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As a teacher, I always struggled with being away from the classroom, feeling my students would be missing out on great learning and having minimal growth with a substitute. In my head, I painted a worst case scenario of kids running amuck, damaged books and materials, misplaced and wrongly used supplies, etc. Although some of that has happened over the years, with time I figured out you CAN learn to anticipate most issues and even get a great learning day for your students!
When writing your substitute lesson plan, first and foremost, go in to it knowing THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES. With the resources here and on our podcast Teachers Talk Live, we hope you’re well on your way to getting the most out of your substitute teachers!
1. Get your team on board! One of the most important components of having success with a substitute is a supportive team. These are the folks at your school that will greet the substitute in the hallway and remind them where everything is in your room and what is being covered in class. They are valuable in answering any questions or providing clarifications to your plan. The office staff is also very important since you may be able to email them your plans to print and hand to the sub, in case you have to create them while away from school.
2. Be explicit! On schedules: I have always used a template for my sub plans that include scheduled times for each activity and every variable there could be during that week. For example if there’s a period where there’s rotations, write in parentheses what happens Monday, Tuesday, etc. Make sure you write in what the sub should do during that time. If it is their break, indicate it clearly or if they have specific duties, let them know.
On Access: Let them know what supplies they should NOT access. Also let them know what students should NOT access. This can be an issue if the sub is trying to find activities for students to do or if they are simply hunting for supplies to use. You don’t want to come back to student’s early completion of your well planned holiday project that you would implement much later!
On school structure: Provide information, even a chart, on who the officials are at your school along with location: nurse, principal, assistant principal, counselor, etc. These are names that may be important throughout the day for your sub. If possible, include a map of the school. The more they know, the better.
3. Be Kind! A little kindness goes a long way! Make sure you begin your plan by thanking the substitute for being with your class. If typed, as in my template, leave a handwritten personal note.
4. Be open to Change As much as you may want to keep control of your classroom through your substitute plans, you must know there are no guarantees. With that in mind, be open to the idea that the sub may alter your plans somewhat. They may decide that instead of your lesson on primates, he or she may create a lesson on the life cycle. If you are concerned they may go too far offscript, gently mention the importance of adhering to your lesson.
5. More is better Fill your plan as much as possible with productive work that will help your students grow with a little padding of what may be considered “busy work” exercises. It’s recommended that “busy work” is only a minimal amount of what you leave. By providing a rigorous plan, you are ensuring your students’ day isn’t wasted and it may also minimize behavior issues.
6. Come up with productive “anytime activities” that you can insert into your plan last minute. The ideas below are sometimes grade specific but more will be added with links.
write a letter to the teacher:
* persuasive letter to allow longer recess
* What do you enjoy most about class and why
* What one thing would you like to change about class and why
Read a book and write about it
*What do you enjoy most about this story?
* Summarize 5 important facts learned in a non fiction text.
*Times table practice: This can be done through physical flashcards or videos like these
Write skipped numbers
* Students can write numbers by 3s, 5s, 10s, 100s or however best fits with your age group
I hope this helps and triggers some great ideas that you may be able to contribute to this list!
In addition to our upcoming podcast on how to best prepare for substitute teachers,
we have provided a substitute lesson plan template that includes schedule, map of the school, officials in charge, etc.
Oscar Cielos Staton began his teaching career in 1998 while continuing his passion for film production in Texas. He quickly developed an affinity for working with low socioeconomic Hispanic families. “The lives of my students,” he says “very much mirror the life I once had as an immigrant in this country in a public elementary school. Actually, I tell them they are lucky because they have other students similar to them in the same classroom. My experience was that of a true minority in the classroom. Only one other student in my class spoke Spanish!” As a teacher, he established himself as someone in touch with the student experience. Nowadays Oscar continues his educational journey with the Teach Cow website and his podcast Teachers Talk Live, which brings together teachers from all over the world for talks on K-12 Education.