Sub Prep Made Simple

I need to let you all in on a little secret.  

I used to never be ready for a sub. Like ever

In fact, it took me TEN YEARS of teaching before I could say I was ready for a sub at a moment’s notice. Yep. I spent an entire decade entirely stressed out about the idea of potentially getting sick.  Like drag-yourself-into-school-in-your-pajamas-with-a-104-degree-temperature-and-hope-no-one-judges kind of never ready.

So when I am telling you that finally making a Substitute Teacher Information binder changed my life… well, it’s pretty accurate.  I hope you find these tips helpful!  I recently shared them on my collaborative blog, Classroom Tested Resources, and I wanted to share them with my readers here as well.

I repeat: An ugly sub binder is better than no sub binder. 

My first sub binder was pretty ugly. Incredibly practical, but not something you would blog about. Ha! So don't let the "cute" version of my sub binder now stress you out or make you think it has to be cute. It really doesn't. Content is so much more important than the aesthetics. 

In case you were wondering what the official Sub Binder Hierarchy is, here you go. 

Some might argue that a cute sub binder with practical information is better than an ugly one with the same useful information, but I personally think they are equally fine. In other words, don't let perfectionism stop you from getting your sub binder organized (like I did for years!) because you are worried it won't look right.

Now that we have that matter settled... 

Pretend you don't know anything at all about your classroom, your kids, or your school, then include everything that would help a sub's day go more smoothly. I have never had a sub say, "You know, you were just a little TOO prepared for me."

In the very front pocket of the binder, I like to include a Dear Teacher substitute summary sheet. This works as a great method of communication between the sub and myself. I think this is really important because it send the message that I want to know how the day went!

I also include all the important contact information right at the front of the binder. I want the subs to feel confident that they can reach whomever they may need during the school day.  You can tab off the sections in your binder, but you don't have to do so. I prefer this little sticky tabs that I can write directly on, then attach to the page protectors. They work really great!

The binder gives me an opportunity to establish my classroom rules and procedures for the sub. It's important to me that they know how things are typically done in order to keep the routine going as smoothly as possible.

It's also really important to make sure that the subs know what to do in the case of an emergency. Don't leave them to wonder - make it really clear in your binder! They will appreciate it should something ever happen.

I make my seating chart with small sticky notes. I cut them in half up the center, then write each student's name on one sticky. This makes it super easy to move seats around as needed. No need to erase or re-do. Just re-stick them where you need.

Another thing that is helpful to your sub is an overview of where they will find specific things in your classroom. I'm talking textbooks, passes, supplies, etc. It is especially helpful if you add in a photo of the location so they can find it more easily!

I include the necessary passes, discipline referrals, and a ziplock baggie with bandaids and rubber gloves in the back pocket of the binder. It definitely beats them having to rummage through desk drawers!

Wait, what? Why would you use your own substitute binder if you aren't actually a sub?

Well, here is why I used mine. I don't like making things twice. All that amazing stuff you put in your sub binder like class rosters and emergency medical information and LESSON PLANS... well, those are all things you need to access as well. So why not just USE your sub binder? You can still have a separate binder with confidential student information. I actually use several binders in my classroom to stay completely organized, but there is no need to repeat the same information in more than one place (in my humble opinion).

I like to actually print a copy of my lesson plans and put it directly in the sub binder. This is the same copy that I write notes on to myself. I check off the lessons we complete, draw arrows to move things around, whatever. And while, in a perfect world, I will have separate sub plans ready when I know I am going to be out, this works in an emergency situation. The sub can actually see exactly where I am at in my plans and knows what to work on with my students. I also like to have a section for emergency plans and fun "filler" activities just in case.

Now... are you ready to get started on your totally fabulous-even-if-it's-held-together-by-duct-tape sub binder? Perfect! You can download a FREE checklist here (or just click on the photo below). This will give you lots of ideas about what to include in your sub binder so that you don't have to worry anymore.

You also might like to check out my completely EDITABLE LIFETIME BINDERS here. They all include the substitute binder pages and so much more! They are also updated each year and a great value! (Just think--can you walk into Target and get your binder automatically updated year after year?)

They each include both editable and just print versions, depending on which you prefer!

Hope you have a great year!


  1. Hi Beth, I found you on my #littlefishteacherblogger link up. I love the sub binder and so need to make one. I am going to check out the checklist and product. Thanks for linking . I am also your newest follower.

    Hanging Around In Primary

  2. Your seating chart is the cutest, most fab idea I've ever seen! It's great! Your sub binder looks great!

    Teaching Autism


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