8 Things Your Substitute Teacher Needs to Succeed

Your substitute teacher folder should include this key information so your class won’t miss a beat.

Elementary School Teacher Helping Student

by NEA Member Benefits

When it comes to substitute teaching, knowledge is power, says Rachel Friedrich, an elementary teacher in San Antonio, Texas.

Friedrich should know. She spent four years working as a substitute prior to becoming a full-time teacher.

“The more information a teacher can give a sub, the less pressure there is on that sub,” says Friedrich, who has created a Pinterest board called Substitute Teaching Ideas. “The sub can then feel confident, knowing they know how to react in any situation.”

Transmitting knowledge

Besides passing along a seating chart, lesson plans, official school rules and a bus schedule, it’s helpful to create a detailed packet of information for your substitute teacher.

“It’s a lot of written instruction,” says Tosin Williams, teacher at Mission View Charter High School in Inglewood, California. “Four pages might be overkill, but it breaks everything down minute by minute, hour by hour of what I expect students to be doing at any time.”

Your packet should include:

  • School emergency procedures such as fire drills and lock-downs. “We’ve had some issues at local campuses of subs not having keys to classroom doors so they couldn’t lock them in the case of a lock-down or a drill,” Friedrich says. “Letting subs know how to handle these issues is very important.”
  • Insights into student behavior and past problems. “It’s always good to know which kids are going to be helpful and which kids are going to be the funny kids, the humorous kids who are going to try and tell you their name is George when they are really Bob,” says Bon Crowder, a math teacher at The Monarch School in Houston, which teaches students with neurological differences.
  • Health concerns. For safety, it’s important to include if any student has asthma, diabetes or allergies.
  • Special accommodations. If any student needs special accommodations, say for a learning disability, make sure to include this, too.
  • Map of the school. Let the teacher know where important areas are, such as the office, classrooms, bathrooms, cafeteria, teacher’s lounge, playground and parking lot.
  • Names of helpful associates. “It is also helpful to have a list of others at the school who can help should a problem arise,” Friedrich says. Give names of nearby teachers, along with the principal, vice principal, school nurse and custodian.
  • Extra responsibilities. If the substitute is expected to have lunchroom duty or supervise carpooling, include that too, so the substitute isn’t surprised, Crowder says.
  • Technology tips. Tell substitutes if they can bring their personal laptops, iPads and cell phones, Crowder says. Make sure to include important passwords, like a WiFi password, a substitute might need.

When it comes to classroom procedures and lessons plans, be as specific as possible. “The more details you can leave a sub, the better,” Friedrich says. “Let them know how you want the lessons to be implemented and what to do with the completed activities.”

Include how and when students are allowed to go to the bathroom and if certain parts of the classroom are off limits. Spell out specific disciplinary procedures so the substitute knows. “Saying ‘the students know how to do this’ is perhaps the worst instruction to leave for a sub,” Friedrich says. “I guarantee you, no student will admit to knowing how to do something if a sub asks.”

Take the pressure off the sub

Substitute teachers need all the help they can get. “The substitute has to supervise, so I try to take away any opportunity for the students to get into an argument with the substitute,” Williams says.

“I try to come up with activities to take the pressure off the sub,” Williams says. “The students will always try to get away with as much as possible.”

A lot of textbooks offer extended learning supplements after each chapter. Crowder recommends holding back those extra assignments for a substitute teacher. “Students can go back to Chapter 1 even though they’ve already mastered it and built on it,” she says. “Usually those things have some of other kind of extra value, like a historical viewpoint or discovery lesson.”

Above all, be as detailed as possible with your instructions for the substitute.

“My biggest problems as a sub came when behavior problems were not made known, plans were missing or lacking or schedule changes were not noted in the plans,” Friedrich says. “So really thinking through your plans and providing as much information as possible is the best plan.”