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The Importance of Preparing for a Substitute Teacher

Having to be out of the classroom for meetings, vacations, or illness can be stressful! It’s at those times when preparing for a substitute teacher ahead of time can make a world of difference!

The Importance of Preparing for a Substitute Teacher MDC
The Importance of Preparing for a Substitute Teacher MDC

While there may be times when you know ahead of time that you won’t be in the classroom,  there are situations where you might need to call in sick unexpectedly. In these circumstances, do you have a fallback plan when the substitute teacher shows up in your classroom?

Whether you are out for a meeting, taking a day of vacation, or you need to call in sick, it is essential to provide detailed information for the substitute teacher. A substitute binder is a great option to consider.


Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute

When you’re a special education teacher, it’s important to remember that your classroom needs more attention than other classrooms when it comes to preparation for a substitute teacher. It’s best to plan ahead and make sure your substitute has all the information they need before you’re away. This way, you can be confident that your students will receive the same quality of instruction and support as when you are present.

It’s also important to remember that preparing for a substitute requires more than just instructions; it’s about providing them with as much background knowledge as possible so that they can understand each student’s needs better.

Make sure to provide the substitute teacher with documents, checklists, and, depending on how long you’ll be gone, an IEP snapshot related to each student in your classroom. This will help them to be as prepared as possible when students arrive.

Keep the Daily Schedule the Same (Even When You Are Away)

Sometimes, it is tempting to have the substitute use games or an educational TV show to fill the time in the classroom. While these activities might seem like a good option, it is better to maintain the same daily schedule.

Students are familiar with the routine each day, and it will be easier for the substitute to manage behavior if the schedule changes are minimized. This principle is especially true for students with special needs. Often, the students depend on the consistency to maintain expectations for the day. It can be very difficult if something is out of place, leading to behavioral issues and other disruptions that will hinder the lesson plans.

How to Assemble a Substitute Binder

This binder is designed to provide more information than a few lesson plans and worksheets. The right binder can give the sub an overview of the classroom, details about the schedule, and guidelines to manage the students’ behavior. Here are a few ideas of things that you might include in your binder:

  • Introduction letter
  • Lesson plans, along with worksheets or materials needed for the students
  • Classroom schedule, including start times, extracurricular activity locations, etc.
  • Rules and routines in the classroom
  • A list of the students
  • A seating chart for the classroom
  • “For Help” listing nearby teachers, paras, and administration who can offer assistance
  • Daily behavior tracking sheets for students
  • Applicable IEP information, such as the services schedules and 504s
  • Medical concerns, including allergy information
  • Details of recess and end-of-day dismissal
  • Emergency protocols for fire, lockdown, etc.
  • And more!

Provide a blank area where the substitute can share notes about the day and provide feedback on the students’ progress and behavior. Also, think about any other helpful information that will support the substitute teacher. You can never include too much information, especially if you are preparing for a long-term sub in the classroom.

If you are assembling a substitute binder, then the easiest solution is to use a pre-made substitute binder kit. There’s no reason to re-invent the wheel when there are tools that can be used to simplify the process!


Making sure your substitute teacher is prepared for the classroom should be a priority. Assembling a comprehensive and detailed binder is an important part of this preparation, as it will provide them with all the information they need to care for and teach your students successfully.

A pre-made substitute binder kit can make this process easier, but don’t forget to include any additional documents or guidelines that you think might help in providing quality instruction and support while you are away. With enough planning ahead of time, you can ensure that your students receive the same level of education even when you can’t be there!

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I'm a special education teacher, presenter, curriculum writer, and educational blogger behind Mrs. D's Corner.
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