Tips to Set Your Class Up for Success When There’s a Substitute

Hi everyone! My name is Bex, and I am so delighted to be here on Minds in Bloom today with some tips for you on how to set your class up for success with a substitute. Thank you, Rachel, for having me!

Every teacher has experienced the struggle of needing to miss a day or two of work and needing to leave your classroom in the hands of a substitute teacher. It's not the substitutes we don't trust--it's the students! Our guest blogger shares four tips to set your class up for success when there's a substitute teacher.
Teaching is a tough job! It is even tougher when you are sick or when you have to go out to a meeting and need to have a substitute teacher. Some of us find it so challenging to have a substitute that we will drag ourselves sick to school to avoid it. I have some tips that I have implemented over the past few years that have helped my students, and I am happy to share them with you today! I also have a little freebie for you after you check out the tips. Most of these ideas I have gotten from teachers I work with or over the past decade or so on teacher forums, Pinterest, Facebook and everywhere online. Thank you to all the amazing teachers who shared their wisdom!


1. Write Notes on Individual Student Desks

And I don’t mean with a sticky note, but that would work too. Write right ON the desk with an Expo or other dry erase marker. Leave individualized notes for students, encouraging them to do their best. This only works, of course, if you know you will be out in advance.


2. Proud of Me Sticky Notes

What do you need for this one? Just sticky notes and a poster, a large piece of easel paper, or a white board. Write in big letters on the surface you choose: “Ms. So-and-So will be proud of me because…” Leave in the lesson plans instructions for the substitute to give each child a sticky note. Sometime during the day, when your student has done something that she feels would make you proud, she writes it on the sticky notes and adds it to the poster. This can be done whether you know you will be out or not; you just need to leave information in your substitute plans as to where she can find the sticky notes. Two caveats for this: Prep your class in advance, maybe even right at the beginning of the year (or tomorrow, if you think you might use it between now and the last day of school). Explain how this works and brainstorm ideas of what would be appropriate to put on the sticky notes. Also, a crucial piece is follow up. Always follow up when you get back by reading some or all of the sticky notes aloud to the class and giving the class positive feedback.

 3. Substitute Rules Poster

Brainstorm with your class a list of 5-10 rules for when there is a substitute teacher. If you have had your class write their own class rules, or if you have predetermined rules or a school motto, reference this for ideas. Also, I always ask my class, “When I am not here, what should kids be doing so that you have a great day and everyone goes home feeling good?” Hang it in a prominent position in the room.

 4. Mystery Reward

There are two ways to do this. First, you can do a class mystery reward. Leave individual cards with the letters of the word “mystery.” Instruct the substitute to check on random students throughout the day. If they are meeting your goals (mine are being on task, putting in good effort, and being respectful), then they earn a letter in the word mystery. If, by the end of the day, all the letters of “mystery” have been earned, then the class gets a little reward when you return, such as extra recess, lunch outside, etc. If you can’t leave cut out letters for the sub, she can simply keep track on the board. The other option is for substitute to do a variation of this, which I think works well for when I am out for meetings or half days. Have her pick three random students to check on while you are out, and then if they are doing well, she can leave their names for you and they can earn something, like an extra Class Dojo point or a small prize.

I hope these tips help you out! If you would like to get a few bonus tips along with the tips I have mentioned, feel free to grab my PDF freebie, which you can find it exclusively at that link. Thank you so much!

Reading and Writing Redhead LogoBex Mawn is an elementary school teacher and reading specialist and has been working in public schools for 18 years. She has a blog, Reading and Writing Redhead, and a TPT store with the same name. Bex loves giant breed dogs, reading and traveling. She is a lifelong learner and enjoys trying new things and has been having a lot of fun trying out Periscope and Facebook Live this year!

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