Monday, July 27, 2015

Subbing 101: 10 Essentials to Keep in Your Substitute Teacher Bag

subbing 101

One of the things I’ve learned a lot about through trial and error is what things I need to bring with me on the job. Ideally, everything you’ll need to teach will be there in the classroom, and you won’t need to take out any of your supplies. That said, making sure you have these 10 things on hand will be a huge time saver.
10 Essentials to keep in your sub bag. I always have my prize box, tons of stickers, post its, and whiteboard markers, just in case!

  1. Writing tools - both for you and for the students. I always keep a pen and a pack of pencils in my bag. I always want to have a pen on hand for when I write my sub notes. I also keep pencils because sometimes the teachers don’t have extras for their students, or they have them hidden somewhere. It’s easier for me to just reach into my bag and give out one of my own pencils rather than wasting 5 minutes of instructional time to do so. It’s also really smart to have whiteboard markers in your bag - same thing as the pencils. The teacher probably has them, but it’s not worth losing the students’ attention to search them out if they aren’t in an obvious place. Keep a few Expos in your bag, just in case.
  2. Paper for writing sub notes. Usually this is something you can find around the classroom, but it’s so much easier to just have this on hand. I always have either a binder with lined paper or a notebook for this purpose.
  3. My Planner always comes in handy. When you’re good at what you do, other teachers will notice. Sometimes they know they’ll be out sometime soon, whether it’s for a family thing, professional development, whatever. It’s good to have your planner on hand in case the teacher next door asks “Are you free on the 21st? I need someone to cover my class!” Like Scar from The Lion King, I’m going to tell you - Be prepared!
  4. Post its. Okay, I admit, I think I have a post it problem. When I collect papers throughout the day, I put post it notes on them to let the teacher know what it is. Yeah, the teacher probably already knows what it is without the post it. The post it notes are just as much for my sake as for the teacher’s. It’s an easier way to organize what papers you collected and from whom - sometimes even at an elementary level, you’ll be subbing for different classes, and it’s easy to collect a stack of papers from Room 27 and get them mixed up with Room 31’s papers. Post its save my life all the time.
  5. A book for myself. I love to read, and while usually all my free time during a day of subbing is taken up by re-re-rereading the sub plans or organizing something, sometimes you’ll have time to kill at lunch. I always bring along a teacher book. I’m currently reading through Teach Like a Champion 2.0 for the 40th time. It’s just such a great book!
  6. Band-Aids. When a kid comes up to you crying because they have a cut on their hand/knee/finger/wherever, it’s so much easier to deal with when you know where the band-aids are and don’t have to frantically search every nook and cranny. Trust me on this.
  7. Sponge activities of some sort. Okay, so this doesn’t necessarily have to be something tangible, but I personally like to bring in flashcards in addition to having a handful of activity ideas in the back of my head. With flash cards, if we have an extra 5-10 minutes, I can pull out the flashcards and play Around the World. Super handy, I highly recommend it.
  8. Stickers may seem a little juvenile, but if you’re subbing in elementary school, then your students probably love stickers. Yes, even the older kids. I had a college professor who would put stickers on our finished papers before handing them back, and it always made my day. I firmly believe that you are never too old for stickers, and in my experience, my students agree. A lot of times, especially with younger students, I’ll cut down a piece of paper to be about 2 in x 4 in, and bring in a pad or two of stickers. Each student gets a slip of paper and keeps it on his/her desk. While they work, I’ll come around and stick on a sticker if I catch them on task.
  9. Raffle tickets and prize box. Yeah, I’m one of those teachers. I bribe students using a prize box. It works. I actually don’t usually use proper raffle tickets. Instead, I cut up colored card stock and pass out a slip when the students are on task. I’ll draw a few raffle tickets at a time throughout the day - before recess, before lunch, between activities, etc. My prize box has nothing extravagant - pencils, erasers, and bookmarks, primarily. I’m cheap. Like I said, it works.
  10. Business cards. Subbing, like any profession, is really about selling yourself. The thing about subbing, though, is that each day you’ll be at a different place, working for a different teacher. It’s like a new job interview every day, in some ways. Self marketing is so important for success as a sub. Bring those business cards, and share them gratuitously. I always leave a few with my sub notes at the end of the day. Some secretaries hold on to a stack of sub cards just in case also. And make sure to check out the teacher’s lounge - lots of schools have somewhere to write down your sub info/leave a business card.

I find that these are the things I can’t leave home without when I go for a subbing job. This list was created through trial and error - I have needed each of these things at one point, and I would regret it if I didn’t have them with me.

So what do you think? What do you always make sure to bring on the job? Let me know in the comments!


  1. What a great post! I also recommend putting in a whistle, or a "sqwhistle" for gym time and a water bottle because you do a lot of talking throughout the day!

    1. Yes! That's a great one. I keep mine on my key lanyard so that I don't forget it!

    2. Thank you so much for your ideas. I have my first sub job on Friday and I want to be prepared. I have taught for years but it is good to have a handy list when you are on the other side of things.

      Thank you!

  2. Protein bar, in case I don't have time to prepare my lunch and the school lunch doesn't look appetizing, or I don't have time for breakfast. Change for the vending machine, and water.

  3. I also keep a pair of latex gloves in my bag or coat. You never know when you may have to deal with blood. So be safe.

  4. Love this list. Right now I'm a background check away from being a Head Start Preschool sub. The main class that wants me I know pretty well from helping last year, so I somewhat know where things are. Sharpies are the biggest thing that can't be found there, so my plan is to put 1 on a lanyard and keep my ID on there too.

  5. Be sure to leave comments about how your day went- if you had any issues or how smoothly the day went. Those are helpful to the teacher. Leave you entire name as well.

  6. Sponge activities? Around the world? I'm just getting back into teaching after 15 years. Please explain

  7. How big is the bag you take for subbing? Have you ever had it stolen??

    All these seem like wonderful ideas that I plan on using in my new subbing endeavor!

  8. Adding to the list: Kleenex, Advil, Tums, Pepto, Imodium, tweezers, nail clippers, a watch, and make sure you turn your phone to silent when you come in. ;-)

  9. Fantastic post! As a new sub this year I'm still getting the hang of it and these are great ideas. Thank you!