Professional Practice

How to Plan for a Long-Term Sub

Considering my maternity leave is in full swing, I would like to reflect back on the process I used to plan for my long-term sub. If you know me, I tried my best to keep things as organized as possible, while also keeping them manageable for myself. There was a lot to get ready, but it was well worth it in my mind. Now, I am spending my days doing a lot of snuggling and thinking less and less about school.

Even if you are never planning on being gone for an extended period, I am hoping some of these strategies can still help you when planning for a substitute in general or even in an emergency situation when you need to leave at the drop of a hat.

I like to think of my planning in two phases – The planning I did for “just in case” I went in early before my due date and the planning I did for my long-term sub’s duration after my due date. I will be gone for 14 weeks, which is a lot to plan for. I feel so lucky to be able to spend this time with my sweet little one.

Phase 1: Before Due Date

As I mentioned above, Phase 1 involved plans just in case I went into labor early. It gave me a lot of unrest to think about leaving my room one day and not returning for months. I wanted to be prepared!

I made a little packet of brief plans for each week leading up to my due date labeled with the week, grade levels, and brief descriptions of the activities. I wasn’t super detailed (someone would have to be able to figure it out), but it was enough that the lessons could go on in my absence. This was put into a Sub Folder which also held my general schedule and art room guidelines.

In the General Art Room Guidelines section, I included things like: 

  • Seating charts
  • Duties
  • Behavior plans
  • Custodial information
  • Cleanup procedures
  • Positive reinforcements
  • Awards and art displays throughout the year
  • Supplies and where to find them
  • Emergency procedures
  • Committee work
  • PLC and art department information

Your list may look different depending on your school and job description!

I also pre-printed letters that I send home for monthly awards. I printed them out for each month to be extra prepared. I do this for myself anyway, and it’s one little step that my sub won’t have to think about.

Phase 2: After Due Date

The Art Room Guidelines also is part of Phase 2; however, now we are talking about the time from my due date to the end of my leave. Here, the plans must be more detailed and include more information.

Some people tell the sub to “do whatever you want,” especially since they happen to have an art degree. However, we have a curriculum to follow, and I happen to know that my projects fit the curricular obligations well and in the correct time frame. As the teacher, I preferred that my plans were kept. I didn’t mind a few modifications, but, personally, I found it just easier to stick with my projects.

So, I created a Rubbermaid tub with folders for each month. Each folder is labeled with the month to teach the lesson in, the grade level, and the project name.

Inside of each folder is a brief lesson plan, any handouts, resources, tools, or books that go with the lesson and perhaps a few photos of the lesson or even examples.

It was my initial goal was to have every lesson typed up, but my energy and time ran out. So, for some lessons, I was able to get it typed out, but for others I modified and did a quick lesson plan version. You gotta do what you can, right?

I also printed my PowerPoint slides out in color just in case they were difficult to find on my computer. I use technology so much I wanted to continue that trend but also wanted to make it simple and easy for the sub to figure out.

I put a tub out on the counter and stocked it full of any strange or abnormal supplies she might need for the duration of the leave that were beyond basics like makers or crayons. This will also help, so she doesn’t have to dig through the cupboards to find the 18-inch rulers or printmaking foam.

Another thing I made sure to do was to explain my grading system; I even did a tutorial for my substitute on the computer to help her learn how to enter grades. I entered as many grades as I could before I left, so she would not have that burden and could just finish up the grades that needed to be done. What a daunting task!

Overall, I felt very prepared to leave and have since shut off my school email, so I am no longer looking at that (hard for me!) – but it’s a good thing because reading school email is NOT how I should be spending my time. 🙂

What other tips and tricks do any of you have for preparing for a substitute or a long-term/emergency leave? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is AOEU’s Founder and a former AOEU Writer and elementary art educator. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.

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