Create a Brilliant Substitute Binder With 13 Simple Steps

Believe it or not, many teachers do not have a substitute binder put together! (I would know since I’ve been a sub before!) And honestly, it’s completely understandable.

There is so much information to put all together, and a substitute binder can easily become just another cumbersome task that keeps getting put off. However, it doesn’t need to be that way!

A sub binder lays the foundation for your classroom in a quick and easy glance for your substitute.  

Substitute teachers visit multiple classrooms, buildings, and even districts each week, month, and year. Needless to say, it is a lot to keep track of! 

Putting together the binder early in the year when you are healthy and prepared can make even a last-minute emergency an easy transition for a sub. 

You can use your binder to give your sub all the info he or she needs to have a successful day, week, or even longer-term sub job. 

Coming up with everything to include in your substitute binder is part of the daunting task, and I’ve done that part for you! Simply follow these steps, type up your information, and put it together in a sub-binder. (I’ve even got a freebie to help you get started!) 

A sub binder is an important component to your emergency sub plans, but you’re already ahead of the game by reading this blog post (go you!)

Gather your materials

Before you get started,  you’ll need the following materials (affiliate links included for your convenience, see disclosure):

Now that you know the materials you’ll need, here’s the information you’ll want to include inside your sub binder!

Start with a cover to label your substitute binder

Including a cover on your substitute binder is important- not only because you can add some style to your binder- but it also clearly labels what it is so your sub will be able to easily locate it. Have your sub binder labeled and placed somewhere that will be easy for the sub to find (such as on your desk or in the top drawer). 

Luckily, my sub-binder freebie includes an adorable cover that you can use to label your own sub-binder!

Organize your sub binder with dividers & tabs

Dividers and tabs for sub binder

Using dividers and tabs can help you get your sub binder organized! This makes it easy for your sub to find whatever information they need quickly. I used a hot glue gun to paste each divider to the back of the divider’s sheet protector.
I like to divide my sub binder into the following sections:

  • School schedules
  • Class & school information
  • Classroom management
  • Classroom procedures
  • Other information
  • Emergency procedures
  • End of the day forms
  • Emergency sub plans

You can add as many as you want to meet your classroom needs!

Write a note to your sub

Note to sub

Include a note to your sub to thank them for being in your class. After all, they are making it so you can take a day off and also taking care of your kiddos for you. Your substitute teacher will appreciate the thought that you took to write them the note.


This is also a good place to explain what is included in your substitute binder (and your plans) as an overview.

Add in all your school schedules

Bell schedule
Schedules for substitute binder

Your sub will want to know the bell schedule and your normal schedule for the day. This will help the day run smoothly! 

Additionally, including a specials schedule can help your sub because then they will know if there are any extra activities (such as library, computers, P.E., or music) that they need to be aware of (this section is pictured above in the divider section).  And last, but certainly not least, if you have an alternate schedule (such as an early release day), include this as well.

Include school & staff Info

School & staff info

It’s important for your sub to know who some important people are at the school and how to contact them. This includes other grade level teachers, the principal, the nurse, and the custodian. You should include anyone who your sub may need to contact during the day. This could be your sub’s first time in your classroom- so it’s important that they know some crucial things about it in case they have any questions.

The school and staff info page is included as part of the substitute binder freebie as well! You’ll also get access to my free resource library with sub-plan mini lessons and more. Grab your freebie below if you haven’t yet.

Don’t forget detailed class information

Of course, you want to leave information about your class for your substitute!

I like to start by including a class list. Obviously, this is important so your sub knows the students in the class! This can help for roll call as well as helping the sub to (somewhat) learn the names of your students. (Especially if they may be returning).

Class list and student info

In addition to a class list, including a seating chart is so important. A seating chart helps the substitute know where your students sit making it even easier to identify your students and learn their names.

Most importantly, your sub should know the names of some “student helpers”- reliable students who they can count on to ask a question. In addition to leaving a list of student helpers, I  like to mark their names on the seating chart, too.

You’ll also want to include where the extra supplies, such as pencils, tape, scissors, crayons, etc., and a first aid kit are located.

Finally, be sure to include student health info and other student needs. These can be very important for students’ success and safety.

Student Health Info and Other Student Needs

Put in specific arrival & dismissal procedures

Arrival and Dismissal Procedures

As a teacher, you know that arrival and dismissal are two of the craziest parts of the school day! We tend to have set procedures to make these times go as smoothly as possible- but the substitute doesn’t know what the procedures for YOUR class are. Include them in your sub binder so the day can run as smoothly as possible!

Insert class rules & management procedures

Rules and behavior management
Attention prompts and transtitions
Attendance, Bathroom, Lunch, etc

Let your sub know what the basic rules are in your classroom- as well as school-wide policies. 

This goes hand in hand with including behavior management procedures when students are not following the rules. Do you want the sub to do something in particular for behavior management (such as sending students to another room)? Do you want them to leave you a note and you’ll deal with it when you’re back? Let them know! 

Also include classroom management procedures, such as attention prompts and how you transition, so the classroom can run as close to normal as possible while you’re away.

Don’t leave out emergency procedures!

Emergency procedures

If (heaven forbid) an emergency were to happen while you’re way, you would want your sub to know your procedures. Include routines for a fire drill (such as where to line up), potential natural disasters in your area (such as earthquakes, tornados, or hurricanes), and lockdown procedures.

Designate a place for differentiation & lesson plan adjustments (if needed)

Differentiation page
Adjustments and notes

Is there any differentiation your sub will need to do for any of your students? Are you using any pre-made lessons (such as my Ready To Go Sub Plans or any other lesson from TpT) that you would like to be adjusted in any way? Include any differentiation or lesson adjustments that may be necessary, as well as any other notes you have for the sub.

Encourage positive behavior with a behavior incentive

It is very common for student behavior to be worse for a substitute because routines are thrown off for the students. Leaving a behavior incentive that is special for substitute days can be a great incentive for good behavior. 

My favorite substitute behavior incentive is these free substitute punch cards. These substitute punch cards are perfect to use as a special behavior management tool for sub days. When students show good behavior the sub can punch their cards. Every student who fills their punch card can get a reward from you when you return.

The best part is that there is flexibility. You can decide how you want to reward the students for filling up a punch card!

Substitute punch cards

Another of my favorite behavior incentives is the Substitute Behavior Management “Word of the Day” Reward Toolkit. This reward toolkit helps keep the whole class engaged all day. 

You pick a word and print out the letters. Then your students earn letters for positive behaviors. If at the end of the day with the substitute teacher, they have spelled the word, the whole class gets a reward.

Gather feedback from your substitute teacher with a substitute notes form

You want to know how the day went while you were away, right? When you leave a notes form for your sub, they are more likely to tell you what you’d like to know about the day. This is a great addition to your substitute binder!

When I subbed, I always liked when teachers left a notes form for me to fill out because I knew what kind of feedback they wanted.

End of day form

And that’s it! While that may seem like a ton of information, it’s so important to have on hand because you never know when (or how long) a sub may need to be in your classroom. 

Grab the complete sub binder, with all of the pages pictured above, here! It has quickly become my most popular resource, despite being one of my newer resources (at the time of writing this post). Teachers love how easy it is to fill in, how stylish it is, AND the low price! It is also available on TPT. 

Now you can get started making your brilliant sub binder, today!

135 Responses

  1. Having been a substitute teacher for the past 9 years I really appreciate the article which you have written. In which time I have had my own classroom (there are some courses which do not require certification) or had long term assignments – meaning more than just 1 or 2 weeks. And yes, the sub notebook/ folder is a very necessary item for us and it doesn’t take long in order to make one. I know, in 2013 when my son graduated from high school on a Friday afternoon I needed a sub. I included everything that I could for the sub which she needed. Her reaction was she had never had a teacher be so thorough in leaving a sub folder. Most of our teachers (and I cover 7 schools) have the bare necessities if they have a folder at all.
    There are a couple of things which I would suggest for your packet: 1) Classroom seating charts. Its easier for the sub to recognize the person if they are in assigned seats – especially if referrals are needed. 2) Passes – using MS word and Google images I have managed to create my own passes for each of the 7 schools which I cover. Normally with the school mascot picture. Or the regulatory passes from the school or school district. 3) Referral and clinic passes. Unfortunately those have to come from the school itself.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Mary! I agree that it is totally necessary and it is surprising how many teachers don’t have them ready. I also agree that a seating chart is needed and I have actually already added it to the binder since I posted this! Thank you for reminding me to update the post. 🙂 And yes, adding passes provided by the school is a great idea as well! Thank you so much for stopping by. Love hearing from and connecting with other teachers!

  2. This is exactly what I need. I’ve been trying to find time to create my own sub folder and I haven’t gotten around to it. I love that this is easy and ready to go!

  3. With me possibly needing to take maternity leave in the next year or so, the thought of leaving my students with someone who will only be with them for a short, but very important time, is a bit nerve-wracking. I want my guest teacher to have all the information to help my students continue to grow and be successful while I am gone. These are amazing ideas for how to create a sub binder.

  4. I feel so much more confident leaving my class for a day or two with the binder that you have made. Thank you for being so creative!

  5. I love this idea and how easy it is to use and set up. Everything is all in one place and only needs to be pulled out when a sub is needed.

  6. This is exactly what I needed in order to ensure that the sub is prepared and my students are well taken care of while I am out.

  7. This is a great resource and can answer any question a sub could have or need to know about your class. I have used one in the past and this one seems to have everything that I would want for a sub in my class to know! I think a sub could refer to this as a Bible if teachers would take the time to do!! Thank you for creating one that has everything!

    1. Hi Dianne! Yes, the sub binders are SO helpful since the sub has everything they need there. I’m so glad you like it! 🙂

  8. Having a template to go by is so helpful now that I’m preparing for maternity leave in 8 weeks! Thank you for thinking of EVERYTHING!

    1. You’re welcome! Be sure to check out all the maternity leave posts as well. Lots of helpful info. Good luck with your leave and your new baby! 🙂

  9. This binder being spotted in a class room is a life saver for substitute teachers especially if the classroom settings are unfamiliar to them

  10. This is an amazing post! You have thought of everything! Thanks for the great reminders of what should be included:)

  11. I’m the sub in this case that never gets enough work left in the lesson plan. I’m making my own sub binder w your items so that I can pull grade appropriate items to keep my classes busy.

    1. That’s a great idea! I put together The Substitute Teacher Resource Binder so I’d always have something when I was a sub, too! Thanks for reading and for your comments, Sharon!

  12. Iḿ in ISS, I micromanage my guest teacher notes…..I don´t know if that is a good or bad thing. I have actually had guest teachers let the students listen to music, brought them food, candy, let them talk, etc. In my notes I ask that not be done. Am I going overboard in spelling everything out? In watching your video, I see I have left a few things out…. Thank you for sharing with us?

    1. Hi Tina! There’s nothing wrong with leaving your plans how you want them- however, there’s no guarantee they will be followed to the T so don’t spend too much time on the plans themselves. The print and go sub plans make the planning easy on you, though 🙂

  13. I am not a teacher yet, but soon will be. I have seen how the lead teacher sometimes struggles to stay organized when she is going to be absent. These substitute binders are wonderful! Very organized and pretty!

  14. These could really simplify the days I have to go to trainings, and, knock on wood, haven’t needed emergency ones yet, but there just might be a day…. Thank you! Can’t wait to try these!

  15. I use your samples to help organize information for the different schools I sub at. It has helped me so much to keep everything straight! When I finish my teaching degree, I plan in coming back to buy the full version for my own classroom.

  16. I do not have a sub binder put together, as I do not miss work often and when I do it’s either school related or planned. But this would be great to have in case I ever do have to call in sick!

  17. I always want to leave detailed plans and extra information for substitute teachers. Sometimes subs aren’t always respected, but they need to be! Subbing is hard work… the least I can do is have an organized plan for them. I also love the idea of leaving them a candy bar as an extra way of saying thank you. The sub binder is so organized, and would benefit any classroom.

    1. Thanks so much, Kris! I agree that subs aren’t always respected and leaving a binder for them can be organized plans and a sub binder! Thank you for your input. Enjoy!

  18. I use this and love it!!! It is so nice to leave out for my sub and not have to think about all the little details. Thank you!

  19. After a long commute for awhile, I have been subbing this year waiting for an opening in my field at my local district. I really understand now how important a good sub binder & tub is. I wishwish I had found this article to augment to my sub folder when I had my own classroom.

    1. It really is so important! I have been a sub as well, and I agree that you understand more once you’ve been on both sides!

  20. This is such an amazing resource. I cant believe how awesome it is. This must have taken forever to create. I am so grateful to you for making this!

  21. I love this article. As a first year teacher, there are so many things I am learning and wanting to do. I’ve began creating a list of projects to complete over the summer to be more organized for next year. Creating a sub plan binder is one of those things on my list. This article gave great ideas for what to include; many things that wouldn’t have crossed my mind. Thank you!

    1. No problem! As a first year teacher, you’re getting well ahead of the game by starting now! Thanks for reading. 🙂

  22. We have to make sub binders every year. I am always sure I miss something…how you have this laid out is perfect.

    1. Thanks so much, Sandra! I always find it helpful to see how someone else does it, so I’m happy to share 🙂

  23. This is so amazing and essential for a teacher! I love being prepared in case I’m sick and don’t have time to plan before an absence.

  24. It’s going to be so much easier using this binder! All year I’ve scrambled to get work together for a sub. It’s going to be nice to just grab this off the shelf and lay it on the desk! Thanks!

  25. I wish that every teacher I sub for had one of these! I know when I was teaching it was hard to get around to making my own and keeping it updated. I also like when teachers add a little “Here’s a student who will probably be helpful”

    1. I agree! I hope to make it easier for teachers to get them together. And having a “student helper” as a sub is VERY helpful. Thanks for reading, Brittany!

  26. This resource takes the guesswork out of planning. SO many times I find myself having to go into school to drop off plans for a sub. If I have this binder, it is all organized and ready to go. I wouldn’t have to scramble at the last minute to put something in place. I really need to do this. Thank you so much for putting something like this together. It is amazing.

  27. I have to say preparing for a sub is the worst part of teaching. This notebook will save so much time and frustration. Great item!

  28. I remember early on in my career having to go into work around 6:30am to put together plans for the sub if I was going to be absent that day. Not anymore! You are a lifesaver, and I hope you know how much you are appreciated! 🙂 Thank you!!

  29. I substitute taught for two years before I became a teacher. I have walked into classes with awesome sub plans and I’ve walked into classed with NO plans. I always vowed when I got my own classroom, I’d never leave a sub without thorough plans. This year is the end of my 25th year of teaching, and I have kept that promise. Each year I add to my sub plans and make sure they’re relevant. I am moving to a new grade level next year (from 2nd to 3rd) and I plan to use your plans to help alleviate some of the work. Thank you for being so organized and for offering your plans up to us.

  30. I just purchased your Sub binder on TPT and I am SO EXCITED to use it next year. I am not a teacher that is out often, but I LOVE how you have everything together. I am moving grades next year and I am excited to have this product to cut out a little of my prep work! All I have to do is fill it out with my information! Thank you!

  31. Oh my gosh! This is a life saver!! Thank you for making it so easily accessible and including a video/pictures for a visual learner like me!!

  32. This is a great resource and I love how detailed this blog post is! Thanks for the great ideas!

  33. I love this sub binder! Mine is similar and got a lot of compliments from people on my campus this year. Some of your ideas will help me improve it even more.

  34. I LOVE this. I bought some of your resources when I first started teaching and it has just about everything I could possibly ever want!

  35. I love these sub binder templates and the other great resources found on your site. The sub binder materials will help make the beginning of next school year easier if I have to make emergency sub plans. I will be sharing your site with my coworkers and teacher friends!

  36. I love how you break it down and provide valuable resources for us to create the perfect sub binder. My principal is going to love that I will be organized and on tip of it this year, thank you!

  37. How brilliant to have a sub binder! I love it and have added it to my summer list to put together. I can’t wait to get started!

  38. This product is amazing and so well organized. Everything a substitute needs is right at their finger tips!

  39. I have not taken a sub more times than I can count because it takes so much time and work to get ready! Now, I WILL because preparing will be a breeze!

  40. I love the idea of a subbinder. i had one for just emergency sub binder but I think it is best for the substitute even when planned and will incorporate that next school year!.

  41. I purchased this product and it does not disappoint! I found a lot of helpful ideas throughout the binder. I am getting a head start on tasks that will need to be completed. This is on time.

    Thanks & Kudos

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