Planning for a Long-Term Sub: Before, During and After!

It could be a maternity leave, an extended family illness or even a sabbatical, at some point in your career you may need to be gone from your job for an extended time. Today I want to share with you (again) how I planned for my maternity leave, so I could think less about school and more about my little one. Wow, it’s hard to believe that I was preparing all of this just a year ago. How time flies!

My daughter Nora, almost 1 year old!

I would also like to include some updates here that I have in reflection and hindsight from my experience in general. Considering I did go into labor during one of my WORST classes (I made it to the end of the day) really it goes to show that anything is possible.  Even if you are never planning on being gone for an extended period of time, I am hoping some of the strategies can still help you when planning for a substitute in general or even in an emergency situation when you need to leave at the drop of a hat.

I like to think of my planning in two phases – The planning I did for “just in case” I went in early before my due date and the planning I did for my long term sub’s duration after my due date.

Phase 1: Before Due Date

As I mentioned above, Phase 1 involves plans just in case I were to go into labor early. It gave me a lot of unrest to think about leaving my room one day and the next not returning. You hear of people going a few weeks early, so I wanted to be prepared. I made a little packet of brief plans for each week leading up to my due date, labeled with th week, grade levels and brief descriptions of the activities. I wasn’t super detailed (someone would have to be able to figure it out) but it was enough that the lessons could go on in my absence. This was put into a Sub Folder with my general schedule as well as general art room guidelines.


This little packet only chronicles the actual lessons.  The “General Art Room Guidelines” is a document I have been working on and adding to over the course of the last few months as I think of something.  There are so many little things, like how to prepare for custodians on which days and bus duty details, I was worried I would forget something, so I kept this running document and added things as I thought of them. It’s amazing what we all do in a day! This type of document you could create and have on hand for a substitute at all times. It really saves details in your sub plans to have the lessons separate from the “other stuff”…. I would think it also makes it easier on the sub.

This document includes things you won’t want to forget, such as:

  • Seating Information
  • Duties
  • Behavior Plan
  • Custodial Information
  • Clean up procedures
  • Positive Reinforcement
  • Awards and art displays throughout the year
  • Supplies and where to find them
  • Emergency Drill information
  • Committee Work
  • PLC and Art Department Information
  • The list goes on and on- depending on your own school and job description!!
I also pre-printed letters that go home for monthly awards- I printed them out for each month to be extra prepared. I do this for myself anyway. One little step that she won’t have to think about.

Phase 2: After Due Date

The Art Room Guidelines also is part of Phase 2, however, now we are talking about the time from my due date to the end of my leave. These plans must be more detailed and include much more. Now, some people tell the sub to “do whatever you want,” especially since mine happens to have an art degree, however, we have a curriculum to follow and I happen to know that my projects fit the curricular obligations well and in the correct time frame. As the teacher, I prefer that my plans are kept (a few modifications are fine…I am flexible) however, I found it just easer to stick with my projects. So, I created a Rubbermaid tub with folders for each month. In each folder I have labeled the month to teach the lesson in, the grade level, and the project name.

Inside of each folder is a brief lesson plan, any handouts or tracers or books that may go with the lesson and perhaps a few photos of the lesson or even examples.

It was my initial goal was to have each and every lesson typed up in a nice one page PDF, but my energy and time ran out- so for some lessons I was able to get it typed out, but for others I modified and did a quick lesson plan version.  You gotta do what you can, right!

I also printed power point slides out in color just in case they were difficult to find on my computer. I use technology so much I wanted to continue that trend, but also wanted to make it simple and easy for her to figure out.

I put a tub out on the counter and stocked it full of any strange or abnormal supplies she might need over the duration of the leave that were beyond basics like makers or crayons. This will also help so she doesn’t have to dig through the cupboards to find the 18 inch rulers or printmaking foam. This proved to be VERY helpful.

Another thing I made sure to do was explain my grading system, I even did a tutorial for my substitute on the computer to help her learn how to enter grades. I entered as many grades as I could before I left, so she would not have that burden and could just finish up the grades that needed to be done. What a daunting task!

Overall, I felt very prepared to leave and have since shut off my school email so I am no longer looking at that (hard for me!) – but it’s a good thing because reading school email is NOT how I should be spending my time :)

If I did it again:

I would be even more clear and explicit with my instructions. I would have left even more supplies out and left more detail. For the most part, everything was completed to my specifications but for example,I didn’t set out the new glazes, and she didn’t know I even had new glazes stocked away, so old glaze was used and it made some of the projects flop. I also came up and helped get ready for clay twice, and it was worth my time to help demonstrate projects, show the proper amount of clay to use, etc. Otherwise, I stayed away!  When you come back please realize that things will not be the same. The kids were very naughty for me the first week back. It was like “welcome back let’s make your life as hard as possible”- It took them a few weeks to remember how I do things and also get used to my structures and routines. Change is hard for kids and adults alike, but things quickly feel back into place.

What other tips and tricks do any of you have for preparing for a substitute or for a long term/emergency leave?

I’d love to hear your ideas!  

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Katieannejarvis

    I took photos of things around my room and put that in the directions. That way she knew exactly what things looked like. It was also helpful for her to see how the kids should put supplies away etc. I also took pictures of how my document camera, smart board etc. should be plugged in.

    I had my long term sub shadow me for a few days so she could see how my classes flowed. She even steps in and subbed for me when I had dr’s appointments before the baby arrived.

    • All great ideas! I especially like the picture idea, this is a great suggestion to add to any sub plan. I also had mine shadow and it really helped with management techniques for specific groups.
      Thanks for sharing!

  • PERFECT!!  Very helpful information…. ’cause this year I’ll be on maternity leave in February!  Thank you so much for the great ideas.  You are awesome.
    I’ve also taken photo’s for kids- to see how I want the supply area to look, how I want brushes put back (handles down bristles up) and photos of how the water cups should look when put away.  A photo is worth a thousand words!
    :)  Thanks

  • Thanks so much for sharing! I’m a middle school art teacher that is preparing for maternity leave and have less than 6 weeks left to plan with and he’ll be here for 6 weeks (if baby comes at his due date!). I’m so nervous! I have my lessons typed up, materials listed, etc. and am working on general rules and explanations and everything but I feel like I’ll forget something. I know who the sub is and he has no art background although he did a great still life drawing today in my class while subbing for a para. I need to take photos and include as many pictures as possible. One more thing to do!!!

  • Laurel

    Thank you for the advice! It seems overwhelming trying to plan for so much especially when Art runs differently than other classes. This is giving me a starting point for sure!