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Substitute Teacher Binder Ideas

As the new school year starts back up, I am thinking about time management. Every year, I do things to make sure I am managing my time efficiently. One of them involves writing sub plans for the year. Yes, the year. This isn’t a new idea, but for some people, it may be! So, if you want to avoid writing sub plans each time you are out, read on!

Tour of my sub binder with emergency sub plans

Within the first 2 weeks of school, I have my entire substitute binder all ready. I can’t really write all of my plans before the year begins, so I wait until I know my class, our ever-changing schedule and any little bits of info that you typically find out after school starts. If you’re looking for an editable sub binder template, you can find one by clicking below. 

 This one seems pretty obvious, but keeping your plans in an obvious place can be tricky. I like to keep mine right next to the phone. That way, if the sub has a hard time finding them, they should see them when they reach for the phone to call the office! I also label my sub binder spine and front pocket so that anyone can tell what it is.

Just like you may like to keep a transportable class list behind your ID badge (if you don’t do this already, you can start now–perfect for fire drills and field trips!), your sub may want an easily accessible class list. Slip a few small copies in the front cover of your binder and you’re good to go. Pardon the blurry photo of mine, it’s from 2 years ago and a blown-up iPhone photo.

I don’t know how much prep time is given to you, but it’s enough that I wouldn’t want my sub to be twiddling their thumbs wondering what to do. So, I keep a little list ready. Whenever I have a task I know can wait until later (typically, it’s filing or cutting), I write it on this here in dry-erase marker.

*Normally, attendance is taken online (using PowerSchool). However, sometimes a teacher doesn’t leave their computer behind (particularly when you are headed to professional development) or feel comfortable sharing computer login information (sometimes we have confidential things we can’t share), so I keep about 10 of these sheets stapled together for an old-school attendance. Mark an “A” for absent and send to the office with a student. Done!

Behind my attendance sheets, I keep copies of this writing activity. It can be done really at any time, so it is a great time-filler and the kids love it!  I keep my favorites in a binder in the classroom library for the kids to read and use for later inspiration. You can grab it FREE by signing up for my weekly newsletter below:

I also keep this fun book right inside the binder as it is the perfect time filler (kids love to talk!!!!).  It’s also good for morning meeting! If you’re not familiar with it already, I recommend you grab it (Amazon affiliate link below).

This is sort of a no-brainer. However, if you forget it, it may be a pretty hard day for your sub! I keep our main schedule, our specials schedule, and our once a week RTI specials (where the kids go when grade-level teachers are meeting) schedule. I also throw in the district calendar so the sub can reference that for any reason.

On the first day of school, I take an up-close photo of each student. I use this photo for tons of things (on clothespin line for hanging artwork, student of the week poster, etc.). I am a visual person. If I were a sub, I’d like to be able to reference this list of names throughout the day, particularly when leaving a note about the day. I make the photos big enough to put a page of boys and a page of girls (faces are blurred out for confidentiality).

Next up in the binder, I keep the actual sub plans. I have a welcome/thank you page that has a few pertinent things, including phone extensions of office, nurse and neighbor teachers.

Immediately after my welcome page, I include my classroom routines, reward system (I have a few), jobs (they stay the same all year) and basic expectations.

This one can be tricky. It may not work all year, but if you’re lucky, it might!

Which is why I don’t have my binder ready until 2 weeks after the school year starts. I am not sure what reading, writing and math activities my students yet. Here is the gist of what I include:

Reading: Although we use a program (Reading Wonders), I don’t ask my sub to teach from it if I’m not going to be gone for more than a couple of days. Instead, I include directions for buddy reading and independent reading journals. Some years I throw in spelling practice directions as well.

Writing: I use a writing workshop model, but when I’m gone for a short amount of time, I don’t ask my students to work on their writing (I guess I have control issues).  Instead, I use this time to pop in some social studies that we never seem to have time for.  For 2nd grade in Juneau, a bit of it is about community workers.

Math: I always teach a few basic math games at the beginning of the year. Our math block is typically an hour, which is enough time to really play a couple of math games and practice some math fluency. That’s it!

I keep fire, power outage and lockdown procedures in my binder as well. I wouldn’t want my sub to have to go find the special one the building provides that I keep on the exit door, so I keep everything and anything they’ll need right in the binder.

I made a basic blueprint of my classroom. I labeled furniture and important areas that I reference in the plans (“The math games are stored in the blue tub on the long shelf under the word wall”). Don’t assume every sub will know what everything is, even if you’re descriptive! You can make your own classroom blueprint/seating chart with this.

Most teachers know this age-old trick, but just in case you don’t, I’ll say it because it’s not really something you learn about in school (is anything really?!). If you write on paper with a highlighter, it doesn’t appear when you Xerox it. It’s genius, really. I write my last name, number of copies, and my copy code (we have to input a 4 digit copy code to keep track of how many copies we make) in highlighter. I’ve also use sticky notes with this info, but this works as well.

And lastly, if you have any handy management resources, include those as well. Catchy attention-grabbing phrases can be new to a sub, so I like to keep this sheet in the back just in case. You can find it here.

So, there you have it. That’s how I avoid coming in when I’m sick or home with my sick kids. Of course, there are times when things need to be adjusted #reallife , so I adjust my plans accordingly. But, once you get the “skeleton” of your binder in place, it’s pretty easy to be gone for a day or two when you need to. I highly recommend taking the time to sort out a sub binder or sub tub at the beginning of the year!

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  1. July 21, 2015 / 12:35 pm

    I'm so excited to put one of these together! Thanks for sharing!

  2. July 21, 2015 / 5:08 pm

    This is AMAZING!! As a sub, I am in love with this post! đŸ™‚

  3. July 22, 2015 / 12:18 pm

    Love your visual schedule! How did you make that??? Would love a copy!!

  4. August 23, 2017 / 2:31 pm

    Same here! I can't make anything visually attractive with Google Docs or Word!

  5. January 28, 2018 / 9:44 am

    What a great organized plan! very very nice. I am a special ed teacher with intensive resource so my world looks a little different, I keep a permanent schedule/plan in a binder for myself and each of my assistants. There are some students that I don’t ask subs to work with, such as those who are medically fragile, so I switch the staff’s schedules around so that only people who know that student will care for them that day. Anyway, I like your style, thank you for sharing. Paula

  6. Tamar
    June 13, 2018 / 11:33 pm

    As a sub, the most important thing to me is knowing the schedule, yes, thank you! But I would honestly prefer to do the next lesson, instead of playing math games for an hour. The kiddos tend to freak out when you don’t do what they’re ‘supposed’ to be doing!

    • Jen
      November 20, 2018 / 5:21 pm

      I guess it depends on the math games and how often the teacher does them with their class. It became a normal thing in my classroom and the kids loved them.

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