Planning for a Substitute?

(quick link to list of websites with substitute ideas)

  1. General idea:

Think of the simplest way to keep your students busy and not driving the sub nuts.

For me, the students usually decided how sub plans would be done, meaning...if I anticipated the students to be nutballs, I would leave a movie that would not bore them to tears.

If the students were mature enough to monitor themselves, I would tell them to bring something to work on in class. In these sections, the students usually had enough work for our class that they had plenty to do without me having to leave a special lesson for them.

Many teachers will wince at the idea of leaving a non-productive lesson with a substitute, so I recommend you try a few different plans to see what works well for your students. As a chemistry teacher I feared the substitute would either give the wrong answers or methods for solving problems or would just give out the answers without forcing the student to think first. Leaving work often just wasted the class period and then getting back on track when I came back was messy. In other cases, if I did leave work for the students, I left an answer key with the sub so if a student asked a question, s/he could look it up. Again, it really depended on the students I had that term as to what I could leave for them to do or not.

return to top

2. More on subsitute lesson plans:

Do whatever you can to prepare the substitute for the worst possible behavior from your students and then do whatever you can to make sure that behavior does not happen. I've been stunned when my students have turned into little devils, which happened rarely. But it can happen.

return to top

3. How do you prevent students from being little devils during the subsitute time?

Leave reasonable plans for them to do. Again, if you waste a day showing a movie, make it a good movie.

Let the students know you will be gone and why (if appropriate.) Students don't like to feel abandoned, even if it is temporary and only for 1 day. They like the security of knowing you are planning to come back.

Tell your students that you will follow through on notes left by the substitute and actually follow through with them.

If you get a bad report on the entire class, ask them what happened and get their point of view before you punish them. Sometimes they have done nothing wrong. I've had substitutes provoke my students and tell them they are stupid because they are in the non-college prep class. In that case, I apologized to my students for them having to deal with such a rude person and wrote up the incident so that the particular substitute never set foot in my classroom again. I don't care if my students were being goofy, nobody has the right to insult them.


4. More about logistics:

Have a seating chart available. Make sure it is up to date. Also make sure that the names can be read. If you have a program that lets you put the students' pictures on the seating chart, use it. Inform your students they are expected to sit in their assigned seats.

return to top

Have an obvious folder or binder for substitute plans.

If your desk looks like mine did, then have a neon colored folder that is obnoxiously labeled for the substitute. Inside the folder have a copy of your

I rarely left a lab with my substitutes, but I would leave the office supply buckets. My students were trained on how to put away the office supply buckets properly and I let the substitute know that s/he can hold my students accountable for cleaning up their areas.

return to top

5. Emergency or back-up plan:

Invest in a movie that is appropriate for your students. Always keep this in an obvious location in case you have an emergency. If a random person has to cover your class, and if a tv and vcr (or dvd player) are readily available, then always have a video available as a back-up plan.

It is also good to have a video that can be shown if the lesson plan you leave flops. Remember, your goal is to make the substitute's time in your classroom as painless as possible for him/her and for your students. If you lose a day to a video, at least make sure it is one that is relevant to science. It may not present science correctly, but that may provide for a discussion upon your return.

return to top

Some decent substitute videos are:

Lorenzo's Oil


October Sky


Osmosis Jones

Pretty much anything by Discovery Channel Education videos

Some NOVA videos- you'll want to make sure it is not too boring and is relevant. Kaboom, the one about how fireworks are made, is really good.



Outbreak (if you are allowed to show R rated videos)

return to top

Bad ideas for videos:

Anything rated higher than PG-13

Anything that is more for entertainment than education. It is one thing to have an emergency and leave something to entertain your students; it is another thing to completely waste the time with something that has no scholastic relevance.

Safety-challenging videos like ones on bioterrorism or other controversial issues that need adult guidance.

return to top

6. Afterthoughts:

Know your school's policy on substitutes.

Are substitutes allowed to take students to the library or the computer lab? Some schools do not want subs to take students anywhere on campus for many reasons. Probably the most obvious reason is that a person who does not know the names of his/her students does not have a whole lot of control over the students.

In addition, if there are rules that teachers are supposed to follow in a common area, if the substitute does not know about them, there can be some pretty bad consequences. If you have a sub take the kids to a computer lab and half the mouse balls disappear, that would be bad.

return to top

7. Websites with substitute lesson plan ideas or assistance:

return to top