The Top 10 Things Subs REALLY Want!

I spent a year as a substitute teacher.  I accepted any job K-12 and any subject, but I was often requested to teach in the art room.  This wasn’t, I should mention, at the beginning of my teaching career, it was after I had many years under my belt in 3 different districts.  To be honest, even though I had years of experience, I was scared to death to sub!  I was worried I wouldn’t have any chance of controlling the students, that they would be disrespectful and suck all the fun out of teaching.  In reality, it wasn’t that bad.  I would even venture to say it was an enjoyable experience… teaching without any paperwork!


Since I have been in a substitute’s shoes, I thought I would share the top 10 things that helped me as a sub:


  1. Type your lesson plans.  You may have beautiful handwriting, but I don’t have extra time to interpret it, so please, type out all your directions so I can read them quickly and easily.  Video lesson plans work too, but it is nice to have something to reference without having to watch the video again and again.  If you can get your plans to me early that is a bonus!  Many sub-finding systems allow for teachers to upload a document right there!
  2. Seating charts are a must.  I will have no chance of managing the classroom if I cannot quickly access student names.  And, if students sense that I don’t know who they are, they are tempted to misbehave.
  3. Pull out supplies for the day.  Unless your room is very organized and clearly labeled, please pull out what you want me to use.  Otherwise I might end up using your “good” paper by necessity.  Also, don’t trust your students to know where supplies are kept unless you have previously trained your students to get supplies out of the cabinets.
  4. Student helpers.  Put a star or highlight 1-2 students for each class that are trustworthy.  This way, if I need to send a note to the office or have a question about supplies, I know whom to ask.
  5. Teacher helpers.  Let me know who is working next door that I could go to if I have a problem.
  6. Include your duties.  I don’t want to get the “stink eye” in the cafeteria because I am unaware that I am supposed to be at lunch duty.  Let me know if there are any extra duties and a little description would be nice.
  7. Leave a back-up plan.  Just in case, leave a one-day, go-to, no fail lesson plan as a back up. Here is a quick one page foolproof lesson I’ve used in the past. Click on the image below to grab your copy of the PDF, or download it right here.
  1. Directions for technology.  If you want me to show a video clip or use a document camera, great!  Please leave it on and ready to go or make sure I have access to simple directions.  I am all for technology, but every set-up is different.
  2. Emergency Plans.  Have you heard of Murphy’s Law?  Well, it is proven true daily as a sub.  Please have clear emergency plans that are easy to access.  They could be posted on the wall by the door.
  3. Routines.  If you have a particular routine, it would be nice to know that ahead of time, especially for younger grades.  Sometimes they have a lot of anxiety if we are doing things outside the “norm.”

One last thought.  If you see a sub in the lunchroom or around the building, take a minute to introduce yourself and welcome him or her to your building.  I was amazed how many days I was basically ignored by staff members.  Subbing can be lonely and friendly teachers make a big difference in whether or not good subs will come back.

What else would you add to the list? 


Heather Crockett

Heather is AOE’s Project Manager and an expert in differentiation, curriculum development, and assessment. She is a veteran teacher in the art room and at the graduate level.


  • Ingrid Larson

    Oh! Link for no-fail sub plan is AWOL! :( I would love to see it. Great tips!

    • It’s now there with a downloadable PDF – Sorry for the glitch and enjoy! 

  • Wolfjan

    Thank you for these tips! I am a first year teacher and will have to use my first sub on Monday! I’ am writing up everything you advised here in this post. 

    •  Glad to help!  If you have a sub that works well in the art room, save his or her name!

  • Marni Oberpriller

    I am fortunate to have a friend and retired teacher from my building to use as an Art sub. I feel good that most of the information included in the list is how I prepare for her — or anyone else for that matter.  The down-side is not always getting the product correct when using a sub, even with visuals. But I’m always grateful to have someone there for me!
    I haven’t always included my classroom neighbors or student helpers. But do include my Specials team contacts and behavior plan/school phone numbers.
    I also type up my lessons plans; and as you said, Heather, easier to read and add notes. AND let’s not forget, easier to reUSE!
    Our Principal purchases actual Sub Folders titled “Substitute Teacher Folder” made by School Specialty Publishing •  and passes them out for us at the start of the year.  It has great fill-in sections throughout. I also include student health conditions folder.
    Here’s a link to an example:

    • Great resources! I didn’t know you could order something like this so complete.

    •  Wow!  Sounds like you put together A LOT of information for your sub… so helpful.  I bet your sub loves working in your room :)

  • Lisa

    I too am subbing after many years teaching (no need for an extra art teacher), anyway… I actually enjoy it on most days as well! it is fun to see all the different strategies that teachers use and makes for an interesting day.  Things I appreciate from a teacher:
    printed lessons, supplies out, logged onto Smartboard and if you have assigned helpers and routines (such as lav whenever or after recess?  attention signal, clap hands ?) used.
    Seating charts are great and a MUST for older grades who try and skip or join a friend etc.  Have no idea who kids are when they switch every period etc…
    I also think that it is very helpful  to leave a note about medical conditions.  Don’t need all the details, but allergies, asthma, someone had a bathroom issue once did not know, did not allow to go until after intro, oh  boy! that  did not go over well)…A note that says Johnny might need a little help or reminders is also a heads up for a LD/ADHD , again details not needed.
    It would be great if staff was friendly and said hi and introduced  so you don’t feel like an outsider. Perhaps include a map in case sub not a regular in building telling where specials are, teachers room, lav etc..
    I have begun to carry a small bag with me with some of my own supplies that helps in down times and students like the “new stuff”.  Mad Libbs, Word Search, Small soft ball to use as a learning tool/game, whistle for recess, band aids for the little dots, stickers etc….
    Sorry so long, hope this helps!

    •  I don’t know about you, but I felt that I learned a lot as a sub!  You have lots of great ideas, thanks for sharing. 

  • RoxyJaimie

    Any behavior issues / specifics relative to appropriate students. I’ve had some students who respond well to one thing but another student might be completely thrown off. If I need to reign in a student or students let me know what has (or has not) worked in the past. Also, if there are any specific allergies in the room, it is always good to know (ahead of time if possible).

  • artypants555

    Yeah I am a substitute teacher and one of my biggest pet peeves (besides teachers leaving ZERO directions or plans) is when teachers ignore me/act like I’m not sitting right there. Or when teachers right across from me don’t bother to speak or help. I guess some teachers feel substitutes are “beneath them” or something…idk. That being said, there are many awesome people that make me feel welcome. I go back to schools with people like that.

  • Chris

    Your list is great.

    My school has several sub folders that they give to subs when they check in at the school. They include a map of the school, emergency information, phone numbers, and things like how much lunch costs.

    I keep a binder in my classroom and in it have a roster, seating chart, and the whole unit lesson plan for each class.

    On the computer I keep a lesson plan template that has routines, how to report attendance, handle tardies, fire & tornado directions, etc.

    Then I type the day’s plan into the template. I include the name of the near-by teacher who can help. I include the names of a couple of students who will be helpful.

    I print a copy for the binder and send a copy as an email attachment to the office personnel who deal with subs.

    At the back of the binder I have about ten 1 period stand alone art lessons–just in case.

  • Melissa Woodland

    I’m not /haven’t been a sub, but have been complimented many times on my “set up” for subs. Standard info (schedule, duties, where to find everything) is typed up and placed under a clear desk mat. Same info is slipped inside the front clear plastic cover of my attendance binder and lesson plan binder. You’d have to be blind or not trying to miss it!

  • Pingback: Easily Transition Between Back-to-Back Classes Using Tote Trays | The Art of Ed()

  • Pingback: 5 Simple Sub Plans to Make Your Life Easier - The Art of Ed()