Most teachers will tell you that it is easier to come to work sick than make sub plans… enter the Sub Tub! The Sub Tub not only makes my life easier when planning to be absent, it also makes things easier for my substitute teachers. And a smooth day for the substitute teacher and my students makes for an easier return to me. My team also love knowing that the Sub Tub is there in case I ever had an emergency and couldn’t make sub plans.
The more information in the sub tub the better
Substitute teachers are coming into the classroom with no information. This means they are already starting at a disadvantage. They don’t have the background knowledge or the relationships that we have on the students. Substitute teachers also don’t necessarily have the teaching education or experience. All of this to say, that the more information that you can give your substitute teacher, the better for everyone. I have a substitute binder that explains my schedule and routines, my behavior management style, the classroom expectations, emergency information, dismissal information, and student information. I also keep in there five days of emergency sub plans for each day of the week.
The most important information to share in the sub tub is the office phone number, the number of children, the nearby teachers (or which teachers to avoid!), the attention getter that you use, students that are good helpers, the fire drill procedure, and the dismissal procedure.
I also believe that the more information you put in your substitute plans the better. I try and explain every little detail. Not all substitute teachers need it, but some really benefit from the specific steps and details. I have been a substitute teacher before and the job is not easy! You step into so many different classrooms with different routines that the lesson plans with more information really helped me. The lesson plans with very few details inevitably led to all the students shouting, “that’s not how we do it!”
The simpler sub tub activities the better
I always say that I never leave activities that I actually care about getting done. For one, the substitute teacher might misunderstand the directions and the students might not complete the activity correctly. Secondly, some substitute teachers like to be creative and do other activities that they know well. In my opinion, whatever keeps my students calm and happy is fine with me. So, I leave very simple activities that I know will keep my students engaged. And if they don’t end up getting completed, it doesn’t matter to me!
I also like to have reusable lessons in my sub tub. I can quickly grab these activities when I know I will be out, or that my team can grab if I am unexpectedly out. Some of the activities are good for reusing when I am out. Children thrive when they know the routine and expectations. For example, most frequently in math I leave bingo games. It’s the same routine, but the bingo boards change to match our math units (like shapes, teen numbers, one more/one less, etc).
Work smarter not harder
How long does it take you to write your sub plans? For me, it takes about 10 minutes. How is that possible you might ask? I work smarter not harder! I told you that I keep 5 days of emergency sub plans in my Sub Tub? Well, every year I slightly change the emergency substitute plans to go with the new schedule (updating the times and days for the specials). I save these plans on my computer (and Google Drive so I can access them at home for unexpected absences!) and so the major structure, schedule, and routines are already written for me! All I have to do is tweak some of the activities to match the units we are in.
Whenever possible in reading and writing, I just have students continue their independent reading and writing from the unit they are in followed with a read aloud. Easy! The children know what to do, the substitutes aren’t asked to do too much, and it is easy for me to recreate each time I am absent.
Prepare your students
Students need to know what is expected of them, or misbehaviors will occur. The best thing that we can do as teachers is have a lesson (or two!) on what it means to have a guest teacher. Responsive Classroom taught me the term “guest teacher” and I’ve used the term ever since! It is a much more respectful term that “substitute teacher” because it really implies that the guest teacher is on the same level as the classroom teacher. The children need to listen to them, just as much as they do me.
So, after four-six weeks of getting to know our classroom routines and expectations, I sit my class down and read Pete the Cat and the Surprise Teacher (other good books include Miss Nelson is Missing and Miss Bindergarten Stays Home – click here for my amazon affiliate list of these books and more for your Sub Tub!) I talk about how sometimes I may not be able to be in school. Maybe I don’t feel well, maybe I have a meeting, maybe I am taking a trip somewhere. When I can’t be in the classroom, we have a guest teacher. They may not know all of our routines, so let’s write a book to teach them about our important routines.
Then, we make a guest teacher book together. The children brainstorm the routines they want to make sure a guest teacher knows about. Then they divide up the routines and go draw and write the directions. I also write “dictionary spelling” underneath so that the guest teacher can understand the writing.
Every time that I am out, I have the guest teacher start the day by reading the guest teacher book. This not only teaches the guest teacher some of the routines, it shows the students every time there is a guest teacher that the expectations and routines of the classroom are exactly the same. This guest teacher book definitely decreases misbehaviors in my students because the expectations are very clear for them.
Take the notes with a grain of salt
The most dreaded thing to see after being gone is a long list of negative notes about your students. Remember, the substitute teacher may not have the teaching experience and education to prepare them for misbehaviors. They also might not understand which behavior is typical and appropriate for young children. Finally, they don’t have the relationship you have with your students, which can also cause misbehaviors in students.
I take every note with a grain of salt. Sometimes, I barely read the notes to be honest. Unless something is very extreme, I remember that these students are five and six years old and thrive on consistency. They had a very different day than they are used to, and so of course some behaviors are bound to occur. If there are a lot of notes about misbehaviors, I have a talk with the whole class about how the expectations for guest teachers are the same as with me. Sometimes it is enough for the children to know that you know what happens when you are gone.
There are some students who get very anxious with changes and may lash out with a substitute teacher. With these students, I try to let families know ahead of time when I will be out. Obviously, this isn’t always possible, but it does help some students to have a heads up to a different kind of day and a different teacher and to be reminded by their parents that the expectations are still the same. For kindergarten, I always email parents in advanced when I will be out the first time so that they can give their children a heads up. This is also a good reminder for parents not to email dismissal changes, because if I am out, then I won’t get them!
Preparing for a substitute teacher is so much easier with a Sub Tub. Work smarter not harder by having easy activities prepped and ready to go, along with a substitute binder full of necessary information and emergency substitute plans.