Planning for a substitute

I’m preparing for my first year as a science teacher. I’ve heard I should have a folder for a substitute teacher, but I’m not sure what should be in it besides a lesson plan. —H., Georgia

Good substitutes deserve respect as professional colleagues and can ease your mind when you’re away. Ask your mentor or administrator about what, if anything, is expected to be in this folder. Think about what you would want to know if you’re stepping into someone else’s classroom.

Include a time schedule, class lists and seating charts, a brief description of your expectations and routines, emergency procedures, directions for electronic devices you want him/her to use, the name of a nearby colleague who can answer questions, and a map of the school highlighting the teacher’s room and the office. Supply a form for the sub to leave a status report.

Include several days’ worth of activities or lessons. Be sure that any necessary materials are labeled and available. For unscheduled absences, include some generic lessons that review or extend concepts and could be used any time.

When developing your sub folder, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Assigned videos should relate to your course goals. Provide suggestions for what students should do or discuss before, during, and after watching it.
  • Don’t ask a sub to do an activity with a potential for student injury or that requires chemicals, live specimens, flames, projectiles, or heat sources.
  • Word games for vocabulary review are popular with students.
  • Catch up on current events with printouts, magazine articles, or websites for students to summarize and share.
  • Avoid suggesting students “read silently” or “work on other homework” for the entire period. (This is difficult for them, even when you’re in the classroom!)

If the substitute doesn’t follow your plans or allows students to behave in unacceptable or unsafe ways, share this information with your principal. But if he/she did a good job, a note of thanks would be appropriate.

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