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Setting a substitute teacher up for success in the science classroom

As a classroom teacher, it’s important to ensure that substitute teachers are set up for success in your classroom. This will make life easier for you, the sub, and your students too!  In your absence, your students can continue to learn and thrive and when you return, you can continue smoothly to the next lesson or activity. 

Here are some tips for setting a substitute teacher up for success in your classroom:

1. provide clear and detailed lesson plans

Make sure to provide the substitute teacher with detailed lesson plans that outline what you would like them to teach and how you would like it to be taught. This will help them to stay on track and ensure that the learning objectives for the day are met.

Looking for samples of effective lesson plans? Check out this post for 10 quick and simple tips for writing an effective lesson plan.

Across the country there have been teacher shortages and this extends to substitute teachers too. If this is the case where you are, it may be a matter of having a teacher in the room but maybe not one who is very comfortable teaching science. If that’s the case then consider a lesson that shifts the substitute teacher’s responsibilities to something where students review or learn something new in a familiar format. 

I love using one of these current events assignments for those days. It’s a great back-up lesson to have on hand. Students are tasked with finding an article related to the class subject. The ready-to-go resource comes with clear instructions and expectations for the assignment, including what to include in their summary and how to format the full assignment. 

We all know how unforeseen circumstances can lead to unplanned absences, and the last-minute scramble for substitute plans can be daunting. However, by having a template for current event assignments on hand as an emergency sub plan, you can keep your students engaged and their learning on track.

For days when I may be absent with short notice, one option I like to have at the ready is science trivia. Since scientists are problem-solvers who work to find the best possible answers to questions about nature, this trivia activity gets students to use all resources available in class to find answers to the 60 questions covering a ton of science-specific topics. There is also an answer key to make life easier for the teacher and substitute teacher! 

Virtual field trips are another great sub plan option – read more about this lesson idea in this blog post.

How To Use Virtual Field Trips In Your Classroom

2. leave detailed instructions

In addition to lesson plans, provide clear instructions on how to manage your classroom, including expectations for student behavior, routines and procedures, and any special considerations or accommodations for individual students. 

It’s always great to know who is who in your classroom too so if there is an option in your attendance program to print names and faces that would be a real help for a substitute teacher. And provide some indicators of pronunciation of students’ names too since this can help establish a positive dynamic in the classroom for the sub and students.

3. Provide necessary materials

Ensure that all necessary materials and resources are readily available for the substitute teacher, such as textbooks, handouts, and teaching aids such as how to access specific technology, if needed.

4. Make introductions, if possible

If the situation permits, introduce the substitute teacher to your students and explain to them what is expected of them in your absence. This will help to establish a positive rapport and create a sense of continuity in the classroom. 

In other cases, emergencies arise. Before the school year starts, set up a folder with emergency sub plans like the current events assignment or virtual field trips that can be used anytime throughout the school year.

One additional option is this collaborative team-building Spaceship Activity.  The ready-to-go activity is a simulation where a giant meteor is about to strike Earth and students must choose a limited number of individuals (from a predetermined list) to travel to another planet to set up a new civilization. As part of the activity students need to justify why they did or did not choose each individual. It’s a fun activity that can be used at any time of year, including as an ice-breaker for back-to-school. Check it out here.

5. Leave contact information

If possible, provide the substitute teacher with your contact information in case they have any questions or concerns. This is a good option only if you’re still doing school-related duties while out of the classroom such as PD. 

If you’ve taken a personal day or sick day then make sure to also provide the contact information for any other staff members who may be able to assist them if needed. Knowing the extension or phone number for the main office is always good information to have too (add this to detailed instructions you leave).

6. Ask for feedback and provide feedback

I like to leave a note with my plans for the substitute teacher responsibilities that asks them for a bit of feedback. Here are the three main questions I ask:

  1. How did the class do overall? This helps me to know if I need to review policies and procedures again, especially since it’s likely another substitute teacher will be needed in the future! 
  2. Is follow-up needed about student behavior? Ask for both positive and negative input about individual and whole class behavior.
  3. What was or wasn’t covered from the plans left? Things happen as we all know. Maybe there was a fire drill or a last-minute assembly that meant the whole lesson or activity wasn’t covered that day. Knowing where you stand for your return can help your return and overall support of students too.

In addition to asking for feedback, I like to follow up with the substitute teacher after their time in your classroom to provide feedback on their performance and to thank them for their hard work. This will help to establish a positive relationship with substitute teachers and encourage them to return to your classroom in the future.

A final word on substitute teachers

In the dynamic world of education, where continuity is key, the role of substitute teachers takes on crucial importance. As teachers, we hold the responsibility not only for our own classrooms but also for the seamless transition of learning in our absence.

By using these ideas – like giving clear plans, instructions, and fun activities – we help substitute teachers step in confidently and create a positive learning environment. All these efforts, like introductions, materials, and feedback, keep our classrooms going well and show our dedication to our students’ success.


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