Creating substitute teacher lesson plans will set you apart – way apart – from most elementary educators. Why?
Because you never know what will happen when a substitute teacher takes over your classroom. Sometimes substitutes are very effective and can handle any task set before them so the children don't lose a day of progress. Other times… not so much.
All you can do is set up your substitute teacher for success as well as you can, understanding that your children may – sometimes – have a day when they sort of tread water academically.
Substitute teacher lesson plans
Let me say right here, as a teacher who has subbed, that subbing is very hard work. Not just “every day a new room,” but “every day a new room where the classroom teacher has not left you much to work with.”
So no sub-bashing. Understand that guest teachers are from the same pool of people who are classroom teachers, and do your best to make them successful with your kids.
In an ideal situation, you will get to know the pool of available subs and over time can request one that you know will work well in your room. These are the kinds of substitutes who will be able to take your dollar-store tub full of lesson plans and deliver them almost as well as you would have.
This is not something you should expect, however. If your lesson plans are filled with technology, it's going to be the rare sub who can seamlessly integrate interactive whiteboard activities and videos with the same ease and panache that you do.
In a less-than-ideal situation, you will have to call in a sub at the very last minute due to illness or another emergency and will be barely able to provide any direction at all.
At the most, you may be able to leave a message with your school office manager about the location of your lesson plans or some other important event (such as the culmination of a project) that is occurring on the day of your absence. Then, you just cross your fingers and hope for the best.
So, what's a teacher to do? How do you do your best to ensure that your kids and your substitute teacher have a good day when you're gone?
Sub lesson plans to the rescue!
The basic substitute teacher packet
The key is to do a reasonable amount of preparation and then trust in the fact that guest teachers are certificated and should be able to fill in any gaps that you have left unexplained. Basic preparation means, at a minimum, a substitute teacher package that includes:
- Your daily schedule so that she knows when she is supposed to be teaching different subjects, as well as when lunch, recess, and specialist classes (e.g. Fitness) occur.
- Your building’s calendar so she knows if there are any school-wide events occurring, such as assemblies.
- The fire drill procedure and her role in it, if it goes beyond shepherding the students.
- How pull-outs work, such as Special Education or gifted-and-talented programs.
- Any special-needs considerations that she should be aware of for particular students.
And that's about it. These are the fundamentals that a substitute teacher will need in order to survive in your classroom for a day without chaos.
But what about the actual teaching? Here we must address the two different scenarios mentioned above: when you can plan in advance and when you're out with virtually no notice.
Sub planning: advance notice
As noted, if you are certain your sub can handle it, then she can dive into your tub of lesson plans and get going. However, in all reality, it will be much more common that you can't rely upon a guest teacher to deliver your lessons as you have intended.
In that case, you will need to prep substitute teacher lesson plans.
In these scenarios, you won't have to create special lesson plans for everything. Instead, you'll probably have to find review activities for certain subject areas, such as math, while letting the sub know the current status in other topics.
For example, she may be able to let the kids finish a social studies project that they have already begun, or continue with a rough draft on a writing project.
With a little bit of thought and some trust in the abilities of your guest teacher, prepping for one to three days away should not be that onerous.
Sub planning: no notice
And now, about the scenario in which you must be gone with no notice.
If you've been keeping the basics that I've outlined above (such as the schedules) in your sub packet, then at least the teacher will not be absolutely lost. Your hasty message to your office manager will let the sub know if there are uncompleted projects to work on or a spelling test to deliver.
However, to ensure that your kids truly have a productive day, you will need to have some “emergency” supplies ready. It's impossible to have a single, set-it-and-forget-it sub packet that is appropriate all year long – you know, a magical packet that you prepare before school begins that will serve for the entire year.
If you want your kids to make progress, then you will need to be constantly updating your substitute teacher packet with different math worksheets, etc., throughout the year so that, if they must have a review day due to your absence, they are at least reviewing items you have recently taught.
When you are prepping your own lesson plans, don't hesitate to throw an extra master of a few worksheets in reading and math into your sub packet. And then, when you do your next planning session, swap them out, whether they have been used or not.
Is this a perfect packet? Nope. But it’s good enough to keep your students’ learning moving forward in your absence, and, frankly, it’s all you can realistically expect yourself to manage.
If you do this, you will be head and shoulders above 90% of all teachers – and a favorite among your local guest teachers!
Setting guest teacher expectations
Speaking of “being a favorite,” you can really build up your reputation among the pool of subs by taking time to set student expectations for how to behave when a guest teacher is in your room. You can imagine what needs to be reinforced:
- Treat a guest teacher with the same respect that they would treat you, their regular teacher
- Be helpful if she has questions about scheduling or classroom procedures
- Be super-polite
Remember: kids perform best if they know they will get your approval; let them know that you love to get compliments on their behavior from substitute teachers and that you can’t wait to hear how great they were to teach.
It's never a perfect situation when a guest teacher must take over your room. But you can undertake some basic steps to better ensure their success and to put your mind at ease when you must leave your students in another teacher’s care.