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Best Tips for Substitute Teaching Plans

Jordan Catapano

Not feeling 100 percent today and decided to call in sick? Or maybe you’re attending that conference you’ve been looking forward to? Or maybe you just are taking a well-deserved day off? No problem! Even though you would love to be at school today, you’ve got something else that requires your attention. Not to worry. Missing school is not a major problem; and although creating substitute teaching plans can be a hassle, if you follow these tips, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

  • Plan ahead. Creating substitute teaching plans means an extra step to your already hectic day. You can simplify the process, however, by making sure that you’ve done the basics well in advance. Even if you don’t plan on being absent anytime soon, go ahead and make sure your folders contain up-to-date seating charts, attendance lists, allergy alerts, IEPs, and any other information you can provide in advance.
  • Train your students. Your students should be well aware of your standards for behavior in advance. Whether you’re gone for the first time or the 50th, your students should know that they better behave as though you were there looking over each of their precious little shoulders.
  • Warn your students. If at all possible, tell your students in advance of when you’re not going to be around. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but it is helpful for you to tell students what to expect. It’s also a good time to remind students of your expectations and tell them what their activity will be when the sub is there.
  • Request your faves. If at all possible, have two or three substitute teacher preferences in mind when you request your leave. This will increase the chances that you have a competent substitute who can comfortably execute your plans.
  • Spell everything out. If you want lessons to go a specific way, then don’t mince words. Spell out everything that you desire to happen. Be detailed with the steps for a specific lesson, for what you want subs to say, and for what is expected of students by the end of the period. The more detailed you are, the less guessing the substitute will have to do.
  • Subs don’t mind teaching. It’s common for teachers to think of substitute days as “free days” for their students. Often teachers ask that simple worksheets are completed, movies are watched, or games are played. There’s nothing wrong with any of those; but remember that many substitute teachers, in fact, have teaching experience themselves and would love to go out on a limb and actually teach material to your students. Trust your substitute with a reasonable portion of content and let them go at it with your students, leading discussion, explaining material, facilitating group work, or other meaningful interactions.
  • Keep emergency lessons lying around. Let’s say that you unexpectedly have to miss school, but you don’t quite have enough time to thoroughly think through a meaningful lesson plan that’s in line with your current content. That’s OK. Have a few emergency lesson plans ready to go, so that in a pinch you can pull these out and have students do a fun-yet-meaningful activity.
  • Don’t leave them hanging. One of the worst situations to leave a sub in is to give them materials that fail to cover the entire duration of time they are with the students. You do not want to leave them hanging with an extra 15 minutes at the end of a period. If anything, give the substitutes too much to do in a period, and tell them that you are comfortable with them just getting as far as they can.
  • Provide extras. No matter what you’re asking substitutes to go through with your students, provide extra copies. Give them extra copies of the book, extra copies of the assignment, and extra copies of the previous day’s work. You know your students are needy, but the last thing you want is to put your sub in a tight spot where they can’t provide what it is the student is telling them they need.
  • Mind your manners. Make sure that boldly and frequently in your lesson plans you remember your “pleases” and “thank yous.” Although your subs consider this a job and they get compensated for their time, it doesn’t hurt to treat them like they’re doing you a favor. They are, after all, looking after your precious little cherubs for a day. Kindness goes a long way in making sure that things are handled in the way you want them to.
  • Leave your contact information. Subs will likely never contact you. However, it’s helpful to provide your name, email address and phone number just in case. Even if they don’t need to contact you, it is comforting to know that you’re not just throwing some plans at them and abandoning them.
  • Leave a clean workspace. Think of your substitute as your guest – you don’t want your guest welcomed to your abode by an overloaded desk and cramped workspace. Be sure to clean your work area so that they feel comfortable and welcomed when they arrive to be you for the day. This will help them have a place to eat their lunch, read their book in their off time, and generally feel like they can be at peace with their day.
  • Be open-minded to their judgment call. No matter how detailed your plans are, there will doubtlessly be judgment calls that your sub will have to make. Just remember that whatever judgment your sub needs to make, they did so with the best interests of you and your students in mind. Even if things didn’t go as you planned, just go with the flow and make adjustments upon your return.
  • Recognize them in the future. Subs are people too, and it’s likely that the person who subbed for you one day will sub for someone else another. Treat them with hospitality and respect. Greet them by name. Thank them for the work they did for you the other day. This will make them more likely to do their very best for you the next time you happen to be away.

What’s one thing a sub did for you that was particularly noteworthy or helpful? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website


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