How to Create and Organize Your Substitute Binder for 2023-2024

Many professions have downfalls. However, aside from those in the healthcare industry, there are very few that expose you to more germs than teaching. Teachers work in an incubator of every germ imaginable and regularly contract colds, stomach bugs and (cross your fingers it never happens, but surely it could) lice as a job hazard! The sad irony, though, is that it is REALLY hard to call in sick. That’s why every elementary teacher needs a substitute binder.

There have been nights when I went to bed only to wake up a wee bit after midnight with a horrific stomach virus. I spent the remaining predawn hours alternating between writing sub plans and lying on the bathroom floor. To be completely honest, I have even written sub plans ON the bathroom floor. I have driven to school in sweatpants with a bucket on my lap to set up for a sub. I have dragged myself to class on days I thought my head would explode from the pain of a migraine while shielding my eyes from the light like a character from Twilight because it was easier to be near death in a room full of 24 energetic children than it would’ve been to crack open an eye to write sub plans. It’s usually harder to be out than it is to go in sick.

But here’s the thing… You can’t always drag yourself into school. People slip on the ice when walking the dog in the morning, car accidents happen, appendixes rupture, and kidney stones can come out of nowhere. There are a million and one unexpected things that can occur, and, much like carrying an umbrella on a cloudy day wards off actual raindrops, being prepared for a sub at all times helps to keep you safe and healthy. Well, maybe not, but it doesn’t hurt. Read below to get practical strategies for organizing your sub plans using a substitute binder.

What is a Substitute Binder?

A substitute binder is a tool teachers use to store everything a substitute teacher needs to successfully and confidently take over the classroom for the day. Some teachers use a “sub tub” or “substitute folder” instead. It’s the same thing except for the organization tool that holds all of the materials.

Why is a Substitute Binder Important?

It is important to have a substitute binder because you can’t always drag yourself into school. I mentioned above specific instances of when teachers have no way of going into school to put together sub plans or writing plans from home. There are a million and one unexpected things that can occur. Being prepared for a sub at all times helps to alleviate stress, so you can focus on getting better. It also ensures your students are actively engaged in learning while you are out and making the most out of the school day.

15 Places to Store Sub Plans

To prepare for a substitute teacher, keep all of the materials a substitute teacher will need organized and in one place. This substitute teacher tip will make it easy for a guest teacher to fill in for you when you are out of the classroom. Having the lesson plans, copies, resources, information and materials a substitute teacher will need for the entire day in one location will save them time and help to make the day as productive and stress-free as possible.

Here are 15 places to store your sub plans:

  1. binder
  2. pocket folder
  3. drawer
  4. plastic box with lid
  5. tub
  6. kit
  7. station
  8. plastic bag
  9. container
  10. tool box / tool kit
  11. basket
  12. file cabinet
  13. hanging crate
  14. cardboard literature sorter
  15. dishpan
I feel less stressed about taking a sick day after reading these ideas. This awesome blog post made writing sub plans seem easy thanks to all their tips. I got so many ideas about storage and how to write them. Check out the blog post yourself before your next sick day! #sickday #subplans #substituteteacher

5 Tips for Putting Together Your Substitute Binder

Below are 5 tips for creating your substitute teacher binder.

1. Create Your Substitute Binder Before the Students’ First Day

Having your substitute binder prepped and ready for the first day of school ensures that you are starting the school year prepared for anything.

2. Select an Organization Tool that Works for You

There are different options for housing the supplies a substitute teacher will need. It really comes down to what will work best for your classroom space and teaching style. I have used tons of different options over the years. A substitute binder is my favorite option because it most easily allows for adding, removing and editing the contents. Here are some tips related to organizing and storing your sub plans using the following tools:

Substitute Binder

  • Choose a brightly colored binder so your sub can easily find it.
  • Select a large, sturdy binder that won’t easily break or fall apart.
  • Consider choosing a binder that has a sheet protector attached to the front so you can slide in a cover that makes it easy to identify that it’s your substitute binder.
  • Use sheet protectors to prevent pages from tearing.

Sub Tub

  • Use a hanging file box with hanging folders.
  • Label your hanging folders.
  • Color code the folders/resources to make it easier for your substitute to navigate the sub tub.
  • Create a separate binder of computer folder with the “master copies” of the resources.

Substitute Folder

  • Select a brightly colored folder so your sub can easily find it.
  • Choose a plastic folder that won’t rip or tear before the end of the school year.
  • Consider selecting a folder with prongs so you can maximize the organization potential of the folder. You could keep the student printables and activities in the pockets and the information for the sub in page protectors in the middle of the folder.

3. Stock Your Substitute Binder with Emergency Sub Plans

Having a set of emergency sub plans in your substitute binder will ensure that you are ready for anything. I recommend checking out the ones below:

1st grade sub plans resources2nd grade sub plans resources3rd grade sub plans resources
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4th grade sub plans resources5th grade sub plans resourcesemergency sub plans
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4. Make Your Substitute Binder User-Friendly

If your sub can’t navigate your sub binder, tub, or folder, they will not be able to follow the substitute lesson plans you put together.  Make them user-friendly using these strategies:

  • Group the resources into categories that make sense.
  • Use dividers and tabs to identify categorized sections (i.e. maps, student info, lesson plans, and emergency info).
  • Include a table of contents.
  • Start with a simple, “your day at a glance” or “important things to note” page. Color code items by sections or subjects.
  • When drafting the information, be sure to write it in a way that is visually appealing and easy to read (bullet points, bolding, underlining, highlighting, etc.).

5. Prep Individual Student Packets

While having everything copied, prepped and ready to go for the day is essential, you can take the organization one step further and create packets for each student containing all the assignments for the day. Here are the following benefits:

  • Individual student packets make it super easy for the sub to distribute everything to the students and manage the completed assignments. It prevents you from coming back to a messy classroom with papers here, there, and everywhere.
  • Packets makes differentiation subtle and simple because you can modify each student’s packet and not worry about the right paper getting to the right student.
  • It helps to keep the children on task and focused because they have everything they need.
  • It increases accountability as you can easily see how much they completed during the day.
  • I recommend putting all the materials in order for the day and attaching a cover sheet to each packet with a checklist. When printing the checklist, it is helpful to include the subject, starting and ending times to help with management, and decrease the feeling of being overwhelmed by a packet of work. If you have access to colored copy paper, you could even copy the different subjects onto different colored papers.

In closing, we hope you found this post about how to organize your substitute binder helpful! If you did, then you may also be interested in this free Clutter-Free Classroom Guide to Preparing for a Substitute Teacher, as well as these posts:

I never thought of creating individual packets of worksheets for students when I take a sick day. This simple idea will help with classroom management. This blog post from The Clutter-free Classroom has simple ideas and tips that make writing sub plans easy. Make sure you check out their thoughts on using a binder! #sickteacher #fluseason #sickday

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