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Securing A Sub: A Guide to Keeping the Classroom in Order When You're Not There

Updated on January 16, 2013

It's every teacher's nightmare...You come back after a sick-day only to find that 1) The students didn't complete any of the work you assigned, 2) The classroom looks like a train-wreck, and 3) The substitute report claims your students behaved like barbarians.

If you're like me, you often feel it's easier to just come to work sick rather than have to deal with the repercussions of your absence. However, your health and well-being is vital part of a positive and effective learning environment. Here are some helpful tips to keep the classroom running smoothly while you're away...


The HOLY Binder

Creating a substitute binder of important information can prove to be a life-saver for your sub. Your binder should include the following sections:

Emergency Info: Copies of your school's emergency procedures (i.e., fire drill protocol), a copy of your campus evacuation route, and your current contact information (phone #, email, etc.) Your first-aid kit should be readily available and easily accessible.

General Info: Copies of the school's calendar, bell schedules, discipline plan, and school wide expectations/initiatives. You may also want to add information about your classroom neighbors (teacher's names & room numbers) so that the sub knows who to ask if help is needed.

Classroom Info: Copies of your class roster(s) and seating charts. Be sure to include any allergy/medical information that the substitute should be aware of. Do NOT include confidential student information (such as phone numbers, IEP info, etc.)

Lesson Plans: Copies of the lesson plans for your class(es) as well as instructions on how to open/close the classroom (i.e., which lights/fans to turn off and on). Instructions should be step-by-step and the goal/expected outcome of the lesson should be identified.

Forms: Copies of attendance, referral, and substitute report forms. Although substitutes often get these things from the office before beginning the school day, it's always good to have extras on hand.

Having a substitute binder will help your sub feel both prepared and organized. A happy substitute teacher sets the stage for a wonderful class dynamic, and you'll want your sub to feel comfortable coming back the next time you're out.


Naughty Notes

In order to help the substitute combat bad behavior, I created a note that the sub can hand out to students who are misbehaving. Often times, students lash out at subs to impress their peers. When a subtitute reacts to bad behavior with frustration and anger, the student is more likely to continue being a pain. The "naughty note" strategy allows subs to address the student's undesired behavior without making it a public affair. My "naughty note" reads:

Dear Student,

You have been given this note because you are being disrespectful and/or disruptive. Remember that your behavior is a reflection of me and that I have high expectations for all of my students. So...stop whatever naughty thing it is that you are doing right now and get working on the assignment given! Please don't force me to write a referral upon my return- I HATE DOING THAT!!! Be good for me, okay? Thank you darling!

Love and hugs,

(signed) Mrs. B

I keep several copies of this note in the "Forms" section of the substitute binder, along with instructions on what to do if it doesn't work (see Assignment X). According to the feedback from my subs, this note works wonders. I've been told that bad behavior is eliminated as soon as the note is read. My students really care about what I think of them. Because they respect me and my classroom rules, they know a "naughty note" means they have disappointed me (which is ALWAYS worse that just making me mad!) Your "naughty note" should be age-appropriate (I teach middle school) and should always contain your signature (for emphasis). Print on colored paper (bright red or orange) for an added touch.


Assignment X

"Assignment X" is a strategy that uses repetitive writing to combat bad behavior. It works because the students DREAD doing it. I learned this strategy from a veteran teacher during a grade level meeting a few years ago. We were all sitting around discussing ways to address bad behavior, when "assignment X" was brought to the table. I have to admit that I was a little disturbed by it at first. As a Language Arts teacher, I wasn't sure that punishment through writing was a good idea. I was afraid that using "assignment X" would cause my kids to hate writing, but trying it once completely changed my mind. Truth is, most kids hate writing anyway (which is why it's such an effective form of discipline). Believe it or not, "assignment X" has true academic value. By writing the same elaborate paragraph over and over, students are practicing their ability to write concisely. Finally, in order to complete the assignment, they must write neatly and use correct spelling and punctuation (or risk having another paragraph added on!)

I can honestly say that "Assignment X" doesn't get used very often. Once it was assigned to a few troublemakers, its reputation spread like wildfire. Now, years later, all it takes is the word "assignment X" to get a student working productively. Of course, there will always be new kids who want to test the waters. Thankfully, their experiences keep the "assignment X" legend alive.

I keep "assignment X" in a manila folder at the back of my substitute binder, along with instructions on how to administer it. My instructions state that it is a strategy meant to redirect a student's behavior and should only be used in cases of off-task activity. Your sub should know that serious offenses, as specified in the general info section, should always be reported to administration immediately.

Here is what my "assignment X" looks like:

Assignment X (copy 5x on a sheet of binder paper, sign & date)

As a student at (name of your school), I am expected to be safe, responsible, and respectful. I understand that my teachers, my family members, and my friends have high expectations for both my behavior and my academic abilities. I will strive hard to meet these standards and fulfill the goals set before me. I know that education is an important privilege which will only be worth as much as I am willing to invest in it. Thus, I promise to give my best effort in every task assigned. Only through hard work and determination will I be able to secure a bright future for myself, my loved ones, and my community.


Easy Does It

Lesson plans created for substitute days should be simple and easy to follow. They should have an opening (which specifies what students are expected to do) and a closing (which allows students time to put away materials, turn in work, and/or tidy the classroom.) Also, make sure to provide folders specifically for student work. This will ensure that there are no missing papers upon your return,

When choosing assignments and activities for your substitute lesson plan, pick tasks that your students will enjoy. This will increase student engagement and completed work. I also highly recommend adding a few "extra" substitute lesson plans to your bag of tricks. Since you'd need to plan ahead, just pick standards/concepts that students generally need extra practice with. These lessons will come in handy when you have a last-minute emergency and can't make it to work.

Finally, make sure you have many extension activities on-hand. The best way to keep students on-track is to keep them busy. However, remember that kids are kids. Don't write lessons which force students to do more work than you would expect if you were there. Find entertaining tasks that will make your students happy.

Content specific crossword puzzles are great for reviewing vocabulary. Making them is easy, just follow the link:

Fun, challenging, and socially-interactive games like Scrabble (Language Arts), Monopoly (Math), Risk (Social Studies), and Totally Gross (Science) can also provide a fun learning experience for after all work has been completed. Card games, chess, and dominoes are also great things to have around as an incentive to complete work.


Pump the Praise

It's normal for kids to act differently when a substitute has taken over the class. Remember that your students follow the rules because of the bonds of trust and respect they have built with you. It's important that your students know the expectations still apply when you're not around. Having clear expectations for good behavior will help initiate it, and praising students upon your return will help reinforce it.


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    • TattooKitty profile image

      TattooKitty 6 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks Big D!! You're totally right...a little bit of praise goes a LONG way ;)

    • profile image

      Big D 6 years ago

      Nice work. Just the threat of assignment X does work! On the positive, always a good idea to praise the class upon your return if report is good and work is done, a good chance to again reinforce expectations!!!!

    • Painted Seahorse profile image

      Brittany Rowland 6 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      I love the ideas of the Naughty Note and Assignment X! I was a high school substitute teacher for a couple years, and I had both cooperative, hard-working classes and then those classes that made me want to tear my hair out. You give some solid tips and advice!

    • TattooKitty profile image

      TattooKitty 6 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for checking out my hubpage, Randi! I think kids respond to the "naughty note" because it's so personal. If you word it just right, the students will be able to hear your voice reading it in their heads!! Spooky~LOL!

    • profile image

      Randi 6 years ago

      Great ideas for both the sub and students to have a successful day in the classroom. I too like the idea of the naughty note...quick way to get em back in shape! Thank you for sharing!!

    • TattooKitty profile image

      TattooKitty 6 years ago from Hawaii

      Glad you found my hub useful ;) Sub days are tough!!

    • profile image

      Denise 6 years ago

      Love it! Kept a sub folder but didn't have all the items you mentioned so I'm gonna add to it. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Jane 6 years ago

      Good blog and helpful tips! I'm gonna create an Assignment X!

    • TattooKitty profile image

      TattooKitty 6 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for the comments you guys ;) Glad you found some strategies you can use. This website is a great resource and publishing articles is super-easy (and totally free). So- don't hesitate to share your wealth of knowledge with the world----write, write, write!!!

    • profile image

      A. Packer 6 years ago

      Love the idea of the "naughty note"! I've done something similar where I write a note on the board from me, but I like the idea of the student receiving a personal note they can hang on to. I agree that disappointing a teacher is definitely worse than making them mad! Great tips!

    • profile image

      Reido in K-103 6 years ago

      Good job Krissy. I think I'll used "Assignment X". Sounds like a keeper. Even if I have only 4 years left, it's good to know new tricks for the "old dog".