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Making Your Classroom Substitute Friendly

written by: Marlene Gundlach • edited by: Benjamin Sell • updated: 4/5/2012

Having a substitute fill in for you is often unavoidable. What can be avoided however is the confusion that will ensue if you are not prepared in advance for that sub to take over for a day.

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    Planning Ahead

    I think every teacher should sub at least once to help them see things from that perspective. There is so much that a teacher takes for granted that she may not think to include these items in her sub plans. Below are some items that should be included in a sub folder that is always accessible to an incoming substitute.

    1. A students roster, with first and last names. Many of the classrooms that I have subbed in this year rely on the lunch count to determine attendance. The kids come in and move their name to pack or buy for lunch that day, and if there are names left, those kids must be absent. Sounds easy. But, kids will be kids, and sometimes Greg moves Jacob's name for him. Jacob doesn't come to school that day, and I am unaware of it for the first 20 minutes of the day. Many times the students have first names on their desks, and I can find a roster with first names, but when I have to call the office to report Jacob absent, they want his last name. You would be amazed how many second graders do not know the last names of their classmates!
    2. Emergency Procedures. A sub's worst nightmare is have a lock down or fire drill on her watch. Have a list of these types of emergencies and what the procedures are. If there are attendance forms that need to be filled out, say for a fire drill or lock down, be sure to include those the sub folder or at least tell her where to find them. Along those same lines, if you have any students with serious allergies or illnesses, be sure to include this information.
    3. Daily Duties. Leave instructions on how to report lunch count, attendance, and what your dismissal procedures are. If you have to take kids out to their busses, be sure your bust list is current and that the sub knows where to find it. Have a policy that parents must send a written note if there are changes in dismissal plans. If the send you an email that Kimmy is to going to be picked up instead of getting on the bus, the sub will not receive that information. It will be sitting in your inbox and Kimmy will end up on the bus. In case of last minute changes, instruct families to call the office and they can get a message to the classroom.
    4. Classroom Rules. What are your policies for bathroom breaks and trips to the nurse. As soon as the students see that they have a sub, the potty parade begins and everyone has a sore throat. Let a sub know if you allow bathroom breaks throughout the day, and whether student's need to take a buddy with them. Is the nurse always a viable option, or do you try to do the "get a drink and put your head down" routine first. If your nurse is only in the clinic certain hours, list those as well.
    5. Backup. Let your substitute know where she can go for backup if she needs it. List the names and phone numbers of your neighboring teachers so that she can easily have access to this information. If there are students in the room who can be relied on, list that as well. Substitutes feel better if they know they have help if they need it. Along the same lines, encourage your staff to reach out to subs. If you know there is a substitute working across the hall, stick your head in the room and introduce yourself. It can be a lonely feeling if you are subbing in a new building and you don't know anyone. Help to alleviate that concern by lending your support.
    6. Lesson Plans. Of course, one of the most important thing to remember is to leave lesson plans that are self-explanatory. If materials are needed, leave them out where they can be easily found. You may think the base tens blocks are on the shelf, but Miss Parmer borrowed them last week and you haven't gotten them back. If you pull things out ahead of time, you can be assured the class will have what they need for the day.
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    End of the Day Report

    When I sub, I normally leave a note for the teacher about how the day went. However, I know a lot of subs who do not take the time to do this. If you want this type of information upon your return, have a form for subs to fill out at the end of their day. Ask for information on student behavior and if all of the lesson plans were covered. Download this sample substitute report form for an example.

    When I was teaching, I often said that being absent from the classroom is more work than actually going in for the day. Most of the list above can be prepared ahead of time and then left in the sub folder for the remainder of the year, so it is a one time deal. It may seem like a lot, but it will make returning after your absence must easier!