Teachers: How to Miss Work Without Stressing Out

You know the scenario...

It’s 11 p.m. on Sunday night and your three-year old 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, spring break is still six weeks away, your students have all lost their minds, and your grade-level clique has gotten on your last nerve. Time to take a mental health day….

Oh, but wait… prepping for a sub is more stressful than just going to school tomorrow, right?

I’m pretty sure that teaching is the only profession in which taking a day off is actually more work than just going to work. A sad state of affairs, if you ask me. But there is a solution and it takes just two simple steps.

  1. Put together a sub binder.

  2. Create a set of emergency plans.

Step one is easy. All you need is a 3-ring binder, some paper, and about an hour of time to put it together. So what goes inside of the binder? Whatever a sub might need to know to run your classroom… not for the year, not the rest of the month, just to get through a day or two. Here are the things I suggest that you include:

  • your class list with students’ first and last names

  • the name, location at school, and phone extension of important people (administration, nurse, cafeteria, attendance office, guidance counselor)

  • a list of your classroom rules and explanation of behavior system

  • your daily schedule

  • arrival, dismissal, and emergency procedures

  • seating chart

  • special information including health concerns (child with nut allergy, seizures, etc.) and specific behavior concerns

  • transportation list (how students get home) if you teach younger grades

Ok, so maybe that sounds like a lot, 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. And if all of this just seems like too much work, you’re in luck because you can actually buy cute, pre-made sub binders. All you have to do is print it and fill in the info.

Whew! Your sub binder is ready. You're halfway there. Next up is a set of emergency plans. These are different than the plans you might leave if you know you'll be absent. When you have an upcoming doctor's appointment or professional development to attend, it's best to put together plans that reflect what the students would be doing if you were there. No sense in disrupting their learning when you have the time to plan ahead.

But what we're talking about here is an unplanned absence - when baby wakes up sick in the middle of the night or your car won't start in the morning or whatever else might happen. Sometimes you go to bed intending to teach the next morning but life gets in the way. This is when your emergency sub plans will save the day and your sanity.

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. Ideally, they should support the important standards for your grade level without being something new to the students (i.e. require someone to teach it). For me, the easiest thing is to get a plastic filing crate and fill it with a bunch of things that a sub can use.

Here are some of the things I like to put in mine (for primary grades):

  • Sight word 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 story retell foldable that can be used with any book (setting, main character, problem, solution, favorite part)

  • Math coloring puzzles (color by number addition/subtraction facts, etc.)

  • Glyphs (ABCTeach has a bunch of free ones)

  • Whole group math game (like Race to 100)

  • Stickers (to pass out for good behavior, correct answers, etc)

The key to having a good set of emergency plans is to fill your crate, tub, file, or whatever with more activities than will be needed and to make enough copies for the whole class. Your sub will be able to pick and choose what they need to get through the day. Again, this takes a little bit of time initially to put together but once it's done, you won't have to worry about it again. And when your next unplanned absence pops up... no stress!