As a teacher, needing to miss a day requires a lot of up-front planning. For the days that you have to unexpectedly be out, having a simple emergency sub binder is a great way to make sure your sub has what they need, and you know that the students will continue to learn while you are not there.

Simple Emergency Sub Binder Setup Transcript

What if I told you that in January, I had to take five sick days. For things from stomach flu, to strep, to ear infections that plagued our family for the entire month of January. I was out a lot, and I used lesson plans from three years ago. 

I haven’t updated my emergency sub binder in three years, and I didn’t have to really worry about it. 

Because of that fact, I can sit back comfortably when there are other things going on in my life, like an emergency or like a sick child. And I don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen in my classroom when I’m not there. 

I mean, I still worry about the actual actions of people, but my end is totally covered. And I wanted to walk you through how I set my sub system up, so that it is insanely simple. So you potentially never have to update your sub binder ever again, too. 

The Experience With Sub Plans

Let me give you just a little bit of background as to why my sub binder actually works. 

It’s because I subbed, and I subbed a lot. I subbed from kindergarten through upper level high school classes, and sometimes all on the same day, because the schools were right next to each other. So I would bounce around from school to school wherever they needed me to cover. 

Subbing With No Plans

Well, in that experience, I had several instances of getting left absolutely nothing. Not even a roster. Not a single sentence of a lesson plan. And when I had to do that for the seventh or eighth time covering middle school PE, I decided that I could not sub for PE again. It became a lot stressful, and there were always balls flying at my head, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. 

But then you also ended up with teachers who over planned minute by minute. Just reading their sub plans can take you a full 20 to 30 minutes to get through, and then you’re constantly checking back because you really don’t actually know if you’re doing it right. Or if they’re gonna be upset that maybe you skipped out on five extra minutes of reading time for the fourth graders. There’s just so much there that you get overwhelmed. 

Subbing During a Soft Lockdown

On the other side, I once subbed for a class, and during the time we were in class, they were working on a crossword puzzle. There wasn’t called a soft lockdown, but I found out eventually that it essentially was a soft lockdown. 

They called it over the announcements and said, “Teachers lock your doors, keep students in your room and close the windows.” And that’s all I knew. I had no clue what a soft lockdown was. And better yet, I was not given a key, and I had two doors into that classroom and a whole wall of windows that had no blinds on them. So not knowing what this lockdown situation was about, I was panicking. I was reading through every bit of information that could have possibly been left to me to figure out what type of situation I was in and what I really needed to do.

It turns out, the students also had no clue what was going on, and there was frenzy texting happening trying to get to the bottom of what situation was going on. It turns out, it was really nothing, but in the moment, I had no information about that, and I panicked. 

So needless to say, I have had a plethora of experiences in the subbing world, and I have had subs who have come to me and told me how appreciative they are of my sub binder system. I think that that is the highest praise, because in a sub shortage, you want them to pick up openings in your class whenever you have them. They are precious, and you want them back and you don’t want the thing that you do to be what keeps them away. 

Emergency Sub Binder Layout

So anyway, let us talk about the layout of this sub binder and what makes it so special.

The first thing is I have a hot pink slip binder. And that’s because nothing else in my room is hot pink. Everything is yellow and blue and lights, and otherwise obnoxious, but not hot pink. And on the very front cover, in the little sleeve that’s there, I have just Mrs. Holcomb’s Sub Binder. Super simple, very obvious gets to the point. 

But I didn’t want to waste the rest of that front page when that’s what’s gonna be sitting on the desk facing the sub most of the time. So underneath the title I have quick information. These are the things that if your sub comes in with two minutes until class starts, what do they just really need to know? What can they reference super quickly that they’re always going to come back too. So I don’t put what the lesson plan is here, instead, I just say, “Thank you for coming in. If you have questions, these two teachers and these places of the hall can help you take attendance, and this is how you submit it. I will have co teachers these hours and your planning period is this hour.” That’s it, just a couple sentences of information that a sub would want to refer to and not have to dig around for. 

First Page of Emergency Sub Binder

Information for the Sub

Then the very first page has pretty much all of the other information that a sub will ever need to know about your classroom. 

At the very top, I put class expectations, and I keep it to three. I would say if you have any more than five classroom expectations that you want a sub to uphold, you are expecting too much of somebody coming in temporarily into your classroom. Especially if you are a middle school teacher. They like to push those boundaries with a sub.

So I would just suggest that you focus on the big three.

I almost never include a cell phone policy in something that a sub should look out for, because we all know that that can take a real intense turn.  

Instead, I focus on just three main rules. Usually one about the bathroom/hall pass policy…that I only let one student out at a time, especially with a sub there. And that I don’t allow students in the lab now that I have a built in lab in my room. And no food. They can have drinks, but no food in my room. That’s it. That’s all I want the sub to keep an eye out for. And those are things that my students know that I stand by that they will not be arguing with the sub about. 

Class Schedule

Beneath that you’re going to have your class schedule. And if we’re going to be really honest, there’s more than one class schedule that your sub needs. 

I will include the two most important, or most used, class schedules on that front page.

At my old school, it was just an everyday class schedule. And then also an early release, because we had an early release schedule every month. 

Well, now I have a full day schedule, I have a black day schedule, we have a late start, early release, delayed start, half day…there’s so many things. So I put the two most used on the front of that page, and the rest of them go on page number two. 

Well, now I have a full day schedule, I have a black day schedule, we have a late start, early release, delayed start, half day…there’s so many things. So I put the two most used on the front of that page, and the rest of them go on page number two. When in doubt, I’m sure somebody will tell them that it’s a weird day, and they can always reference the schedule there. 

Then under that, with about a third of the page left, I have my lesson plans. And we’re going to come back to the section because it does really only take up a third of a page no matter how many preps you have. In fact, I’ve used this for four preps before and been totally fine. 

But let’s go through the binder, and when we get to the lesson plan tabs, then I will fill you in on what goes there. 

Sub Binder Tab One: Sub Notes

On my first tabbed section, the cover page of that tab is “Sub Notes.” I ask them to leave any positive notes, but also any concerns that they have, with the best of their ability naming the students or pointing out where they sit. 

This is not used as frequently as you might think, but some substitute teachers take the opportunity to really praise the good things that are happening in the class, and that’s always a great note to come back to. 

Sub Binder Tab Two: Rosters

The next tab is rosters. I don’t leave seating charts, because if you’re gonna leave a seating chart, then you have to have those pictures of the kids from the previous year, and they don’t look like that anymore. It just becomes a mess, but I do keep laminated rosters.

Even though my office actually gives our subs a full set of daily rosters, and that’s how they turn in attendance, if there was an emergency, they would need to have a secondary roster. 

I laminate them so that they’re a little bit sturdier and easier to handle in case of an emergency. Also, I will leave a wet erase marker if they want to mark absences on there for my reference. Sometimes they’ll just leave a post-it note on it. Either way, it’s much appreciated. 

On the front of that rosters page, I will also leave a little note saying that the trustworthy and helpful students are either highlighted or have a star next to them. Just to give a little bit of a helpful hint as to who you can really send out of the room to go run an errand. 

Sub Binder Tab Three: Emergency Plans

The next tab is my emergency plan tab. The cover page for the emergency plan tab says EMERGENCY PLANS in big letters. And then there’s four sentences under it. Those are the only four sentences I say about emergency plans at all. And the reason for this is, no sub is going to read through your emergency plans unless they’re in an emergency. So it needs to be short and to the point. 

If you leave the full plethora of pages that you get at the beginning of the year with everybody’s directions, and what they need to be doing, that is very overwhelming and just too much for most people in the moment. 

So I have a sentence about in case of fire, grab the red backpack near the door, and follow the other students and teachers out of the building. From there, somebody will help.

Then I have in case of a tornado, grab the backpack next to the door and follow the other teachers in the building to the tornado shelter. That’s it. 

In case of an intruder alert, lock the door, close the blinds, and the students will help you with the rest. 

That’s really all that my students need to know. You might have earthquakes, maybe you have, I don’t know, blizzard warnings and hurricane things for all the people in other parts of the country, but those sentences cover any sub situation that they will run into. 

And then behind that, I will have maps that need to be included. but I do not put any more words. Unless you have a special duty during any of those emergencies, we need to just leave it at that. Because again, if it was an actual emergency, they do not have the time. 

Back Cover of Sub Binder

And then on the very back cover of the binder, the back sleeve, I do have just a white sheet of paper with my name typed in really bold letters, so that if they do need to leave the building and have a rendezvous for any reason, then a sub can use that and be recognized by students. 

Especially if they’re trying to find me and I’m not there, at least having my name on a binder will help point them in the right direction. 

Sub Binder Tabs 4-10: Lesson Plans

Behind that is where the magic happens. This is where the lesson plans start. I have one tab for each of my sub lesson plans. I have not added a new sub lesson plan in three years. I have 10 of them, and they just stay that way. 

At each lesson plan page, I have essentially a template assignment. One those assignments that you can use for any topic, at any point in your unit. No matter what you are discussing. 

These are my favorite types of assignments, because in five years, having taught 14 different courses, I needed things that could float with me…depending on the science that I was teaching nex., and these have worked. 

And because they work for any topic, I have also turned them into my sub plans. So while I do have an editable sub binder kit, I also have science sub plans, and just secondary teacher, any subject, any topic sub plans. 

So if you need a head start, and you just want to have this done by tomorrow, I will have a link below for you where all you have to do is fill out a couple quick pieces of information, print the rest off, and your sub binder is done for potentially like the next five years. 

Lesson Title

On my lesson plans, the first page of the first lesson plan has a title at the top that says, “lesson plan number one,” and then the actual title of the plan. I guess right beneath that would be: students check Canvas.

So the first one I always do is students check in Canvas. Number two is quiz/test day. Then I have things like my science current events sheet, a scientist research page, a wonder wall research project (which will get me two to three days if I need to have an extended absence). 

Then I also have an ABCs of review worksheets. I have so many wonderful things. I can’t even list them all here, but I will include a link below if you want to check any of them out. Just to even see what I’m talking about when it comes to layout.

Each lesson plan is assigned an individual number, they have its own tab and then the title.

Teacher Prep

Under that I put “Teacher Prep.” What are the things that the sub is going to need to have ready for this lesson plan to be pulled off? Most of the time it is having copies of a worksheet or just having written a website on the board for students to use. 

Student’s Needs

Then I have a “Student’s Needs” section. What do students need to complete the lesson? Typically, it’s a Chromebook, or maybe it’s just the paper that they have and a pencil.


Then directions. So these are the directions that I would tell my students if I was there, and so a sub can read these directions out. These are what you would typically put into a lesson plan that you were typing up the day before, but this time you’ve typed it up once and you’re done. 

These template plans are also things that I use in my classroom on a regular basis because they are so reusable. My students have usually seen them before I assigned them as a sub plan, so they don’t have many questions or they can help each other out. 


Then the very last thing I put on my lesson plan page is the expectations. Sometimes this might be like for a test day, phones need to stay away even after the test is turned in, but students may nap. Or if there’s an assignment, it might say something along the lines of “students should have this in their own writing.” Also it is due within one school day, so it would be due the next school day or due two school days later. That way, they have all of their questions answered as a student.

With my 10 – 15, honestly, I could probably shift in about five extra lessons that I have, with all those lesson plans and those tabs in the binder, you have a master copy of what they need to copy in there. 

And then when you need to have a day, all you have to do is go back to that very front page, the very front one that has the classroom expectations and the schedule, and I stick a post-it note on there. It just says, for Physics – lesson plan, tab two. And the sub can flip there. For Environmental Science lesson plan, tab seven.

Or sometimes if I can’t be there to put the paper in myself, I will text somebody in the department to say, “Hey, can you just tell the sub to do lesson plan number one for today?” And it’s done. That’s it. That’s all I ever have to do. I never have to touch this again. And it’s just been such a lifesaver, especially in this last month. 

There are so many ways that we can stress ourselves out and talk ourselves out of taking days. I always see people saying that it just takes so much work to need time off, and I don’t want that to be you. 

So I’m really hoping that at least walking you through how I set up this binder in this subsystem can help you relieve some stress from your own sub days that are needed. 

If you want a head start on getting your sub binder all set up, I will link my freebie Sub Binder Set and then also the lesson plans that I have curated to work for science teachers or any other topic because we could all use a break. Until next time. 


Essential Sub Binder Kit

Science Sub Plans

ANY Course Sub Plans (not just science)

5 Steps to Simplify Your To Do List

Focus Blocks

Productivity Planner

Unit Planning Kit

How to Find Me




And visit my Etsy shop HERE


Keywords: binder, plans, lesson plan, sub, tabs, rosters, emergency, lesson, schedule, directions, expectations