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!


Back to School Basics: Proceed to Create Procedures

Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting some basic tips for getting your new school year off to a great start. We’ll get this party started with talking about procedures.

A colleague of mine once told me the first two weeks of school in my classroom was like attending bootcamp. I drilled my class on the proper procedures on everything from entering the classroom to throwing away garbage. There was a procedure for clean-up and a very specific procedure for morning meeting. However, after these first few intense weeks of learning routine, my classroom was a well-oiled machine. My substitute teacher plans did not have to be so detailed because even my 4 year old students could run the day on their own. It was only content and thematic elements that the sub needed to plug in. The First Days of School by Harry Wong, a text revered by many teachers, extols the glories of well-thought out procedures as does many other great texts on classroom management.

For those of you who aren’t a drill sergeant or a severe type-A control freak naturally graced by the ability to carefully plan every anticipated outcome and construct a seamless flow of behaviors, here’s a quick series of questions you can ask yourself to establish effective procedures in your classroom.

  1. What day-to-do routine behaviors are carried out in my classroom?
  2. What is the ideal outcome of each behavior?
  3. What are the particular steps to achieve this outcome?
  4. What do I need to do to prepare or have available?
  5. What are the specific expectations of the students?

Once you have determined what procedures you want to put in place, take the time to thoroughly explain the expectations to your students. Model the proper procedure, and don’t forget to give the students a practice run! Repeat the expectations aloud as they are practicing. The more they hear, see, and do, the sooner it will become second nature. In time, your classroom will be more efficient and your students will be more responsible as they master procedures and meet expectations.

Recommended books which address setting up procedures:

  • The First Days of School by: Harry Wong
  • Tools for Teaching by: Fred Jones
  • Skills Streaming Series by: Ellen McGinnis and Arnold P. Goldstein
  • What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things That Matter Most by: Todd Whitaker