How to set up sub plans

I just had my first sub day of the school year. Instead of teaching, I spent 7 hours in a room with some of my favorite colleagues working on big picture items for my district’s Math 8 course.

During my first two years of teaching, I regularly took a sub day every 6-8 weeks, even if I didn’t have a full on cold or flu (like I do now). It was something my master teachers and pedagogy professors instilled in my cohort during teaching credentialing: It’s impossible to take care of everyone and everything that you need to in the classroom, when you don’t prioritize taking care of yourself.

But planning for a sub is not easy. There’s so much that happens in the classroom, so many routines and signals, on top of the actual lesson plan, not to mention classroom and behavior management that it’ll take pages and pages to note it all down. Assuming the sub that you get – a sub that is paid ~$100 per day, most likely without a teaching credential, nor have a teaching philosophy aligned with yours, nor required to arrive earlier or stay later to understand these pages and pages of sub plans – has the desire to read through it all.

Which is why I didn’t get a sub this time when I got sick, especially so close to the previous sub day I took to work with my colleagues. It’s not the first time I’ve done that. And it won’t be the last. And I’m not the only one. But I’ve made enough sub plans, and taken those days off enough times, to have a few do’s and don’ts to share:

  1. Don’t wait until the last minute to put your sub plans together. The best thing about counting out 6-8 weeks and regularly booking a sub is that the earlier I book the sub, the more likely I’ll actually get a sub in my classroom, rather than relying on my colleagues to cover my classes on their prep. Oh? I didn’t mention that sometimes (and when I mean ‘sometimes’ I mean approximately 1 out of 3 times) when I’m taking a sick day, there is no substitute that will pick up my job? Yeah, that happens.
  2. Do save your previous sub plans. Once you get going, it’s easier to build off of what you already have than to start from scratch all over again. Save the plans that you had previously for next time. Then you can just delete the content and keep the formatting. Whoever is subbed for you before might pick up your job again at a later date, and it’s easier for them to read something that is formatted familiarly.
  3. Do keep a page of general information that applies to all your classes throughout the entire school year. What so you teach each period/in each time slot? When is your prep? Who are the people in the neighboring classrooms? Who are the people the sub can call for backup? Is there a referral system? How would a sub use it? Is there a rewards system? How would a sub use that? Here is a free sample template I made for myself. It’s not fancy like the ones you can find on Teachers Pay Teachers. But it doesn’t have to be fancy. It just needs to be, and it needs to fit you and your sub’s needs. And it should be flexible enough so that you can either keep it in your sub binder/folder throughout the entire year without needing to print out a new one each time.
  4. Do keep all materials in a binder or folder marked ‘For the Sub.’ The general info page should go in here. Then the page for lesson plans, any master copies and answer keys, the previously mentioned rewards and referral system documents, and any seating charts or rosters of your classes. I also like to keep some extra binder paper for the sub to take notes of what happened in class.
  5. Do prep your students for a sub. I didn’t used to believe in this, but my Super Colleague does this all the time so I tried it out…and it worked really well for me. I had much fewer problems to deal with after I get back now that I prepare my students for a sub. It can be as simple as reminding them that the sub is a guest on campus, and they need to show respect to all guests. I also remind my students that the sub may or may not know the math they are learning, so they shouldn’t react poorly when the sub can’t answer their questions like I would normally do. We do an activity where we brainstorm some of the confusing or ‘unfair’ (to the student’s point of view) things that they’ve seen from a sub before, and we try to figure out why a person would react that way, and then role-play it with the proper way to react. When it comes down to it, I tell my students that they are not to argue back with the substitute in that moment – but if there’s anything out of the ordinary, then they can tell me when I come back. I usually just listen and don’t do anything about it – because the student’s point of view can’t always be trusted as complete or accurate, right?

How do you make your sub plans?


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