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5 Steps to a Worry-Free Sick Day!

Head POUNDING. Stomach TURNING. Body ACHING. It's a teacher's worst nightmare. You can't function, but the pressure is on. "Did I update the student roster? Did I post my daily schedule somewhere? What if Johnny's asthma flares up? How is the sub going to find what she needs around my room? Forget it... it's just easier if I go in..."

Does that ring a bell? I bet it does!

I think most of us focus so much on having things ready for the beginning of the year that we inevitably run out of steam when it's time to get our substitute plans ready. Then, for the rest of the year, we are worried-sick when we should be worry-free!

But you don't have to go through it this year! Before you hang another thing on your wall, invest time UP-FRONT  in putting together a comprehensive, well-organized, professional looking Substitute Binder!

Here are the 5 Steps I suggest you take:

Step 1 - Keep it all in one place

Get all of your information and put it together in a place that is easy to find. Subs aren't familiar with our rooms, and they might not be there until the last minute. The sooner they find what they need to do their jobs, the better.

I put everything I want my sub to have in a heavy duty view, 3" binder, with sheet protectors. Binders today come in all sorts of colors and have all sorts of features. I love the "easy open" kinds, and the rings that have a straight side to accommodate a larger number of sheets.

Step 2 - Identify it

Make sure you insert a cover and a spine in your binder so that it's easy to identify.  Keep your Sub Binder in sight, in a place that is accessible. 

  • A great tip is to show at least 2 other teachers in your team exactly where you put it. That way, they can point it out to the sub and save her time!

Step 3 - Add detailed information and lesson plans

Here's the information I add to my Sub Binder:

  • The Daily Schedule;
  • The Specials Schedule;
  • Dismissal Procedures;
  • Student Dismissal Information;
  • Medical Alerts;
  • Clinic Passes;
  • Class Lists;
  • Attendance Forms;
  • Sub Plans with step-by-step directions for the whole day.

Then I add Reading Lesson Plans that don't need to be changed. EVER.
My plans can be used with any book that the Sub reads to the class. They require students to:

  • Illustrate and write about their favorite part of a story;
  • Illustrate and identify the beginning, middle, and end of a story;
  •  Illustrate and identify the main characters, the setting, the problem and solution of a story;
  • Compare and contrast the setting where they live with the setting of a story;
  • Compare themselves to a character in the story.
There are directions in my Generic Plans instructing the Sub to choose a book and a Reading Lesson to do with the class. I could be out for several days, and still not run out of resources!

I add Writing Lesson Plans that don't need to be changed. EVER. I start the year with plans that are developmentally appropriate, and just keep adding harder work as the year goes by.

Writing Lessons include:

  • Small Moment - A Very Happy Memory
  • Small Moment - The Scariest Time Ever!
  • Small Moment - I Was So Mad!
  • Opinion Writing - Car or Bike?
  • Opinion Writing - Dog or Cat?
  • Opinion Writing - Generic (Sub chooses the topic) 

I also add worksheets for Math, Social Studies and Science, and Language Arts. Those I keep replenishing with all the copies that are made but never used... When I purchase resources from TpT, there are usually extra sheets that I can put in my binder as well! 

Step 4 - Organize it

Include tab dividers to separate your classroom information, the lesson plans, and the different subject handouts.

Have a table of contents so your sub doesn't need to flip through your whole binder to find what she needs.

Step 5 - Keep it updated

This is SO important! We often lose and gain students, a medical condition arises, or someone goes home on a different bus. Remember to update this information for your sub! SAVE the files that you typed in the beginning of the year somewhere in your school laptop so you can quickly change them when needed.

Make assembling a Substitute Binder a priority in the beginning of the year, and I promise you will never worry about taking a sick day again!

Here are the resources that were used in this post:

Substitute Binder
Chalkboard Substitue Binder - With and Without Lesson Plans

Substitute Binder
Polka Dots Substitute Binder - With and Without Lesson Plans

Substitute Binder
Big Dots Substitute Binder - With and Without Lesson Plans

Until next time,


  1. That is good advice. However the subs in our building often arrive no more than 5 minutes before the children. They do not have time to look through a binder. I leave a set of plans for that day with the information they will need. It's usually 2-3 pages. I am lucky if they have time to read that.

    1. I like to leave a short set of plans for my sub when I can. So if I know ahead of time that I'll be out, I always have a specific plan for that day, plus my Sub Binder so the sub can get a class list and have access to other reference materials (who goes in what bus, who is allergic to what, the specials schedule, etc.). But what about the days that are total emergencies, when you can't plan your absence? That's when I believe all teachers need to have a Plan B, be it a Sub Binder or any kind of Emergency Sub Plans available. If you plan for those days ahead of time, you can be present where you need to be, and not stress about what's going on in school.

  2. Great ideas! When I first started teaching if I was sick I would drag myself out of bed and go to school hours before school started to straighten up, leave plans, etc. Eventually I wised up and started leaving a sub folder with generic plans, schedules, etc... and a basket for the actual worksheets or materials that went along with it. The nice thing about the basket was that as the year went on I could change the "stuff" out to go along better with where we were in our curriculum. And every evening I would leave the folder an basket right in the middle of my desk so it was easy to find. So much better than getting out of bed when you are sick! Thanks for the tips! I love your binders! They are so cute! And the table of contents is a great idea!
    Kirsten Kirk

    1. Hi Kirsten, I used to go through the same thing! SO many times I went to school sick in the morning just to get things ready! I'm glad you found a system that works for you so you don't have to do that ever again!

  3. Replies
    1. Hey Irene, I'm glad you found these ideas valuable :)
      I can't tell you how many subs have left me notes thanking me for having such an organized system! Not to mention how easy it is to take time off when I need to.
      I hope you can use some of these ideas in your classroom! Thanks for chiming in with a comment!

  4. These are awesome ideas - I think everyone should have some sort of "emergency" sub plans on hand, and your organizational system would make it so easy for both the teacher (who should be at home getting better), and the sub!

    1. I agree, Diane. Whether it is this system or a different one, the point is that with a little prep in advance, we can avoid the chaos of trying to get ready for a day off when an emergency arises. Thank you for chiming in with your comment!

  5. I think at the beginning of the year you could make different "fun plans" (ie volcanoes, whatever) and then a sub could use it and then put it in a "used part" of the binder. And then sometimes the teachers could use those plans to spice up their normal plans as well. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for sharing your idea. I love learning from other educators!