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How to Plan for a Sub (& What to Include in Your Sub Station)

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Show Notes:

I remember one morning in particular, when I was going to be teaching art to 4th grade that afternoon. It was my first year of teaching, and I had two hours of teaching that I needed to do that afternoon.

However, I had come to school sick, thinking that I could just push through. Why? Because it’s just easier to get through the day and teach than it is to prepare for a sub, right?

But I was so sick that when my principal saw me, he took one look at me and told me to go home. I was such a mess – I was sneezing and coughing all over the place, which of course is not good for anyone, especially the kiddos I was teaching – but I figured that as always, I could just power through it. 

But when my principal saw me, his words were not merely a suggestion – he looked a little disgusted by me and was literally sending me home, probably because I looked like death warmed over. 😳

But here’s the thing - I wasn’t prepared for a sub.

So, I spent the next hour and a half (sicker than I care to ever admit), trying to figure out how to adapt what I had planned for that afternoon for a sub, and I literally left only minutes before she arrived. Have you been there? It’s awful. 

It’s seared into my memory because it was the LAST thing I wanted to do when I couldn’t even think clearly with a fever, and because of that, planning for a sub in that state took twice as long as it would have any other day.

It was in that moment, when I was hunched over my desk, trying to figure out sub plans with a 103 degree fever, that one of the more experienced teachers peeked into my classroom (but still keeping her distance, probably because she heard my sneezing) and asked what on earth I was doing here when I was so sick.

When I explained, she shook her head and told me to go home – and then she said the magic words that I will never forget and am eternally grateful for:

“Go home,” she said, “Don’t worry, I’ll handle it.” 

What? I couldn’t believe it – how could she possibly be able to plan my lessons for me when she didn’t even know what we were doing?

Well, it turns out that she had already prepared entire lessons and activities before school even started that year exactly for the moment when something like this happened to her. WHAT? My mind was blown.

That was the day I began to understand one of the key differences between those amazing teachers who seemed to always be filled with boundless energy and positivity, and those teachers who were barely just getting by and barely surviving.

These amazing teachers were actually taking very practical and smart steps to take care of themselves, to prepare for moments just like this one, so they could go home and get the rest they needed when they needed it.

And, because they were taking care of themselves by being so well prepared, they were able to rebound faster and with far less stress.

Not just this, but it turns out that it was many small and very practical things that these teachers were doing to take care of themselves at school, to prepare for emergencies like this well in advance, so that they could continue to be an amazingly positive, uplifting spirit for everyone around them.

That day was the beginning of my non-formal education about how to take care of myself so that I could continue to be that amazing teacher for my students.

I want to protect you from ever getting to the point of hating teaching because you feel like you have nothing left to give, and from ever experiencing having to plan when you too are that sick.

So today, we are going to talk about what you can do right now, well before you are in the midst of a crazy-busy school year, to ensure that you never have to experience a day like I did again: trying to plan for a sub when you’re so sick that you can’t even focus. 

Here's what you'll learn:

  • Exactly what to prepare for your substitute teacher binder (and station) in advance so you can get the rest you need when you're sick.
  • A simple reward system you can put in place for when you're away to help your sub have a positive experience in your classroom (and want to come back again)!
  • The one thing I have my sub do at the beginning of the day that sets everyone up for success. 

I hope this information is helpful and food for thought as you prepare for your first, second, or third year of teaching. Until next time, remember, just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there's no need for you to struggle like one.

πŸ’› Lori

Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor

Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at and at

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