We’ve all been there.  A few minutes before you are to leave for work, one of your children suddenly becomes ill, you receive a phone call about a family emergency, your car will not start, or some other catastrophe happens that requires you to take an unexpected day off from work.  You need a substitute and you need one fast!  During times like this, especially if you are the one who is ill, writing substitute plans is not only the last thing you want to do, but can be quite difficult or next to impossible.

Investing the time in planning for such occasions before the school year even starts is wise, and you will appreciate it later when calamity hits. Here are five hints for planning for a substitute to give you peace of mind when you cannot be at school and to make the day run smoothly for both the substitute and the students.

1.      Have a binder with all necessary information for your classroom.  This would include a student roster, a seating chart, your daily schedule, schedule for special classes (art, music, gym, etc.), fire drill procedures, bathroom and nurse procedures, your list of duties (lunch/cafeteria duty, recess, bus duty, study hall, etc.), morning procedures (attendance, morning work, circle time, calendar time), lunch procedure, dismissal procedure, a list of helpful students, teachers who can assist, your discipline policy and procedures, and anything else you can think of. Having a list of students who leave the room for a pull-out, speech therapy, etc. is also helpful. Keep this binder on your desk or on a bookshelf that is easily accessible. Don’t forget to update the binder throughout the year as you will change seating arrangements, have new students, anmay change your schedule. The goal should be to keep the day as normal and consistent as possible for your students and to make the substitute’s job just a little easier.

2.      Have a list of important information about students.  Include pertinent and critical medical information such as those with allergies, diabetes, and other medical issues.  As well, include a list of students with an IEP or 504 plan. If you have special education teachers, paraprofessionals, or other specialists that assist you, have that information clearly explained. I keep this information in my binder along with the class roster and seating chart.

3.      Create a lesson plan template and save to your desk top.  For those times when you have an emergency and need to create lesson plans fast, create a lesson plan template and save on your home computer.  The template could include an outline of your schedule with blocks for your classes, subjects, and routines.  You will need to just fill in the details and then you can fax or email to your school, if this is permissible.  At my previous school, I was able to email my plans to the secretary who would then print out and place on my desk.  If you have the binder completed in hint #1, you only need to reference the binder and will not have to type all your routines, policies, and important information.

4.      Organize all lesson plans and materials in one place.  If you know in advance that you will be absent, gather all the materials together in one place.  You may want to use folders, baskets, or bins for different subjects or classes that are clearly labeled.  I always labeled the folder with the subject (Language Arts) and the schedule time (8:45- 11:00 a.m.). Some teachers like to use a “Sub Tub” that is a large plastic tub filled with the day’s plans, work, and supplies.  As well, include enough copies of all handouts and worksheets that will be needed since the substitute may not have enough time to make copies.  Place teacher’s editions of your textbooks along with each subject area or class’s folder or basket.  If I knew that I would be absent the next day, I would make sure that my binder was on my desk with a sticky note informing the substitute where to find the day’s lesson plans and materials.  Because we all know that inevitably students will not have a pencil, pen, or paper, be sure to let the substitute know where to find extra supplies like pencils, notebook paper, glue, scissors, and textbooks.

5.  Make sure to have thorough plans with more than enough work and tasks. Although many substitute teachers come to class prepared with extra work and games for students, some do not.  Not having enough work for students can be a recipe for disaster!  Make sure your plans are clearly and thoroughly developed with more than enough work.  Have a plan for those “fast finishers.”  This may be independent reading time (my personal favorite), journal writing, centers, or tasks especially created for early finishers. I highly recommend having a set of emergency plans that is kept in the main office (some schools require this) or in your classroom.  These plans would have enough work for the entire day for those rare times when you cannot write plans. Don’t forget to leave a note of where the substitute can locate your binder with important information. Lastly, be sure to remind the substitute teacher to leave you notes on what was and was not completed.  This will make it much easier for you to plan when you return to school.

These hints may seem more daunting than helpful.  However, investing a few hours at the beginning of the school year to set up your binder, emergency plans, and lesson plan template will be well worth it.  In turn, you will reap the benefits the entire school year and have comfort on days when you cannot be at school knowing that your plans are well organized. Are there helpful suggestions that you would add to the list?