How To Prepare for a Substitute Teacher

We’ve all been there. It’s 2am and you’ve been woken up from your slumber with a very upset stomach sprinting to the bathroom. Or maybe you actually made it to the time your alarm went off, but your body is aching beyond belief, and now you have cold chills and a fever. You know what that’s called? Yep, sickness. I know you’re thinking, “I don’t have time to be sick. I don’t have substitute teacher plans ready.” We all know that, as teachers, it’s honestly easier to go to work than to have to miss work, even when you’re sick, but sometimes you just have to miss …unexpectedly. It’s so much easier to be prepared when you have a sub binder ready. I know the beginning of the year is complete and utter chaos, but if you can squeeze time in somewhere to create a sub binder (I know you laughed under your breath), your life will be 500% easier when that 2am bathroom call hits. Here are some things to keep in mind when creating your sub tub/binder:

Have a Sub Tub, Binder, or Both

I have done both of these things to prepare for a substitute and truly liked them both. I actually think I like combining them most of all. Having a plastic tub (usually one from the dollar store) allows more space for games, pieces, etc. I usually get a pretty large binder (2 in.) and put important documents and copies in it to stick inside of the “sub tub.”

You can create a "sub tub" to help your class prepare for a substitute when you have days you just have to miss.

Ready Important Documents

Prepare for a substitute by printing or copying important documents, putting them in sleeve protectors, and sticking them inside the binder. Put important documents into the binder, such as:

  • Class roster
  • Classroom procedures/rules
  • Important health information (allergies, asthma, etc.)
  • Schedules
  • Dismissal procedures
  • Student transportation
  • Computer login information for substitute use

Here are some free, yes I said it….FREE, forms to download to get your important documents section started:

Sub Binder Documents

Have a “Cheat Sheet”

A cheat sheet can be thought of as a page with some quick bullet points about random things that may make a sub’s day go a bit more smoothly. For example, things like who the trustworthy students are, students who may need extra support, a co-worker they can go to if they have questions, so and so always takes too long in the bathroom… you get the idea. These things are simple but also good for a substitute to know.


I referred to this one previously, but I felt like it needed its own spotlight. There are SO.MANY.SCHEDULES. Include basic schedules like related arts, lunch, and recess, but don’t forget about other schedules. If you have any other teachers, counselors, or nurses that pull students out of your room during the day, list their schedules, also. Substitutes need to know to send these students at their designated time or made aware that they are leaving the room.

Safety Procedures

It is important to leave any safety procedures that you may have implemented in your classroom, but remember to leave some of the school-wide ones, too. Wouldn’t you know that not only are you sick and had to miss unexpectedly, but there was also a fire drill while you were gone? You definitely want your sub to be prepared in emergency situations. Don’t forget to include inclement weather procedures, lockdown drills, and something as simple as how to send a student to the nurse!

Prepare for a Substitute with Books

Ok, now that we are through with all of the important documents (maybe…hopefully), let’s move on to some other things to include in your sub tub. Books, books, books! If there is a lull in the day or the sub needs a time filler, they can always pull out a good read-aloud book and read to the kids. I like to have 2-3 read-aloud picture books and maybe one chapter book, depending on the age.

You can prepare for a substitute by having 2-3 picture books in your sub tub.

Lesson Plans

This one is kind of tricky for unexpected absences. It’s hard to plan for something when you aren’t sure when it’s going to happen. Teachers, however, are super stars and where there’s a will, there’s a way. You know I had to throw a touch of corny humor in here somewhere, right? Ok, back on track.. remember above when I talked about having picture books in your tubs? Well, what about if you had activities and lesson plans to go along with said books? Genius, right? Instant lesson plans! Let me link some activities that you can use below. These are life-savers when finding ways to prepare for a substitute… seriously. You’ll thank me later.

  • Strega Nona Substitute Plans - 1st, 2nd, 3rd Grade
    Strega Nona Substitute Plans – 1st, 2nd, 3rd Grade
  • A Bad Case of Stripes Substitute Plans
    A Bad Case of Stripes Substitute Plans

A Treat

This one is completely optional. I love leaving a small treat in my sub tub along with a thank you note. This small treat can be something as small as a candy bar, a soda, or a small snack. This small gesture is a token of appreciation for taking care of things while you’re gone. Ever heard the saying “a little goes a long way” (of course you have 😁)! It holds true in this instance.

With all of these tips on how to be prepared for your substitute, now you can be rest assured that your back-up plans are taken care of long before that 2am bathroom call.

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