The Insider’s Guide to Preparing for a Substitute Teacher

Getting a good substitute teacher is hard. And getting a good sub to come back can be even more difficult – especially with the COVID-19 pandemic. But there are things you can do to increase the likelihood that your sub will be successful, which will make you, your students, and the sub happy. Best of all, the sub will want to come back next time you need one – which will reduce the stress of having a different substitute every time you are absent. So let’s take a look at a few easy tips for preparing for a substitute teacher.

Substitute teacher pointing to text that says help me so I can help you

Leave thorough sub-plans:

Substitute teachers go into a different classroom every day. So when you are preparing for a substitute, make sure to leave plans that are simple but effective. The sub should be able to read through everything fairly quickly, but don’t overlook information about the essential functioning of your classroom. Subs need to know things like how to take care of the very start of the day routines, how to get your students’ attention, and basic instructions for each lesson.

Do not write verbatim what you would say to your class. Each substitute has their own way to teach and doesn’t have time to read a script. Leave your teacher’s manuals and any materials, books, and resources that will be necessary. I like to label everything with sticky notes to make it easy for the substitute to pair the instructions and materials.

Last but not least, have faith that that the sub will make it through the lesson while keeping you on track in your curriculum. If you want a sub to be successful in your classroom, you need to give him or her enough responsibility to be effective.

Ask a neighboring teacher to check up on the sub:

It can make a world of difference for a substitute teacher to have an ally, especially if the sub is in a school building or classroom for the first time. When you are preparing for a substitute teacher, ask a neighbor to check in to make sure the substitute has what they need. Make sure the sub knows to come to the neighboring teacher with any questions the sub may have. The friendlier the staff, the more likely a substitute will be successful and is willing to come back to your school!

Prepare your students for the substitute teacher:

Throughout the year, your students learn expectations about their behavior and academic performance. In order to maintain cohesion in the classroom, everyone must abide by the same rules to hold your community together. As part of your class expectations, make sure to include behavior with a substitute. Students need to understand that a substitute teacher is a guest in their classroom and they must be treated well.

Expect your students to treat the substitute teacher as a guest. I’m not a fan of reward systems, but when my students did a great job with a substitute, sometimes I would surprise them with something special.

Keep your classroom clean:

Of course, you are going to be following the rules on safe distancing, hand-washing, sanitizing, and keeping your classroom as clean as possible for the health and safety of yourself and your students. Make sure students are ready to help the substitute follow your classroom goals for cleanliness and to maintain those high standards throughout the day. If a substitute does not feel safe coming into your classroom, they may not be back. 

Use a substitute binder:

Using a substitute binder can make preparing for a sub easy and ensure everything is organized. I include information for the sub in my binder. Items like a class list that shows how students get home, information about student allergies, medications, IEPs, and behavior issues can go a long way to supporting the substitute’s success. I also find it helpful to include a sheet for the sub to complete at the end of the day.

You can use my Substitute Binder freebie. It is full of helpful forms that you can use to create your own sub-ready packet.

In the current state of our world in this global pandemic, getting a substitute teacher may be harder than ever. There are several things you can do to help maintain good substitute availability for your classroom. Make sure your sub plans are clear. Help your substitute to feel welcome in the building and supported by your teammates. Make sure your students know the expectations for their behavior with a substitute and that you are enforcing those expectations. Finally, maintain as clean a classroom environment as you can. With fewer substitutes available because of the pandemic, you really want to treat your substitutes well and keep them wanting to come back to your classroom. 

Looking for more? Check out my blog post on How to Get The Most out of Guided Reading.

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