7 tips for emergency sub plans to get you through all year

Teacher sick days and mental health days are actually more work than actually going in. Writing sub plans, and having emergency sub plans that work, can be stressful and more exhausting than teaching with the flu.

Let’s change that! Today, right here, let’s go through 5 tips to make emergency sub plans that will last you all year and work for any unit.

(Having also been a sub before, I know that there are a few things that made for AWESOME and smooth days. Happy subs make for returning subs… and we could all use more of those.)

1.Emergency Sub Plans Should Be Practiced Routines

Ok, stay with me here, that was a long bullet point name.

Essentially, at the beginning of the year, I like to give a variety of assignments that would be used as potential sub plans throughout the year (see items 2 and 3 for ideas). Then, I repeat each one a few times in the first quarter.

Once these routines are down and they have an understanding of what needs to happen, having a sub means they can go on auto-pilot.

Students won’t need to ask the sub detailed questions and then you won’t have to write them detailed instructions. Win-win.

Emergency Sub Plan tips: make routines practiced for subs

2.Sub Plans on Google Classroom

If you are 1:1 (or close), Google Classroom can be your best friend! All your sub will need to do is tell the students to check their Classroom (or classroom website) for the assignment of the day.

This means you just have to have one sub plan page ready to go and can upload ANYTHING for them to work on or assignment to complete. I will choose from a few ideas, depending on what needs to get done:

  • Post slides and have them take notes then a short Google Forms Quiz for understanding/keeping them on task
  • Posting a quick assignment rubric (see below for ideas!) to be completed in class.
  • Linking to a review game on Quizlet, Gimkit, or online simulation.
  • Self check-in form and follow up email or Google Doc

This is a great way to get last minute plans posted before students hit the classroom and all details can be kept in your Google Drive to post when needed.

Sub Plan tip: use Google Classroom and Lesson Templates

3.Current Event Research

Science is changing every day and I am PASSIONATE about keeping my students up-to-date as much as possible.

Remember #1? Well, this is my favorite assignment to re-assign. Early on in the year, I walk them through my Current Event Form and the process for finding an article that fits the criteria:

  • Published within the last 6 months
  • Appropriate reading level
  • Contains enough information to summarize in your own words

(Check out this blog post for more information on how I implement Current Events into every unit.)

The best part about this assignment is that it constantly updates itself and you can assign topics for the unit you are in.

Combo tip: Have students claim their article on Google Classroom to prevent students copying each other. Then, have students gallery walk the final papers and add comments to the articles they enjoyed learning about.

Sub Plan Tip: Create lesson templates to reuse for any lesson and sub day.

4.Assign a “Sub Day Helper”

This will be a game changer!

Pick a student (or 2) to be assigned as a “Sub Helper” and leave them listed in your sub plans. This student will be responsible to help the sub:

  • Identify absent students (or misbehaving ones that the sub can’t identify alone)
  • Help with technology issues
  • Interpret any confusion with the sub plans (if the sub is unsure of what exactly they should do, this student would be able to clarify because you ideally have assigned something similar in the past- see #1)

If you use Team Challenges in your classroom, rotate each team that is the helper and award points for their help!

*Fun fact: as I was writing this, it was brought to my attention my sub fell asleep in class. Well, my students kept chugging through the slides and notes because of a sub helper and basically ran the room themselves. Proud moment (not for my sub)

Emergency Sub Plan Tips: Assign a student as the "Sub Helper" to answer questions and take attendance.

5.Organizing the Emergency Sub Plans Binder

I don’t have to tell you that having a Sub Binder is something new, but I do have some tips for organizing it for your own sanity and time-saving. Of course, keep all of your evacuation plans and school items in here, but I also wrote an entire blog post about how to create the most AMAZING sub binder you won’t need to edit all year.

6. Build in Sub Plan days to each Unit

Yep, I build in an extra day (or 2 if the unit is long) for a sub day. What if I don’t have a sub? Well, I have 2 options:

  • Skip that day and move on
  • Use that day to re-iterate or practice that lesson plan or a real sub

Building in days is also just easier because the chances are that you will need an extra day or two in the unit for things that ran over or scheduling issues. Just tack it on near the end of a unit plan and plop it in when you need it.

Emergency Sub Plan Tips: Plan a buffer day into each unit for emergency sub plans just in case

7.Ask for Names of Positive Behavior

So often we end up getting no notes or only negative notes and the students who do their work get left in the dust of the next-day scolding.

Instead, leave a slip of paper asking for the names of 3-5 students who stayed on task throughout the hour, each hour. If you have 6 sections a day like I do, that’s about 30 pieces of candy to hand out the next day as a small reward.

When students know there’s a chance for reward, they will usually keep the hooligan-ism to a minimum, but when they expect a bad report for the whole class the trouble-makers will rise to the occassion.

You could also have them answer an anonymous Google Form as a warm up asking what went well, what questions they have, and if there’s anything you need to know about when you were out.

I think you will find that building a solid system, routine, and expectations will make the days out less stressful and more successful.

Sub Plan Tip: Ask for positive student behavior notes so you can recognize the good students and not just get negative notes