When I first started subbing almost five years ago, I wanted to be prepared for any situation. Much like buying insurance for every possible scenario, I found pretty quickly that I was over prepared. My back and shoulder told me that I was carrying too many things.
So I did some prioritizing and rethinking. What are the most likely situations that I should prepare for, and what are the most compact and economical ways accomplish that? What it came down to were basically four main categories of items: personal, downtime, classroom management, and business items.
Must Haves for Substitute Teachers
For me, I want to be comfortable when I teach, or I know I won’t do the best job. So I always make sure I have comfort items such as snacks, water, and medicines. I also make sure I have a notebook for my own notes and pens. These items would definitely vary depending on the personal things you need on a daily basis.
I know that busy students make better choices, so I always come prepared with a handful of grade-appropriate time fillers. I try to make as many of those as possible, activities that need no supplies, such as versions of Hangman played with spelling words or writing prompts I make up. I also always have a picture book (I like to keep the book seasonal if possible) I can read aloud and do some activities with if need be. Other great items to have are some graphic organizers (I have a book I purchased from Laura Candler at Teaching Resources that is phenomenal). I prefer not to have class set copies, because I don’t have access to a copier, and it becomes bulky to carry that many. But I always have a couple of examples I can post in a classroom and have students re-create. Now, if you sub mostly for littler ones, you probably would want copies.
I come with my own traveling classroom management system, even though I don’t always use it. I use sticky notes and a decorative hole punch. I punch students’ notes when they are making good choices, and then reward them at the end of the day. I bring my own Treasure Bag (I just use a plastic baggie), containing mostly decorative pencils to give as rewards. And because I believe firmly in positive reinforcement, I also like to have some Caught Being Good or some other sort of recognition for excellent students to show their teacher and parents that they had a great day.
Of course, I always have to have my sub badge. I keep that on a lanyard in my bag so I never lose it. The only form I bring regularly is some sort of a Daily Summary Form so you can leave a synopsis of the day for the classroom teacher. And finally, I always have business cards and my calendar on hand to market myself and book additional subbing days.
I keep all the paper items organized in an accordion file since it is easy to pull things out and put them back quickly. All these items fit pretty easily in a medium-sized bag that I try to always leave packed for those last-minute calls. Being prepared, but in moderation, is basically my motto.
About the Author
Rachel Friedrich is the creator of Sub Hub. The blog offers advice, tips, and resources for substitute teachers and classroom teachers preparing for a sub. She is a certified teacher, and has spent the last five years substitute teaching.