I had a crazy dream last night. I had subbed at my old school and the new teacher in my classroom mistook it as I was coming back…like she was out of a job! She said , ”Well my husband is wanting to go to Alaska!” Internally, my brain was screaming, “but that’s the trip I went on!” She cleaned her stuff out and I was left…in a room of kids I didn’t know.

I woke up more than a little confused!

That’s the stuff of crazy right there! One, you can’t go back again. Two, being left in a room full of kids with no plan is a nightmare in and of itself!

As a classroom teacher for 20 years, I had plenty of “guest teachers.” When my daughter was young and would get sick, I would rush out some sub plans, sneak into school in the wee hours, and then return home and spend the day being “mommy.” Then there were the professional development and conferences, not to mention the “mental health” day you might need in February or April (depending on if there had been snow days that winter!). Needless to say, we all need to be out of our classroom once-in-a-while, so substitute teachers are important in keeping learning on track.

I spent a year as a sub before taking a full-time classroom position. I enjoyed being in different schools and comparing the environments. I quickly learned which schools would set me on a path to success, and which ones to steer clear from. In my previous post, I shared my current training experience in the school system that I am moving to in Florida. I still haven’t decided if I’ll return to work full-time, but I’m enjoying getting to know the school system. I am enjoying the flexibility that comes with substituting. Plus, I get to hang out and have fun with kids, without the grading or meetings! Read about that training here.

Truth is, I’ve been in several different schools and had several different experiences, just like every other school system. I realized though, traveling to different schools with varying schedules can be confusing to anyone, even a seasoned teacher. In this day and age of rising classroom vacancies and never enough subs, teachers and schools should be doing everything possible to hold on to their teachers, and especially their substitutes. I had forgotten how difficult it can be to walk into a building of strangers and ask the simplest questions. While some schools do this better than others, all schools and teachers should take a second look at how they create an inviting and sub-friendly environment.

In my own classroom, after a year of subbing, it gave me great insight into what I needed to have prepared for my own subs. In fact, I used to spend so much time preparing for a sub that it was easier to be at school than to be out! (I’ll bet many teachers reading this know exactly how that feels!) However, even the best planners cannot foresee what will happen when they aren’t there. Fortunately, good teachers can prepare their classrooms and their lessons in a way that will keep good subs wanting to come back to your classroom each time your child has a sniffle, you have a Math training, or when you need to block out a day for doctors appointments! I’ve gathered some ideas and suggestions to help your sub, and in turn, help your students have an almost flawless day!

While you may not expect to be out any day, at the very least, you should have a Substitute Binder labeled and near your desk at all times. This binder should include any pertinent information about your class that someone should need to know if they stepped in and knew nothing about your classroom. For example, current class rosters, special circumstances, allergies, a daily schedule, a map of the school, a list of daily procedures, names of helpful adults and kids, and a set of emergency lesson plans. Those should be by your desk at all times, as a minimum. I always set mine up thinking, “What would a teacher need if I can’t be here tomorrow and I’m unconscious and can’t give any information?” It sounds a bit morbid, but it wasn’t about me. It’s about your students and about your team. Leaving incomplete plans or information hurts everyone and makes you look incompetent.

Now if you really want to impress your sub, let’s take this a little further. Include a map of the school and be sure to highlight the adult restrooms and soda machines. Leave a copy of your discipline plan, and set up a special reward system for the “star students.” Create fun and easy to explain lessons. Why would you leave the hardest and most mundane work for when a sub is there? How would your students react to this activity if you were there? Imagine how they’ll react to a sub!

Here’s a really great sub binder that I found through the blog of a substitute teacher, who is now a classroom teacher. She has some great ideas on Teachers Pay Teachers, as well as some freebies that she offers for your “sub tub.”

A well-organized sub binder is a MUST!

Speaking of students, if you know you’ll be out, prepare your students ahead of time. Let the students know who the sub will be (if you know ahead of time), and what your expectations are while you are gone. Reassure them that you’ll be back and that a “guest” teacher is similar to having a guest in your home. While the guest will do their best to keep things as usual, they may not do things exactly the same. Leave names of helpful students and the names of students who do specific jobs (line leader, restroom monitor, etc.). In my experience, even the most well-behaved students will take advantage of a sub’s lack of familiarity! Therefore, be detailed about how students walk in the hallway and how many trips you make to the restroom. The procedures that you put in place are out the window when a new teacher comes in the room!

As for your most challenging students, really think about what they are able to handle when you aren’t there. I had a situation where a classroom had a student who was creating a distracting environment for everyone. When his behavior became too much for me and I called the office for him to be removed, the administrator (who was very familiar with the student) questioned me and why I was having him removed. First, never put your sub in that position. If you know a child is that disruptive, have a plan in place. Have your admin (or other personnel) come by and check in with that student. Leave a note for the sub and give them strategies to use with that student. Leaving them with no knowledge is frustrating at the least, and might make them think twice about returning to your classroom, or even your school. Remember, there aren’t enough subs out there to begin with, why are they going to want to return to spend the day with mediocre plans and unsupportive administrators?

Substitutes start their day by checking in at the office. In the system I currently sub in, the district has a policy ACROSS THE SYSTEM of how substitute teachers check in. They are issued an ID badge, a room key, and a roster. However, some schools do this in different ways. My favorite has been in a high school where everything was laid out with my name, rosters for EVERY class (not just 1st period), a map of the school, the teacher’s schedule, and a friendly person to greet me and show me where to go (it was a HUGE school!). On top of that, each person (including the students), greeted me, welcomed me, and thanked me for being there. Yes, it was a public high school. In addition, the neighboring teacher checked on me to make sure that I had what I needed and offered any support. Needless to say, that’s a school where I want to spend more time. The teacher left great plans, and we had a flawless day. Your administrators and office staff should also have a plan in place and work together to support the guest teachers in the building. It sets the tone for the day. If the school has high expectations for their students, more guest teachers will want to be in that building!

So what will you do to improve your school environment for the day you can’t be there? Planned or unplanned, it’s going to happen and it’s up to you to keep your “well-oiled machine” growing and learning!

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If you’re needing help, support, or mentoring in your classroom, let’s chat! Message me at pamarnold2001@gmail.com