is lunch!?!
  3. Homeroom Responsibilities: In addition to taking attendance, do you need to do anything else like collect lunch money or monitor the dress code?
  4. Supervisory Responsibilities: Do you have lunch, recess, hallway, or dismissal duty? If so, what does that entail?
  5. Lesson Plans: What are you supposed to be covering today?
  6. Emergency Procedures: What do you take with you for a fire drill? Where do you go?
  7. Behavioral Procedures: How do you handle misbehavior? Is there a system in place that you should follow?
  8. IEP / Special Education Information: Don’t violate FERPA, but who needs accommodations?
  9. Go-To People: What teacher nearby can help, or who do you approach in the office if you need help? Which students can you trust to give help?
  10. Support Staff: Is there anyone who pushes into the classroom for help? What is their role?

If you feel overwhelmed with the idea of creating a substitute resource file from scratch, there are a ton of planners, binder templates, and documents that you can download from the Internet to help you plan these items in an organized fashion. Here’s one that I created and offer for free download. Whatever you choose to use, make sure that this information is accessible – it’s really frustrating to wing it through the day, only to find the sub-binder on a shelf in the back of the room or the lesson plans on the floor under the desk where they were knocked off by the janitorial staff!

Once you have all of this work taken care of, don’t forget to take some vitamin C, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly so that you can use less sick days and just let that newly created sub-binder collect some dust!


Leigh Anne Kraemer-Naser

Leigh Anne has experience as a Middle School and Early Childhood educator in multi-age and traditional classrooms. She obtained a BA in Elementary Education from Mercyhurst University in addition to an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Gannon University where she also served an adjunct lecturer specializing in portfolio development.


Leigh Anne served as the Director of Curriculum and Programming for The Ophelia Project where she authored original curriculum on school climate and bullying prevention. Currently, she is the owner and director of Curriculum Solution Center which provides quality professional development and curriculum consultation services for PreK-12 schools. She also is a webinar leader and ambassador for Simple K12 Teacher Learning Community and a Professional

Devleopment Specialist for the Council for Professional Recognition.


About Leigh Anne Kraemer-Naser

Leigh Anne has experience as a Middle School and Early Childhood educator in multi-age and traditional classrooms. She obtained a BA in Elementary Education from Mercyhurst University in addition to an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Gannon University where she also served an adjunct lecturer specializing in portfolio development.

Leigh Anne served as the Director of Curriculum and Programming for The Ophelia Project where she authored original curriculum on school climate and bullying prevention. Currently, she is the owner and director of Curriculum Solution Center which provides quality professional development and curriculum consultation services for PreK-12 schools. She also is a webinar leader and ambassador for Simple K12 Teacher Learning Community and a Professional
Devleopment Specialist for the Council for Professional Recognition.

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