Writing plans for a substitute teacher is a big pain in the butt. Even more so, when some sort of family emergency comes up and you’re still legally responsible for two days of classes.
It;s strange that these certified teachers who come into our classroom don’t have to plan anything for two full days. At least, that is the rule in the province where we live. Teachers are responsible for leaving two full days of plans for their students regardless of the situation. This must be in the only job in the world where you do just as much work on the days you aren’t there as the days you are.
I once wrote sub plans on my phone from a hospital bed. True story. And as crazy as that was, I learned a valuable lesson from it.
Emergency Sub Plans!
What are emergency sub plans?
These are not your regular sub plans that you leave because you get to go to an interesting professional development session. This is that day when you have a flat tire, your cat is missing, you’re finally gonna pass that kidney stone and your house caught fire a little bit. And while you may never need them (let’s hope you never need them) having the peace of mind knowing your classroom will continue on without you is important.
Why do you need emergency sub plans?
Hopefully, you never need these, but just in case, it’s a good idea to have them ready. In fact, it’s policy at our school to leave a set of plans in the office by the end of the first week of school. In all our years of teaching, they’ve been used once. That was enough. It saved the day.
When that day comes you don’t want to send your whole class into a downward spiral. Having a set of emergency plans will help keep your students on track, even if the work they’re doing isn’t what you originally intended. Just keeping their routines in place while they work on ANYTHING will help make your return a little easier. And, if in the even you can’t return, it gives you temporary replacement a bit of time to figure out what they need to do to keep the train on the rails.
What should your emergency plans include?
First of all, create a substitute teacher binder. This will house all the information you can think of that any adult coming into your classroom can use to help with the basics. This binder will be placed somewhere that it is secure, but tell your students where it is kept and its purpose. This way they can help the supply teacher out in the event they can’t find it.
We have a set of free pages you can use as a template for setting up your binder. Find them in our Resource Library. To get access to our library, you can sign up for our email list which sends you bi-weekly Ninja News and gives you unlimited access to the library.
We leave a one page note in the office about our emergency plans. The note includes where to find our sub tub and substitute binder in our classroom. This is so much easier than leaving all the materials in the office. It also gives you a bit of flexibility to adjust what’s in your bin during the year as your students grow and change.
If you’re going to design your own sub binder consider including these things:
- class list with preferred names or pronunciations
- list of network logins
- class schedule
- teacher schedule
- supervision expectations and duties (we said duties)
- emergency protocols (fire drill, evacuation, tornado warning, etc.)
- map of the school
- list of helpful students
- any medical information for students in your room (where to find emergency medical forms, bandages, EpiPens etcs.)
- list of neighbour teachers who might be able to help
- names of important school staff: administrative assistants, custodians, principal, librarian, music teacher, specials
- classroom routines: washroom, computers, flexible seating, talking, etc.
- school routines: going out for recess, using gym equipment etc.
- special cases: students with special expectations or strategies to help
- special situations: where to find remotes or extra batteries, how to fix the pencil sharpener, how to reset the document camera or any of those little things that need fixes
Are finding the seeking out of materials too much time and effort? Well, good news! So did we and so we created a set of Emergency Sub Plans that you can print out and place in your bin without any extra planning. And they have a great theme! you can find the set in our store.
These were so much fun to create, we may even have to make some more. 🙂 This theme is hoaxes and Ogopogos. If you don’t know what an Ogopogo is, you might want to look it up.
Create a bin or box of materials.
We use a big plastic dish tub that we labeled “Sub Tub.” This is where we kept all the possible materials we could think of that a supply teacher might be able to use in the event we needed to be away suddenly.
First of all, we placed the binder we’d created into the bin and told our students where the bin was kept and why we had it. We assured them we didn’t plan to be away, but in the event things were crazy, we felt our students would take the lead and help the guest teacher out for the day.
Second, we have a few daily routines that we do all the time and always have extra pages leftover from. We prepare these pages at the beginning of our school year, so they are easy to drop into the sub tub.
One of these are our daily writing prompts. We write every day, but we always have a few prompts left over because there aren’t always twenty school days in a month. We place our extra copies into the bin and write the instructions in our routines in the sub binder. Our students are already familiar with them and it’s a quick prep activity that keeps the kids busy for 20-30 minutes. You can find our prompts in our store.
Third, we practice our multiplication and division facts regularly. We always leave the instructions and a couple sets of the practice facts in the bin so a teacher can use them if needed. You can find our Multiplication and Division Graphing Activity in our store.
Fourth, we add a few sets of colouring pages. These are just fluff, but they can be perfect for killing time while the guest teacher gets organized. Our students love optical illusions or Zentangle style colouring pages that we’ve found at local teacher stores.
Lastly, we put those extra pages to use. You know how you plan too much for your class and so you don’t end up using that math worksheet or those word work pages? Drop those into your bin along with one finished copy as an answer key. Not only will you save the paper, your students will benefit from the practice.
Here are a few other things we leave in the bin just in case:
- scrap paper/notepads for sketching and rough work
- blank paper nice enough for an impromptu art project
- a list of some of our class’s favourite activities in gym class or outside if they need a break
- a list of classroom games we play when we’re practicing information
- a book of short stories that can be read anytime (but we always have a read aloud in progress on our desk-we mention this in our routines)
- a package of extra whiteboard markers
- a list of places to find art materials or extra things possibly missed in our other lists
- a link to a YouTube channel full of “school appropriate” songs that our kids like. Music can be a great calming factor or it can wake them up.
- a reminder that our students love to read silently so it’s ok to let them read for a while. (And it keeps them calm and quiet).
- the school calendar-just in case there are events on the days we’re out.
What about regular substitute teacher plans?
Yes, you still have to write these, however, if you’ve already made your binder you can leave that with your plans.
Templates are your friends! Write up a schedule for each day of the week with the time blocked out for when you regularly teach specific things. This way you can just plug in the activity for each block when you’re writing your plans. Save your template so you can use it all year.
Be specific and clear in your plans. Use bullet points, but mention every possible thing you can. Don’t leave anything to guessing. You can always reuse parts of your plans for the next time you’re away or in the days that you return.
Remember, these plans are for your students, not just for the substitute teacher.
When you know you’re going to be away for the day, tell your students. This might seem like “oh, they’ll act out. I shouldn’t tell them.” No, really. When we know we’re going to be away we let our students know. We tell them what we’re going to be doing and why it’s important for them to do their best because they are our ambassadors. We don’t want a supply teacher coming in and thinking we’re bad teachers (that seems to work for us because these kids have relationships with us and they want to please us).
Go through the sub plans with your students so they have a bit of an idea of how their day will go, but remind them the sub will be in charge and if things don’t follow the schedule, that’s ok. They can go with the flow. We can talk about it when we return.
And then we chat with them when we return. We ask how it went. What things need to be added to our sub binder? Did we forget to tell the sub anything? Honestly, this is how we learned to include how to reset the document camera. The kids knew, but when it would go on the fritz it would derail the lesson for the guest teacher.
Our kids help look after our room and each other when we are away. This is partly because of our classroom management style. Our students have a sense of agency because we’ve taught them them are a team. To read more about how you can do this too, read our post : Creating a Sense of Agency.
Sometimes our students will tell us why they did or did not like a sub. While we take this information with a grain of salt, we’ve also learned which subs work really well with our class (and yes, things changes from year to year depending on the students). Honestly, our room is not everyone’s cup of tea because our students have a lot of freedom (seating, social/emotional regulation/project based learning) and it can be overwhelming for some teachers.
Here’s the part where we are jealous of our Australian friends who don’t have to write sub plans because their supply teachers are fully certified and qualified teachers. Our supply teachers are also real teachers, and until the day comes when they have to plan for themselves (Day 3 in a row hee hee) we feel relaxed and secured knowing our students will enjoy the plans we’ve created for them (even if it was in the middle of the night from a bathroom).
What are your best tricks for leaving sub plans? Share your thoughts in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!