5 Tips for Substitute Teacher Organization

Despite our best teacher intentions, illnesses and emergencies sometimes take us away from our classrooms. While it is not the end of the world and your school likely has a substitute teacher program to cover these absences, it is disruptive to your students.

teacher in front of class with her student holding notebook

If you loathe writing up sub plans or just plain don’t have the time. You can ease the guilt of leaving your students with a sub by prepping some materials that will smooth the substitute teacher experience for your classes.

#1 - Create a Sub Tub

Prep for the school year and inevitable substitute teacher days by creating a file box full of stand-alone enrichment lessons that can be plugged in at any time during the school year. Good candidates for enrichment lessons are content that is useful and highly engaging. Students can smell busy work a mile away. If that is all that you are giving them to do while you are away, you can expect a stack of disciplinary notes when you return.

woman reading books with books on her head

Just say no to busy work out of respect for your students and respect for your substitutes. Plus, most subs would embrace the opportunity to do some real teaching for a change to the usual classroom monitor gig.

#2 - Substitute Teacher Report Forms

substitute teacher feedback form school

Get good feedback from your substitute teachers by providing a structured form that has designated areas for every question you want to know.

What lessons were covered while you were out?

How did your students behave?

What challenges did the sub face that day?

Feel like you never missed the day by getting full and organized notes on the day.

#3 - Substitute Teacher Binder

substitute teacher binder school

Gather all of the useful information like class schedules, student information, class rosters and such in one place that is easy to find and reference by any sub filling in for your classes. A brightly colored binder that is clearly labeled as a Substitute Teacher Binder and that is stored within the eye line view of your desk is essential.


class period schedule school

Your substitute teacher may not be familiar with the period schedule for your school or with your class schedule as a teacher. Keep both of these handy at the front of your substitute teacher binder for easy reference. If your school uses an alternate schedule on early dismissal days, don’t forget to include that one as well.


Include a page listing all students with special needs or medical conditions that a substitute teacher should be aware of. At a minimum, include the student's name, condition or allergy, and any special instructions or actions the sub should take.


lesson plan school

The default lesson plans that you include in your sub binder should be specific enough to walk a sub through a typical day in your classroom. But they should also be generalized towards the content to be taught so that the sub can plug-in activities from your files as appropriate.


class roster with ballpen on the side school

Keep a roster for all classes that you teach, clearly labeled, in your sub binder. These will be useful for learning names, writing notes, taking attendance, or collecting assignments. Keep extra copies of attendance slips or disciplinary forms that need to be turned into the office in your binder as well.


behavior policy school

Outline information needed for any behavior programs that you use or for your school's disruptive behavior policy. If you have a system in place that your students are used to, fill your sub in on the details.

#4 - Record a Welcome to My Classroom Podcast

Podcasts are trending right now as one of the most popular ways to consume content and engage in small bits of learning. Walking into a new classroom with someone else's students in the middle of a school year is already overwhelming. Pile on loads of notes and unfamiliar lesson plans paired with zero prep time and that leaves little chance for a successful learning day with a substitute teacher.

woman doing podcast school

Podcasts are just bits of audio recording used to share information or learn. Break up the abundance of written notes with a podcast to outline the ins and outs of your classroom for something fresh and different. Some things to include are:

  • Let them know the location of important materials like your sub tub of extra lessons and your substitute teacher binder.
  • Take a few minutes to explain how you roll in your classroom. What are the dos and don’ts that your students must follow?
  • Information on what the adults in the school do, teachers lounge, lunch breaks, helpful colleagues, what to do during recess, etc.
  • Explain everything, and err on the side of over-explaining. Talk about bathroom policies and supply policies.

#5 - Sub Supplies

teacher hospitality box with school supplies

Make your substitute teacher feel welcome in your classroom by setting up a hospitality box. Include some basic office supplies like pens, pencils, and highlighters for sub use. Add some cute, themed post-it notes and an extra attendance slip pad. Include some hard candy and treats like individual bags of nuts, granola bars, or a candy bar to provide a quick snack in between class periods.

teacher hospitality box school

Preparing your classroom for a substitute teacher so that it is ready at a moment's notice will alleviate much of the stress of unplanned absences. Providing a supply of extra lessons that can be plugged in at any time during the school year means that you will not have to spend countless hours making up special lesson plans when the need arises.

teacher designing classroom school

In addition to the lesson materials, your substitute teacher will need to know all of the ins and outs of running your classroom. They will need to know what to do in case of a fire/emergency drill. They will need to know what to do with behavior problems. And, they will need to know what to do with their out-of-class time. Consider organizing this information in a substitute teacher binder or podcast for easy reference.

Finally, put a cherry on top for your future substitute teachers by providing a hospitality box with bottled water, snacks and special office supplies to use during their stay in your classroom.


Recommended for further reading:

How to Stay Organized when you Don’t Have a Classroom

15 Essential Classroom Organization Supplies for Every Grade


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