How To Prepare To Be A Substitute Teacher My 6 Best Tips

Inside: 6 tips for how to prepare to be a substitute teacher.

Schools need subs. It’s a great way to support teachers right now by helping them take time off when needed. Often teachers feel guilty (though they shouldn’t!)  about taking a day off because they worry about who or IF someone will be able to take care of their classroom due to sub shortages. One of the greatest ways to support teachers is to be a prepared substitute teacher. 

No matter what building you’re reporting to, what content area you’re teaching in, or what grade level you’re teaching, you’ll want to be prepared for anything that comes your way. These 6 tips will help you know how to be a prepared substitute teacher.

substitute teacher forms- how to prepare to be a substitute teacher

Learn classroom management skills & strategies

My top tip for how to prepare to be a substitute teacher is to learn some basic classroom management skills. I have a whole post about substitute teacher classroom management but here are a few highlights: 

  • Don’t focus on being the “fun” or “cool” substitute. There are substitute teachers in my district with reputations such as “the guitar guy” or “the puppet lady.” These subs are lots of fun for the kids but often get very little of the teacher’s lesson plans done during the school day.
  • Instead, focus on establishing rapport with students and following the teacher’s instructions. Introduce yourself a little bit (but don’t spend lots of time doing it) and get to know students’ names. Then get to the lesson plans as left by the teacher. 
  • Learn how to get the attention of the class. The classes will be most responsive to the cues that their teachers use, so if you can, use those. If not, come up with your own, such as holding up your hand and counting down from 5, or a verbal cue such as, “class, class” and the class responds, “yes, yes.”
  • Proximity is your biggest tool. Be near the students by walking around the room, rather than just staying in one place. Appropriate proximity to students leads to better student engagement and progress monitoring. 

Use a planner

This is essential to being a prepared substitute teacher. Many substitutes work for multiple school districts or buildings. Keeping all the procedures for accepting jobs, start and dismissal times, and policies straight can be confusing.

Color-code a planner differentiating each district (or building) with a specific color. You’ll know when you accepted a two-day job for District A or a long-term gig for District B. Keep things organized, and you’ll never miss a job or be late!

Keep a planner to keep your substitute teacher jobs organized.

Come armed with activities

Although most teachers try to prep you with the best plans possible, sometimes emergencies arise, and the plans may be lacking or confusing. Bring some educational and engaging activities for the students that will have them paying attention and staying on task. 

It’s no extra work for you with my substitute teacher resource binder as well as the freebies in my shop are easily accessible! This makes it much easier to be a prepared substitute teacher. Make sure to bring enough material for a full day of the plan, just in case.

Come armed with educational activities to use while you substitute teach
Coloring Pages for Substitute Teachers

Bring a behavior incentive

Sometimes even the sweetest kids think they can misbehave for a substitute teacher. Give them a chance to show their great behavior by providing a behavior incentive like punch cards to use throughout the day. Tell them their teacher will be informed of all behaviors, especially the good ones!


I have a couple of fantastic behavior incentives for substitute teachers. First, is these free substitute punch cards. When you see positive behaviors from students you hole punch their card. Be sure to bring rewards for them in case they fill up their punch cards.

Use substitute punch cards as an incentive for good behavior!

Second, is the Word of the Day Reward System. The ultimate toolkit for substitute behavior management! No need to stress about behavior when you leave your class with a sub. The Word of the Day reward system for substitute teacher toolkit is great for teachers to leave for their substitute teachers It is a simple-to-follow activity that will keep your class engaged throughout the ENTIRE day. All you need to reward your class is included.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Teachers are inherently helpers. Ask other grade-level teachers if you need help with a difficult student, navigating a new building, or finding supplies. Be polite and honest, and teachers will remember your kindness and want you to sub in their building again and again!

Keep an end-of-the-day form

Teachers love when you leave detailed notes about the day. Note the good and the bad things, so the teacher can address them with their class when they return. Show in your notes that you followed the teacher’s plans (if they left them), and you’ll be at the top of their list to ask back the next time. Teachers want subs they can count on, and leaving feedback is one way they know you’re doing an excellent job!

Be sure to leave all the info with a substitute notes form!

Leave an info form for future jobs

If you follow the tips above for how to prepare to be a substitute teacher, the teachers you sub for will be able to tell and would LOVE to have you again! 

Leave an info form with your name, phone number, sub ID, or whatever info is needed so the teacher can request YOU the next time they need a sub. This is a win-win for both you and the teacher! 

The teacher will get a sub they can rely on, and you can get jobs in a classroom where you can actually get to know the students. These were my favorite days as a sub! Not to mention, this will help you become a requested substitute teacher. 

Leave your Sub ID Number and contact info with teachers after subbing!

The Substitute Teacher Resource Binder

Now that you can stop wondering how to prepare to be a substitute teacher and get started be sure to grab all of the printables (and more!) pictured above in my Substitute Teacher Resource Binder. This binder includes a substitute planner, a full day of sub plans each for Kindergarten through 6th grade, additional bonus activities, punch card behavior incentives, substitute forms, and more! It is heavily discounted versus buying each day of plans individually- plus includes tons of bonuses just for subs!

Check out what Melissa had to say about it! “This resource is perfect for me! As a substitute, I have been in classrooms where the teacher did not leave any plans. This is perfect with lots of resources so I don’t have to think of ways to keep the kids busy.”

What are you waiting for? Grab the Substitute Teacher Resource Binder Now! 

If you’d like to try out my sub plans before you buy, you can also grab free versions by clicking on the button below. These free sub lessons are perfect for subs to have on hand, just in case you end up in a classroom without lesson plans.

If you’d like to try before you buy, you can also grab freebies by clicking on the button below and signing up for my FREE resource library. Many of the freebies are sub lessons that are perfect for subs!

Your job as a substitute teacher is not easy. You’re coming in, often at a moment’s notice, to fill in for a classroom teacher. Now that you know how to prepare to be a substitute teacher you can not only navigate the halls and the walls of elementary school life, but you’ll also be a hit with the kids and their teacher!

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4 Responses

    1. Hi Jennifer! You can find the link to the Substitute Teacher Resource Binder in the post above. It covers through 6th grade 🙂 Unfortunately that’s as high as I have resources for, because that’s all I’ve had experience in (at this time). Hope that helps! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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