It’s the middle of the night and your baby wakes up with an ear-ache. Do you call in sick so you can take him to the doctor in the morning or do you ask your spouse to do it instead because you aren’t prepared for a sub?
Or maybe it's mid-February, there are still five weeks left until spring break, and your students have all lost
their minds. You really need a mental health day.
The problem? Prepping for a sick day is more work than just going to school, right? Sadly, taking sick days when you're an educator is one of the most stressful parts of teaching. But there is a solution and it consists of just two simple steps.
Put together a sub binder or sub tub
Create a set of emergency plans
STEP 1 - CREATE YOUR EMERGENCY SUB BINDER
This part is easy. All you need is a 3-ring binder, some paper, and about an hour of time to pull it together. So what goes inside of the binder? Whatever a substitute teacher might need to know to run your classroom… not for the year, not the rest of the month, just to get through a school day or two.
Here are the things I suggest that you include. This is basic information that every sub needs:
class lists with your students’ first and last names
the name, location, and phone extension of important people (administration, nurse, cafeteria, attendance office, guidance counselor)
the name and room number of team members who know your procedures (another classroom teacher your building is ideal)
a map of the school
a list of your classroom rules and a clear explanation of your behavior system
your daily schedule
arrival, dismissal, and emergency procedures
class seating chart
special information such as health concerns (a child with nut allergy, seizures, etc.) and specific behavior concerns
transportation list (how your students get home)
It might seem like this will take a lot of time, but you only have to prep this once at the beginning of the school year. The only exception is updating your class list and seating chart occasionally if you get or lose a student. It's REALLY important for any guest teacher to have an accurate list of kids in their care. It's also a good idea to put multiple copies of your class lists in the binder. That way your sub has extras to carry around with them when going to lunch, recess, and special area.
If putting together a sub binder feels like a daunting task, you’re in luck because you can actually buy cute, pre-made sub binders. All you have to do is print the pages and fill in the info.
Good work! Your substitute binder is ready. You're halfway there to a no stress sick day.
STEP 2 - Make a set of emergency lesson plans
The next step is to create a set of emergency substitute plans. These are different than the set of detailed plans you leave if you know you're going to be absent. When you have an upcoming doctor's appointment or some professional development to attend, it's best to put together lesson plans that reflect what the students would be doing if you were there. There's no reason to disrupt their learning when you have the time to plan ahead.
But what we're talking about here is an unplanned absence - a family emergency or you're just sick. Sometimes you go to bed intending to teach the next morning but life gets in the way. This is when your set of emergency sub plans will save the day.
Emergency plans are not going to be educationally earth-shattering. They will be activities a sub can assign that will keep your students on-task, working quietly, and learning SOMETHING for a whole day. Ideally, they should support the important standards for your grade level without being something new to the students. A sub shouldn't have to teach a completely new standard or skill.
For me, the easiest method is to get a plastic filing crate and fill it with a bunch of things that a sub can use. I put each activity in its own separate hanging file folder and label the tab. This lets the easily sub flip through and find something for the students to work on.
Here are some ideas for things you can include:
Word searches or crossword puzzles
Writing prompts with lined paper. Here's a big list of fun ones; 300 Creative Writing Prompts for Kids
A read-aloud story or two - A picture book or short stories are best because the sub can read the whole thing vs. just a section of a chapter book
A graphic organizer that can be used with any book (setting, main character, problem, solution, favorite part)
Sight word coloring pages (or other skill for your grade level)
Task cards that review skills your students have already learned
Math coloring puzzles (multiplication color-by-number, for example)
Simple math games they can play in small groups (like Race to 100 or Addition Bingo)
Logic puzzles or other problem solving tasks
A simple content area research activity (like create a brochure about a state for social studies or a wild animal for science)
Your sub folder should contain either class sets of the activities or very clear instructions on how to make copies. If your school uses copier codes, be sure to leave yours right on top of everything where the sub won't miss it.
If the guest teacher will have easy access to your projector, dvd player, etc., you can always leave an educational video.
Don't forget to include ANSWER KEYS for all of the worksheets and activities! There's nothing worse than coming back to school the next day to discover that half of your students got everything wrong. And when you ask what happened, they say, "The sub didn't know the answers." Believe it or not, this happens even in the primary grades. Don't assume your sub will know the answers to anything.
In addition to activities for the students to do, consider including:
small prizes or rewards (to pass out for good behavior, hard work, etc)
a list of quick brain breaks the sub can do with the class
The key to having a good set of sub plans is to fill your crate, tub, file, or whatever with more activities than will be needed. Your sub will be able to pick and choose what they feel comfortable using to get through the day.
Make sure to keep it all in a very obvious spot in your room. Put a big sign on it that says SUB PLANS. You can even teach your students where the "Sub Supplies" are kept so they can show the visiting teacher. The last thing you want when you're out sick is school calling to ask where your plans are.
Set aside a little time at the beginning of the year to put all of this together and have it ready on the very first day. Once it's done, you won't have to worry about it again. And when your next unplanned absence pops up... no stress!
I hope this blog post has given you some great ideas and peace of mind about taking a last minute sick day. Teachers have enough stress. You don't need to worry about your class when you have an emergency situation at home.