How Can I Set Up My Sub for Success?

School Me, Please is the advice column where early career educators can come for individualized guidance from seasoned educators who have a passion for mentoring. Have a problem or question for one of our experts to address on the blog? Send it to us via email at SchoolMePlease@nea.org.


I have to miss a few days of school soon and want to ensure that my lesson plans keep moving during my absence. How do I prepare for a substitute teacher so that my students keep progressing and don’t fall behind while I’m gone?

– Seeking Substitute Success

Dear Seeking,

I was in a similar position last year when I had to take two weeks off and I didn’t want my students to miss any curriculum. I found that the key was to prepare as much as possible ahead of time and to try to anticipate the substitute’s needs over the course of the two weeks. I found it most helpful to write down everything I did in a day, as small as how students grab supplies and transition between activities and classes, and to compile this information into two detailed binders. One binder contained logistical information and the other had specific lesson plans.

The first binder contained everything the substitute needed outside of course materials, including my regular schedule, a ½ day schedule, and early dismissal schedule. I wrote out a detailed version of classroom procedures from homeroom, transitions, lunch, class time, and dismissal. This ensured that students wouldn’t take advantage of the substitute. I was once a long-term substitute myself and knew all the tricks students might try! I included who she could talk to if she had questions and gave her my cellphone number as well. I also included my passwords to my computer so she could access my files and included a desktop shortcut file with her name that included all the digital copies she could use on the Smartboard. She also had full access to my Class Dojo, an online platform that my school uses, so she could continue with classroom management and contact parents if needed.

My second binder included the lesson plans for each day. In the lesson plans I included the learning targets to be written on the board, and a step by step of how the lesson should be administered. A lot of the work I left was independent or pair work, as my students are older, but if you need to have the substitute really teach a lesson, I would suggest writing down a suggested script. Following each lesson plan, I had the original copy of any handouts and an answer key for each assignment that required one, giving my substitute the opportunity to check student progress or grade work. I also had all my copies made ahead of time and placed on the shelf behind my desk with each date written on it. I also assigned helper students for each class I had and met with them before I left to show them where to find what they would need for class in case the substitute had any questions.

Leaving your classroom for a few days can be stressful, as you don’t want to get behind on material, but having a thorough plan will make life easy for you, your substitutes, and your students.

– Kimberly Rock