Is Your Classroom Sub Friendly?

I am so pleased to welcome guest blogger Rachel Friedrich from Sub Hub to the blog today. Leaving your students in the care of someone else can strike fear in the heart of even the most veteran teacher. Time and time again, I've heard (and said) it's just easier to go in sick than have a sub take over. Well, today Rachel is here to share some insights from a sub's point of view. With her advice and the help of some of her FREE emergency sub plans  you'll be able to stay home and not worry about anything besides having enough hot tea and tissues!

Making Your Classroom Sub Friendly
By Rachel Friedrich
I know it’s happened to you at one time or another. You had to be out and have a sub, but when you came back, your classroom looked like World War III had struck. I know you thought, “What did that sub do?” (You probably used a few other choice words as well, and your students told you all sorts of horror stories.) I know. I have seen it happen on more than one occasion. Sometimes this happens because you got one of those subs who just does not belong in a classroom. But sometimes, the situation could have been avoided with a bit more advanced planning. Making your classroom sub friendly will have benefits for the sub, and for you upon your return. The great thing is that many of these tweaks will translate into a more successful overall classroom as well.

Be Organized.
Everything should have a labeled place. Your sub plans and materials should be in in one place like a sub binder or a sub tub. Have all those items you use daily like nurse passes, hall passes, sticky notes, pens, etc. in one place as well. You want everything a sub would need to be handy, just like would want it to be for you.

Have Consistent Classroom Management
If your classroom management is consistent and visible, the students already know how to play the game no matter who is in the classroom. And a sub can just step right in and continue your system.

State Your Expectations
Make sure you have talked to your students about your expectations when a sub is there. This discussion needs to happen well in advance of when you actually need to be out. Then if it is a planned absence, all you have to do is remind. If it is an emergency absence, the students will already know the expectations.

Over Plan
Yes, when I sub, I enter the room with my own bag of tricks for those times when the lesson plans don’t work, supplies are not available, or there is just some extra time. But not every sub knows to do that. So, write your plans and have some extra activities for those “just in case” times. It is always better to have too much to do than not enough. Busy kiddos tend not to make as many poor choices.

Get to Know the Good Subs
If you see a sub in the hall doing a good job, ask for their contact information. Ask other teachers at your school who the good subs are. Keep a list of all those names and numbers at school and at home, and try to schedule one of those if possible.

Be Specific
In your lesson plans, make sure you specify as much as possible. Put yourself in the sub’s shoes. They do not know your classroom, your students, or your way of doing things. They may not even know your school. If you provide very specific instructions, much confusion can be eliminated. Please, never write, “The students know what to do.” I have seen even the best students develop severe cases of sub amnesia. Arm your sub with knowledge, and don’t have them depend on the students.

Make Your Plans Meaningful
Students and subs know when you have just left busy work. And believe me, it makes for a tough day when the students know that. I can’t tell you how many times students ask me, “Is this for a grade?” I try to answer ambiguously, but it’s pretty darn obvious that a teacher will not take a grade on busy work. Do your best to leave meaningful work, but also keep in mind that many subs are not certified teachers. I know, that’s a tightrope to walk, but it's for the benefit of everyone.

I guarantee you that if you think of these things in advance, it will be much less stressful for you be out… much less stressful for you, your students, and the sub. Then those good subs will be crossing their fingers that you call them when you need to be out, and you will not have to worry.

~Rachel Friedrich is the creator of Sub Hub, a blog for helping teachers and subs learn the art of substitute teaching. She has been a sub herself for four and a half years.


  1. Great tips!!

    I also bring a bag of tricks with me when I sub. It is always better to go preparred than to be lost.

    Think, Wonder, & Teach

  2. I think one of the best things I've found is to make it EXTRA important to the kids to do well for a guest teacher. (And I call them a 'guest' to the students, too!) The kids normally earn one cotton ball in our jar for a compliment or extra great class behavior. Because I know how awful lunch and recess duty can be, they get TWO cotton balls for a compliment at lunch or recess. Emergency drills can earn THREE. And a great report from the guest teacher? FIVE. Five is something that just blows their minds and really motivates them to do well.

    I also try to leave extra work, with a disclaimer at the top that it's okay if they don't get to everything, because I'd rather them have too much to do than too little!

  3. I completely agree with all of these suggestions! I moved to a new state this past summer and have been substituting this year. There are LOTS of schools by my house, and every single one of them is different. There are times when I don't even know how to take the kids to the computer lab (because I don't know where it is) or how to lead them to recess from the cafeteria (because I don't know the route the regular teacher takes)! Even though I'm a certified teacher, I'd much rather have the regular teacher spell everything out (almost redundantly) in the sub notes, rather than leave me hanging. I want to do the best job possible and keep things consistent for the students, but it's very difficult when I lack adequate directions.

    And I cannot emphasize ENOUGH how much I appreciate teachers who leave TOO much work. Like Rachel said, "Busy kiddos tend not to make as many poor choices." SO. TRUE.

  4. Thanks for the very helpful tips to keep my substitute's life easier.


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