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Planning for a Substitute: Helpful Tips and a Checklist!

By Naomi O'Brien


When I first started out, I tried to make sure my sub would do everything that I would do if I was there. This was probably pretty stressful for the sub, and it was frustrating for me to  return to work and see that things were not completed or hadn’t even been started at all.
DON’T MAKE IT COMPLICATED. Your sub isn’t you. I
Here’s a helpful checklist I like to use to make sure all of my sub bases are covered!
I run a very scheduled ship, but one or two off days won’t kill my class.  I had two autistic students that thrived on my routine, so I made sure to prep them in advance when I could. I wrote them a note, left them a treat, and provided them with a new visual schedule. I provide the entire class and sub with a huge schedule on chart paper. 
I use sub days for my kids to still learn of course, but they also have a lighter load than if I was present. I incorporate a lot of whole group activities to involve the sub and help him/her get to know the class. I also plan a lot of activities where my students work independently or in pairs, and then share out with the class. We don’t always have time during our regular days to have everyone share out, so they really enjoy it.
Writing about what you might be doing while you are missing from class is always a hit with the kids, and fun to read when you return!

I make sure to leave a fun incentive behind for the students to work towards and be rewarded with upon my return. In addition to what I typically do (tickets), I also have the entire class working towards a goal. It’s something the substitute announces at the beginning of the day, and just another helpful management tool for them to have in their back pocket. What I do is leave behind tickets announcing that anyone who receives a ticket will earn a special surprise when I return. They LOVE it!
I think it’s important to leave additional work or suggestions for what early finishers can do. I let my substitutes know that early finishers can read a book, or go work on the extra activities that I left behind. Make sure your expectations are clear of what they may or may not do.
I ask my teacher neighbor to check in on my sub in the morning, or just let them know that there will be a sub to possibly have to assist. 
I also like to let my subs know what do in case an emergency situation happens. I leave them little cards so that they can quickly ask another employee or the office for help. 
Don’t forget to leave plans for what to do if someone gets hurt, sick, or has a bathroom related accident. Also think about how you want your sub to handle serious incidents in your classroom. I leave an incident report behind.
P.S. Another great tip is to make sure you have Band-Aids available for the sub, so they don’t have to send more kids than necessary out of the room for something small.
Missing a day of work can be the worst to prepare for, hopefully you find this helpful when planning!
Mrs. O’Brien



Hi, I'm Naomi

I have been teaching elementary students for over 10 years. Effective reading instruction and accurate social studies at the primary level are huge passions of mine! 

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