We all get sick. Substitutes are an inevitable part of the classroom and the education system. They stand in for teachers when the teacher has to be absent.
Preparing for a substitute may involve an emergency substitute tote, a sub binder, lesson plans, setting up the room, and more. This episode will discuss the preparations a teacher should take for a substitute, as well as second and third options.
Brittany and Ellie will also talk about what to do after the substitute has come and gone. We’re talking debriefing with students and co-teachers, reviewing lesson plans and notes, adjusting plans and notes, and talking with the substitute scheduling department if necessary.
Grab a pen and some paper and join us for this informative session on Substitutes in the Classroom.
- Substitute Binder
- Substitute Tote
- Lesson Plans
Transcript for Substitutes in the Classroom
Substitutes in the Classroom – Before and After [00:00:00]
Narrator: /You’re listening to The Teaching Toolbox with Brittany and Ellie. Join them as they talk all things middle school.
Brittany: Hey, it’s Brittany.
Ellie: And hey there, it’s Ellie.
Brittany: /We’re glad to have you back on the podcast. And we’re here to talk about the best ways for middle school teachers to prepare for a substitute when they need to be out of the classroom. We’ll share valuable insights on how to ensure that your students are engaged and focused, even when you can’t be there to teach them.
From setting clear expectations to leaving detailed lesson plans, our discussion will cover all the key elements of effective substitute teacher preparation. Whether you’re a seasoned educator or just starting out, you won’t want to miss this episode. Tune in now to learn how to make the most of [00:01:00] your time away from the classroom.
Ellie: /Okay, I can’t say that being out of the classroom was my favorite. I often got. I don’t want to say nervous, but a little bit nervous when I had to be out and not knowing exactly how things were going to go. But one thing that I tried to do to make sure things could go as smoothly as possible was to have a sub binder prepared.
So that if I had to be out, all the good stuff that the sub would need to know would be At their fingertips. I did not always do this though. There were lots of years where I scrambled at the last minute writing up my plans the night before or early early in the morning and then driving everything to school and making sure everything was set up and ready to go.
So if you’re still in that boat, I would recommend starting with that sub binder and getting it done as early in the year as possible.
And so did you have a sub binder, [00:02:00] Brittany?
Brittany: I was kind of in the same situation as you. Some years where I was really on top of it, I had a substitute binder. Or if it was required by administration and they wanted to see it, I had a substitute binder. And then other years,
I winged every absence and had to scramble at the last second and was writing subplans at four in the morning while I was dying coughing.
Ellie: Yeah, and that’s one of those things that sometimes makes us not want to call out and take that sick day because we’re like, oh my gosh I don’t have anything ready to go. What are they gonna do? I can’t write these plans I don’t have time and then you just kind of suck it up and go into the classroom, even though you’re not feeling that great.
But for the sub binder when I did finally start creating one the thing some of the things that I kept in there.
The number one thing I kept in there was the document that my students also had that said what [00:03:00] all of the routines in our classroom were.
So the students got that at the beginning of the year and then that went into the sub binder so that the sub knew these are our routines. This is how students check in for the day. This is when they’re allowed to go to their lockers. This is what their schedule is for the day, that kind of thing.
and then with a note saying students have this document too.
So they know that this is their expectation. So that was a big thing.
I had all my sections kind of tabbed so that they could easily find the seating charts for each class period. So period one would be a tab, period two would be a tab, et cetera. So we had the rosters and the seating charts and all of that kind of stuff.
Um, I kept the fire drill lockdown procedures, things like that. So if there would happen to be one that day, they could flip to that.
I included things like what fast finishers could do.
That kind of thing that we always had someplace in the classroom where there was fast finisher material. So I included that.
What other [00:04:00] kinds of things would you include in a substitute binder?
Brittany: I always had a list of students that they could rely on and then students who might cause trouble.
Ellie: right. Yeah,
Brittany: So, yeah,
Ellie: That’s true,
Brittany: and also, like, teachers that they could rely on if they had questions. And where their rooms were located, so like, usually a map or something,
our discipline plan was usually in there as well, so that they could follow that if there were any discipline issues, although subs tend to have their own kind of discipline plan often.
and then, how did you feel about passwords?
Ellie: I would leave student passwords in case there was some computer work that had to be done. So if students had to go on to, um, study Island, we use study Island. If they had to get in there and they had to do something and they couldn’t remember their password, then,
there was a list of those. So the sub could [00:05:00] access that and could give them their passwords.
did not tend to leave teacher passwords for anything.
were not. Getting into my computer or getting on my computer for any reason. So I did not leave passwords for myself. How about you? Mm
Brittany: Yeah, I agree with that. I, I did not like to leave teacher passwords,
I never had a school that required that.
Usually subs could access a guest portal on the computer and could get to some resources,
not usually my teaching tools. So, the computer was of little use to them. They would do attendance on paper and…
Have to work on the whiteboard and that sort of thing. So, yeah. It was a struggle for them. I know, I did a year of substitute teaching and it was not fun. Yeah.
Ellie: Maybe we do another episode about being a [00:06:00] substitute teacher and the types of things that we need to think about as we’re subbing in someone else’s classroom
Ellie: That’s a for future thought
Brittany: Another thing you want to include is if you have, uh, duty responsibilities at your school. Make sure you include a rotation schedule and where that duty is located. Whether it’s bus or lunch or line or… Yeah,
right, right. We used to have a hallway duty after lunch sometimes and and one year we had to be in the cafeteria for the last five minutes, that kind of thing. Fortunately, we didn’t have bus duty, but that is definitely something that you need to include in those plans so they know where they need to be at all times.
Anything else you can think of for a sub binder?
Brittany: Just basically anything that you hand out to the kids at the beginning of the year put in your sub binder Because it’s valuable [00:07:00] information that a sub
Brittany: to know.
Ellie: yeah. And
anything that’s critical to your functioning day to day? That, you know, if you think about as you’re going through your week, or as you’re going through your day, as you’re preparing your sub binder, think about all the things that you’re doing, and all the things that you would need somebody else to know.
And, and that should be in that sub binder, so that they can access anything. That is part of your daily routine, part of your daily needs.
Brittany: /So speaking of what anybody would need to know How did you do lesson plans? I know some people did lesson plans very generically And it was like two pages long, and then I would do lesson plans very specifically, and mine could be anywhere from like five to twelve pages long.
Ellie: Wow, I don’t think I ever had plans that were that long. But I did go back and forth between specific and generic. It really depended on the situation.
if it was [00:08:00] possible, I did try to do specific plans because teaching math, I always felt like I couldn’t get behind or didn’t want them to miss a day of practice or that kind of thing.
If we had a test or a quiz scheduled, I did put that in there and, you know, if it was at all possible, they, they still took the test or the quiz that was scheduled.
And I. I did get to the point,
after several years of teaching, where I did try to prepare my room every day before I left for the day. So that if by chance I couldn’t be there, something happened, everything was already ready to go.
So I made sure my copies were done before I left for the day. I made sure things I was going to write on the board were there before the end of the day. So that if I did have to…
be absent, and I wanted to do specific plans, it was a lot easier because everything was pretty much prepped and ready to go.
but then some days if that, you know, that wasn’t the [00:09:00] case, then I would do something generic and I’d be like, you know, there are these color by numbers that could be used, there are these puzzles that could be used, and I’d have a sub file of pre copied materials that could always be grabbed and used.
Color by numbers were really nice because it gave A good amount of math practice, but then it also gave some coloring time, and when subs were there, sometimes that helped to fill a good chunk of time for them.
and, and the kids always enjoyed doing those, so that was,
an easy generic plan. How about your five to twelve pages of notes?
What all did you include in there?
Brittany: We were often required to have a sub tote, an emergency sub tote that they could just grab
in an emergency, like if you were in a car accident on the way to work or, or something they could just grab. And in it, it had some very generic basic plans about your day, and then it had things like color by numbers or logic puzzles [00:10:00] or writing prompts, you know, those kind of things that.
Could be done on any day and get a sub through the day.
and so, I did have those, I usually had like a file thing for that, that I kept in my room.
but if I could, I wrote very specific plans. Cause most of my teaching was at a 6th grade in elementary school. And so we had a lot of kids who
were like, This
pulled for this.
You know, this special or this kid’s getting pulled for the service, you know, this kid’s coming into this room for, and so there was a lot of, a lot of shifting and stuff that a teacher would need to know. I felt,
and then a lot of like,
if at 10 20, this bell goes off then. So there was a, it just felt like there was a lot of what if [00:11:00] parameters that I wanted.
I wanted a sub to walk in and feel as comfortable as possible.
Ellie: Mm hmm. And those are some things you could put in the sub binder, but also they kind of need to be called out because if the sub doesn’t get through the whole binder and see some of those things, then they’re not going to know about it. So you kind of need to have it in
And every day was different for us.
we never had a set schedule where, you know, well, every Monday was the same and every Tuesday was the same, but. Monday was not the same as Wednesday and not the same as Friday. And so every day of the week was different. And so, you know, once I was sick every day of the week, then I kind of had a template for the rest of the school year.
Brittany: Hopefully that didn’t happen very often.
But in my, uh, my long lesson plans, I would try to be just very specific and just try to help out the sub as much as possible [00:12:00] and try to make things as easy as possible and, you know, some substitutes read through it and found it very helpful and some subs didn’t want to be bothered with that much information and felt they had things under control by themselves, so.
Brittany: I would also,
if I knew I was going to be out, I would lay everything out on my table ahead of time and then I would sticky note 1,
Brittany: this is number 2, this is number 3, this is number 4,
Ellie: I would do that
Brittany: would do it in order of how they were going to use it.
so that they kind of had a system in place. They knew what to grab first, what to grab second, and so on.
Ellie: Oh good. Yeah.
Yeah, I think what I ended up doing was sticky noting everything with what it was and then putting it in the pile Because I didn’t have as much space to put stuff putting in a pile from from beginning to end so that once they use the top Thing they would be ready, you know, the next thing would be their next item to [00:13:00] use.
Yeah. Yeah. I love the sticky notes
teacher’s best friend
/right, so you’re out for the day. Or two days, or three days, or whatever. What happens when you come back after a sub being there? I think for some days you come back and it’s great, and the sub leaves you this really long note. Tells you all the good things that happened, and you know, if there are bad things.
But they let you know everything. And then some subs leave. No notes, and you don’t know what happened, or they just kind of check mark what happened, you know, or what, what was done on the, in the lesson plans that they, that they did it, but you don’t really know for sure what happened. Did you find that too?
Some left really long notes and some left
Brittany: Yes, very much so, and some, some were very detailed, and some were just done, [00:14:00] done, completed, got to page 12, and it was okay. So you often spent a little time the next day trying to figure out Okay, how did this lesson go? How far did you get? Did you feel like you understood it? You know, do I need to go back over anything?
And you kind of debrief with the kids about the lessons that they went through and, and how they went and do they need reinforcement and that sort of thing.
Ellie: And then kind of check with your co teachers or teachers on your team to see how they think the day went. You know, the sub might say, the kids were wonderful, but then your team teachers say, well, they maybe had a few issues here and there. So kind of like cross checking and making sure that things went okay and whether or not there were any issues.
Brittany: and then I would often [00:15:00] adjust my binder or my plans as needed, like if I noticed that subs were constantly having issues with a specific area and I needed to be more descriptive or maybe not include logic puzzles or something because they couldn’t figure them out, you know, or, or something like that.
Then I would do that,
Brittany: and then I would often talk to the,
scheduler of subs
and say like, can I have this sub more often? Or can I never have this sub again?
Ellie: Yeah, that was one thing, it got harder actually to do things like that once, um, the subscheduling went to a computerized system and your job, when it was posted, would open up to whoever and, you know, you couldn’t necessarily control who got it or who didn’t. There were times that we, if we knew we had to be out for [00:16:00] some reason, we might get in touch with a specific sub so that as soon as we posted it, they could grab the job and they could, you know, get into the classroom.
But yeah, there were times that there were definitely people that you would prefer to not come back to be, to be your substitute.
Ellie: and then like you said, adjusting plans, maybe adding something to the, the sub binder or taking something away in the sub binder that’s not really necessary.
the feedback that subs give you is very, very helpful to try to make things go as smoothly as possible the next time.
Brittany: Mm hmm.
I bet, you know, neither of us have gotten a teach during COVID, but I bet the sub issue, trying to find a good sub is even harder right now because there’s such a shortage of subs that you basically have to take what you get.
/ All right. So today we chatted about [00:17:00] creating a sub binder, making some specific and generic sub plans and what happens when you get back after there has been a sub in your classroom. If you have any questions or comments or want to share anything, please let us know.
Brittany: if you found this episode helpful, please screenshot it and share it on Instagram or your favorite platform. Don’t forget to tag us at TeachingToolboxPodcast.
Ellie: All right, we’ll talk to you next time.
Narrator: /You just listened to The Teaching Toolbox. Follow them on your favorite platform for more episodes and share it with a friend./
- Emergency Sub Plans for Middle School Math on the Cognitive Cardio Math blog
- Math Sub Plans Survival Guide: Navigating Unplanned Classes on the Cognitive Cardio Math blog
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