How to Prepare Students for a Long-Term Sub

Leaving students with a long-term sub is never easy. Here are some tips for preparing students from an elementary school teacher.

How to Prepare Students for a Long-Term Sub

You have to be gone from your classroom for a while. You’re having a baby, your mother is sick, your grandmother passed away three states over, or you’re getting married and going on a month-long honeymoon in Mexico.

Whatever the reason you need to have a long-term substitute teacher, it sounds daunting simply to prepare to be gone. You have to trust that someone else can manage your classroom, navigate your colleagues, understand your lesson plans, and maintain some semblance of control with your students.

Lesson plans are easy, the sub needs to follow the curriculum and talk to your fellow teachers to get the lay of the land. Working with your colleagues, hopefully that’s not too difficult. You do it every day, it’s called professionalism. The one bump in the road is your students, those twenty-odd angelic faces you know too well and worry about how they will do for another teacher in your classroom.

Before you leave your long-term substitute teacher to the wolves that are your students, take a minute to think about each student. List every child’s name on a piece of paper and write down one wonderful thing about the student and one thing that the sub should watch out for or help your students with. Some students will require you to rack your brain for a good thing, and some for a bad, others have a plethora of both.

Write something down for the sub to know about your student before stepping into the classroom full time. It is a benefit that you may not have had on day one, but wouldn’t it have been nice? Now you have a list in front of you of the things that make your students unique to remember them with you while you are away, as well. Good memories are wonderful to have with you. 

If you have the privilege of knowing who your long-term substitute is and they have the time to come to your classroom, invite them to join you for a day to see how things work. Your substitute teacher will do things differently than you. They will try to maintain your routines and order because that will be the easiest transition for your students, but there will be differences.

Tell your students that you will be gone, that the substitute will be in charge and they will do different things. When these facts have been covered, make sure you tell your students that this is more than okay. Turn it into a positive experience. Instead of just one teacher this year, your students will have the benefit of learning from two different teachers with different teaching styles and two different approaches to classroom management. Your students are so lucky, most classrooms are stuck with the same teacher all year round! 

Your students need to know that you are going to be gone, you believe in them, you trust them to make good decisions in the classroom, and that you have high expectations for their behavior with a semi-permanent guest in the classroom. When students know that you believe in them and expect certain things of them academically and behaviorally, they will try harder to live up to those expectations. The sub has a difficult job stepping into your shoes while you are gone for those weeks or months, but it will be a lot easier if the students are planning to respect the substitute teacher because that is your expectation. You have more power than you know.


Sara Petersen is an elementary substitute teacher, writer, and blogger in Lincoln, Nebraska. She has been subbing for over 3 years and has been to 37 different schools teaching students ranging from Kindergarten to 5th Grade. Sara loves subbing and experiencing the different schools, classrooms, and students. When she is not subbing, Sara likes writing, reading, and crocheting while enjoying the flexibility to be home with her two-year-old daughter.

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