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8 Tips So Your Substitute Plans Don’t Suck

“I find your lack of substitutes disturbing.”
Read that in a Darth Vader voice the next time you have to take off, and you’ll feel exactly the type of difficulty that I mean. It’s been 6 years since I wrote my story about how “Lack of Subs Is the Canary in the Coal Mine,” and the problem with districts’ substitutes has only intensified with the pandemic. Additionally, the amount of time that we need to take off can be more now than ever. So here are some tips on making great sub plans:
i. Separate your substitute lesson plans into 4 pages
ii. Page 1 – The Essentials
On this page, you should CAREFULLY CHOOSE EVERY WORD
Many of the folks who are subbing for you are colleagues who just had a busy day themselves. Every word here should provide just enough context for the sub and the students to do what needs to be done, and nothing more
If you have multiple preps, separate the lessons by those classes
Use bold and colors to help important parts stand out
Thank the subs!

iii. Page 2 – Notes
This page is crucial for you to learn vital information for your return
Have a table to collect student absences for each of your classes; that way you can follow up with them with what they missed or track down any class cuts
Provide a table for the sub to write their name in there for each period (I couldn’t tell you the last day I had a substitute teacher cover my entire day) and feedback. I encourage praise first, and tough words second

iv. Paper 3 – Schedule + Class Descriptions
Detail what your day is like minute-by-minute in case the sub has never been in your building
Sharing class start times and end times is paramount – make sure you mention whether you have a bell or not
Lastly, mention approximately 3 kids who the sub could rely on for help, and if there are any troubled kids, who they are, and a description of their behavior; something like:
“Carla is ES and can sometimes have outbursts; if so, contact Ms. Smith at x21234”
“Caleb will do little when you’re not around, so try to give him a bit of extra attention”

vi. Page 4 – Emergency Sub Plans, Rules, Disruptions
I have 3 emergency sub plans as well as detailed instructions on where to find them in the room
I have a list of 3 staff contacts whom the sub can rely upon if they’re completely lost
Our team’s 5 class rules are also listed here
Lastly, I share how to handle disruptions and my end of the day procedures

vi. Use your online resources to teach the students
If you have a learning platform (my district uses Schoology, for example), figure out ways to “still be present” in class
Make videos that you can use as an intro for the students (“I do”) and then give them something to work on (“You do”)
Or simply make the entire lesson asynchronous — which is the 2021 School Word of the Year, TM
vii. Find a Mini-Me in each of your classes
The sad truth is that there are more substitutes who are just a body or need attention and want to tell stories the whole time. That is not what we need on our days off — instead, we need to ensure our absence does not impact their learning. Find 2-3 students in each class who you could trust to run the lesson despite what mouth breather has your sub plans. Who knows, you might scratch an interest of theirs to enter our profession and maybe even sub for a while until they themselves find a full-time gig in the classroom.
viii. Meet the needs of your school culture
If your school doesn’t have a bell, your sub should know
Expect to absorb kids from another room? They should know
Will your room be a rotating door of coverage? Help those folks who come rushing in
Whatever it is about your building, you know the culture — help them so they can help the students … and so you can have a great day without phone calls and text messages
You can purchase this lesson plan template that I’ve alluded to at Teachers Pay Teachers.
Is there anything I missed? Make sure to mention it in the comments below.

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