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A substitute teacher playing with two elementary aged girls.
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Keep Your Substitute Teachers From Sinking With a Substitute Kit

Looking for a way to keep your substitute teachers from sinking? Create a survival kit to help substitute teachers succeed.

My phone rang early Sunday morning. I dreaded answering it. I knew who was calling: a teacher who for some reason couldn’t teach that morning and had turned to me as the last resort.

A sinking feeling set in as I agreed to substitute for the teacher, and I asked God to help me keep my head above water. As I got ready, though, I realized I had one small problem: I had no idea what to do in this classroom.

I thought of all my substitute teachers who had less training than I did, and I envisioned them drowning in a new class. I vowed to prepare a Substitute Kit for each class, a kind of life preserver for subs, so no other substitute teacher would sink in unknown waters.

Substitute Kit Ingredients

Your substitute kits should contain the following:

Class list

Note who might be a dependable helper. Avoid labeling any troublemakers. Labeling makes for self-fulfilling prophecies. Include any health concerns.

Classroom style

Do children sit on the floor or at tables? Is the classroom organized with learning centers? Will kids expect certain activities to happen at certain times? How much noise is okay in the classroom?

Classroom rules

What are the rules and the consequences for breaking the rules? If there are no rules, suggest rules the substitute can make to manage the class.

General procedures

How is attendance taken? What time is class dismissed? Do kids take handouts home, or is everything left in the classroom? Where do you keep extra supplies? Do children wait for their parents to pick them up or are they just dismissed?

Adult support

List people who are available to answer questions, such as a helpful teacher next door, yourself, or a coordinator.


Include an Age-Right Lesson with all the supplies collected and prepared beforehand. These lessons are easy to understand, age-appropriate and fun for kids.


Include an encouragement for substitutes to pray or a printed prayer similar to this: “Dear God, grant me the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon. Help me love the child who may throw spitballs behind my back. Help me comfort all children since the teacher is missing and give me the courage to lead the class in discovering your truth. With Christ I know all things can happen. Amen.”

Substitute Kit Maintenance

Use a manila folder or a box for each substitute teacher kit—depending on the size and amount of supplies. Make kits for each age group: ages 2 and 3, ages 4 and 5, first and second grade, third and fourth grade, and fifth and sixth grade. Place the substitute kits in a central place.

Make a list of the classrooms in each age group. Tape this list to the outside of each substitute kit. When that kit is used in a classroom, have the substitute teacher check off that classroom to avoid using the kit more than once. When a kit has been used in all classrooms at that age level, replace that kit with a new Age-Right Lesson and attach a new checklist.

At the beginning of the year, show the kits to substitute teachers so they’ll know what to expect when they’re asked to substitute. Train them in how to use the kits. And encourage substitutes to always trust in God, because he doesn’t want his subs to sink.

Sheila Halasz is a children’s program coordinator and preschool consultant in Illinois.

Want more volunteer management ideas? Then check out these articles!

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Keep Your Substitute Teachers From Si...

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