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Plan for a Substitute Teacher

August 22, 2018 8 min read

Post #4 in Blog Series: “Self Contained Class Sample Schedules”

In this blog post, I’m going to talk about how you might consider adjusting your schedule when you have a substitute teacher in your self-contained special ed classroom. It is best if you think about this as you design your schedule at the beginning of the year (which is why I’m talking about it now). Will you keep the same schedule when you have a substitute? My answer is yes, as much as is reasonable since your students do better when things are as consistent as possible. I usually keep the same schedule such as students rotating stations and going to their inclusion classes, but I might change what they do during station time in my class.

You can easily turn your typical schedule into lesson plans for a substitute teacher. I open my schedule, then “save as” and name it something like “sub plans rough draft.” Then I add details explaining what happens during the day (i.e. yard duty before school, what do for attendance, behavior, stations, recess etc.).  I know that some substitutes might not want to read pages of information, but I have found that the day will go smoother if the sub knows some of the “little things” that students and paras might come to expect. My target audience for this article is special ed teachers, so you probably know how a student can have a meltdown when a very small thing happens that they didn’t expect! (Same for mothers of young children.) So please consider writing out some notes that can turn in to your substitute lesson plans. It will make it easier when you find out you have to be absent the next day… plus, no one wants to be writing lesson plans after cleaning up after a sick kiddo in the middle of the night! In fact, some principals require that teachers turn in a set of emergency lesson plans the first week of school.


In addition, please don’t talk yourself into not leaving any lesson plans because you are sure that your paras will jump and explain everything to the substitute teacher (especially if their hours do not coincide with when the substitute will be there). You are the teacher of record, so it is your responsibility to leave plans for the substitute. However, I do know that paras are valuable, excellent at what they do, and are often willing to help when there is a substitute teacher. (Blessings to them!!)  Also consider, that there will be times when your para(s) will be absent when you are (i.e. maybe you both catch strep throat at the same time). So along with the sub plans below, I always left my master schedule rotations (see post #3 in this series), which I’ve always posted several places around the room. I would also leave other handouts describing bathroom breaks, discipline (such as Class Dojo login information and point criteria as well as extra ways to earn points or money (when students earned pretend class dollars).  Put everything in a folder, binder or tub – make sure it is well marked, and put on your desk/kidney table, etc.


Before going further, I want you to read through these sample substitute lesson plans because it gives you a description along with the schedule (but focuses on what you do, not so much the other paras/adults). It also shows you how detailed you need to get so the substitute teacher knows what to do. So read my sample schedule (two pages) for a substitute below, then I will discuss it more. At the end I will post a different format I used in the past. If you click on the photos, they should show up larger on a new screen.

Substitute lesson plans in a special ed class. Page 1.
Substitute lesson plans in a special ed class. Page 2.


Notice that I have a lot more description of what happens than the actual activities to do in groups. That is because I want to make sure to cover all the things the sub needs to know. For example, information about yard duty can stay the same all year long. However, I just added the info about the butterfly cage (we had just watched the butterfly cycle, and the butterflies had not been released yet).


I learned while having a self-contained class that it is better to not go deep into academics when there is a sub, or even continue the lessons I usually do (at least I have found this is better at the elementary level). You can’t expect a substitute* to be able to handle teaching different lessons in every group and be able to oversee what other groups are doing. *Unless it is one of your teacher besties who just retired and used to teach your class (Wink, wink Valerie D!) We all know that kids who are normally as sweet as can be may not behave for a sub. Even you spend tons of time explaining everything, there will be SOMETHING that the sub does differently (not wrong to me but just different) and the class will get upset about it (especially if you have kids with autistic tendencies). So for these reasons and more, I tend to go very general when you have a sub. So I usually had review game activities at my station when there was a sub. Remember, the goal is to keep all kids on the usual schedule, and engaged in what they are doing so they aren’t bored or thinking about how to bother their neighbors. I was fortunate in that I did not need to be out of school very often. You can see that the column where it talks about the review game doesn’t have a lot of details. For example, if there wasn’t a sub, I would have written something different for each reading group.


In keeping with the schedule, I still wanted my students to go to their inclusion classes even if I was not there. I didn’t want that routine to get out of whack. And kids need to know that going to their inclusion classes is mandatory… they can’t decide to go one day and then not go the next. But as you can see this particular day was during statewide testing so that would’ve been one of the rare times when they might end up having to come back to class if the class was testing.

You can also see that the year had this schedule, was the year I had kids going to their general ed inclusion classes at many times during the day! I had that schedule posted around the room, plus the office had a copy as well! It is important for the office to know where your students are at all times. It is the worst if a parent comes to pick up their child and the office cannot find the class/student!! So try to prevent that from happening by letting the office know what the plan is! (I would also let the nurse’s office know and perhaps the classes next door to you).

Speaking a little about inclusion times, there was a year when neither of my paras was full-time. So I was by myself with my class for over an hour at the end of the day. This was difficult because I could not do groups during this time and it wasn’t possible to teach in a whole class format due to many grade levels. Plus, even if you have well-behaved kids, a special ed teacher shouldn’t be alone with kids in case a child acts out, has a tantrum, etc. So that year the principal and I decided that the student should all go to their inclusions classes in the afternoons after my paras left. Then I rotated through the classes, usually going to one different class each day. This worked well because I could collaborate with the general ed teacher on how best to include my student, and I was free to deal with any behavior issues that might come up. The principal also allowed my class to go to the computer lab (next to the library in the office) at the end of each day, so there would be other adults nearby if there was an extreme behavior event.


See below where there is another sample substitute schedule/lesson plan. It is from a different year, so you might notice schedule differences and get other ideas that might work for you. This schedule shows what I do first when creating a schedule: I just list all the times and things that happen. You can see it is very basic. But then you add details, such as everything that goes on at 1:30 during computer lab (when some kids are on computers while others are going to inclusion classes and then going home). 


Substitute lesson plans in a special ed class. Page 1.

Don’t stop after you have your day all listed out like the schedule above  (Sorry that it gets blurry when I save as an image). This is the bare bones schedule. Save it as such. Then open a copy and add details telling what students go where during reading groups, or what the substitute does at each station. You could even use this schedule to make a tailored plan for what your paras should be doing all day long. If you want editable versions of my schedules, please consider purchasing them from my TpT store.  Click here to check it out.

I hope this blog post gets you thinking about your day from a substitute’s perspective, which will help you design a good schedule for you as well!  As usual, if you have questions or comments, please leave them in the comment section or on my Instagram page: @lisagoodellequip

The next post will be on other schedules I’ve used over the years – with a different number of groups during the day, or with a longer amount of time spent in each group.

Ready to move on?  Here are other blog posts in this series:
Post #1: Interruptions in your Schedule
Post #2: Schedules for the first and second day of school.
Post #3: Master Rotation Schedule, and What Adults do
Post #4: Schedule/lesson plans for when you need a substitute teacher. (This post)
Post #5: Eight More Schedules.
Post #6: Questions and answers about my Schedules (including activities and curriculum I’ve used in my self-contained multi-grade class).

You might also like:
Five Time-Saving Tips for New Special Ed Teachers

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