Category Archives: Classroom management

How to Create a Substitute Binder

Substitute Today #2Creating a substitute binder doesn’t rank at the top of my fun “teacher things” to do, but the benefits of a well laid out sub binder are priceless.  If you’ve ever been a substitute teacher before, (I have many times), it is easier to foresee what information a substitute needs to have. Try to imagine yourself walking into a school that you have never been in before and facing a classroom of students you have never met.  Sound exciting?  Yes, in some ways it is.  In other ways, it is rather frightening.  If you want a sub to do well in your classroom, and you want  him/her to return, you need to plan for their needs to be met in your absence.

Steps to Setting Up a Substitute Binder:

1.  Purchase a binder with a plastic sleeve on the front cover.Insert a page into the plastic sleeve that you have created on the computer that says something like this:  “Mrs. Barnes’s Sub Binder”   Feel free to decorate it any way you please with clip art, stickers, etc.  There are also online substitute packets you can purchase at Teacher’s Pay Teachers, but they are not absolutely necessary to get started.  

2.  Include the following pages in the order that you deem of greatest to least importance.

a.  Class schedule with times for each subject.  It is important that the substitute have a bell schedule.  I once subbed for a teacher who did not leave a record of the bell schedule, and I had to depend on the students for information.  (not always a reliable source)

b.  If you teach elementary school, be sure to include the times for special classes such as PE, music, band, and art.  Indicate whether you must lead the students to another classroom (and where it is located), whether the students go there on their own,  or whether the teacher will come to escort your class.   Also indicate if they need to take something with them such as gym shoes, a music notebook, etc.

c.  Class lists and seating charts.  If you have a computerized attendance program and it is possible to print out a seating chart with student photos, do so.  This can prevent students from trying to claim they are someone else.

d.  Emergency medical information–You do not need to indicate every medical situation, but if you have a child who is diabetic, one who has seizures, or  a student with any condition which may need attention in your absence, indicate that in your seating chart or attached notes.  Give directions for how to contact the nurse or to get help in an emergency.

e.  List the names of several students in the class who can give reliable information to a substitute.  Choose carefully.  It may take you a few weeks to discern this.  Add their names as soon as you are able.

f.  Be sure to include if you have recess duty, bus duty, hall duty, etc. and when and where these duties take place.  Tell the substitute exactly what their responsibilities are.

g.  Let the substitute know what your rules are about restroom and drinking fountain use. Does the student need a pass?  Where are the passes?  Do you allow students to go to their lockers if needed?

h.  Will the substitute need to take a lunch count, milk count, or collect any other kinds of notes or forms? Leave forms in your binder if you can.

i.  Include school emergency drill schedules:  Fire, tornado, evacuation, etc.  You should receive a list of dates and times for all drills at the beginning of the school year.  Make copies.

j.  In case of an intruder, what are the lock down procedures for your school?  It is imperative that you include this information.

k.  If you have video equipment or a Smartboard, do you have specific instructions for operating the equipment, or do you have a colleague who can help with this?  Name that person.

l.  The location of key materials such as your plan book and teacher manuals.

m. The location of the cafeteria, vending machines, and the nearest restroom.

n.  Some teachers like to have a form for the substitute to fill out.  You can create one of your own, or model yours after mine.  Find mine here.  You can use mine as a guide and tailor one to your specific needs.  There are lots of these forms that you can find on the internet.

l.  Be sure to indicate what needs to be done at the end of the day.  This should include who rides the bus (elementary), what materials students need to take home, and directions for closing up the classroom for the day.

2.  You may wish to include tabs in your sub binder which will make it easier for the substitute to quickly locate important information.

This sounds like a lot of work.  And it really is…  But, last year I ended up having a tooth pulled under anesthesia in AUGUST, then I had a death in the family early in SEPTEMBER, and on and on it went.  I needed my folder ready early!  Once you have it finished, it’s finished for the year unless your classes change second semester.

If you want your class to be one that substitute teachers look forward to, be sure to have your ducks in a row!  Take time to begin this now.  You should be able to finish it in a few days working on a few pages at a time! Enjoy!

What’s the Big Deal about Seating Charts?


School design over white background, vector illustration.

Seating charts are a HUGE deal in the classroom.  They not only help control student behavior but also provide structure that is essential to the first days of school.

When I was a new teacher, students were always begging me to switch the seating chart. They were just dying to sit by their friends, or to move to the back, or to sit by the window, or to “see the board better” (of course they could only see the board in the seat next to their best friend).

In fact, I even let 28 sixth graders pick their own seats at the beginning of my first year teaching.  Partly this was due to the fact that the desks were all different sizes, and they needed to find the “perfect fit”. Partly it was due to my own ignorance! What a ticket to chaos!

Changing seats at the whims of students became a real chore. One reason I caved in was because I wanted students to have some choice in the classroom.  Another reason I allowed it was because I liked the change of scenery, too.  Nevertheless, it was a Pandora’s box that I wish I had never opened.

In high school, I do allow students to choose their seats the first day.  Some teachers, on the other hand, elect to seat students alphabetically, or randomly assign seats so that their seating chart is settled from the start.  I allow HIGH SCHOOL students to choose their own seats because it provides me with the following data (that’s the science teacher in me):

  • Who goes to the back corner?  Hmmm…I  make note of this!
  • Who chooses a seat in the front, middle?  Interesting!
  • What groups of girls/boys gravitate to one another?
  • Who seems to be left out of the group and seeks no particular area to sit?
  • Who is very vocal about their choice of seat?
  • Who is very compliant even though they get what is deemed the worst seat in the room?

The old saying, “You can observe a lot by watching,” really comes into play here.  I can start drawing conclusions very early in the year by watching the behaviors of students who choose their own seats.

I do record the first seating chart in pencil and then watch things play out for a couple of days.  It doesn’t take long for me to separate the ne’er-do-wells from one another and bring the shortest students closer to the front.  Students having difficulty hearing or seeing become obvious fairly quickly, and they are moved also.

Interestingly, I find it easier to make observations of behaviors first and then change the seating chart.  To be fair, I do tell students the first day that the seat they choose may or may not be permanent. Then I pose this question: “What seat would you choose if this were a rock concert and I were the performer?!”  Of course that is met with a chorus of groans. :)  If they want their money’s worth, they will probably want the front seats, right?

Once I find a workable seating arrangement–and believe me, it takes tweaking–we stay that way until necessity dictates otherwise.  No musical chairs for me!  It’s too time consuming and disruptive.

If you teach elementary or junior high, I do recommend a seating chart of your own making, but of course, things have to change as needs arise.  If you want to be the “nice guy”, go ahead and let everyone choose where they sit.  But be ready for the fall out…

Be sensitive to the fact that younger students particularly like seeing “their desk” on the first day of school.  It is comforting and reassuring that they have their own private space with their name on it where they can put their things.  I remember my first day of kindergarten in 1964 asking, “Where’s my desk?” only to find that they only had tables. Bummer!

Seating charts also serve several other purposes:

1.  Substitutes will need one for attendance.

2.  If mom or dad comes in after school for their child’s make-up work, can you locate the      seat quickly?  I once changed the seating chart the day of parent-teacher (evening) conferences.  A mother wanted to get a book out of her daughter’s desk, and we could not locate the desk! The desks had no name tags (6th grade), and in my haste, I had not made a copy of the seating chart.  We looked in EVERY. SINGLE. DESK.  I was very embarrassed.

3.  If you have other teachers come to your class for art or music, or a guest comes in to make a presentation to your class, it is very helpful that you either have a seating chart handy or visible name tags on the front of their desks (lower elementary).  

But the BIGGEST reason for a seating chart–classroom management/structure.  Do not underestimate the importance of this valuable tool–especially at the beginning of the school year!

The First Five Minutes–Order or Anarchy?

classroom discipline

Believe it or not, the first five minutes of class set the tone for the entire rest of the day/class period.  I can walk into a new teacher’s classroom and predict by what I see happening  in the first five minutes how the rest of the class period will unfold.  In order for you to be successful, you must set the tone early and consistently every day of the school year.  

Students must find your classroom to be characterized by the following elements:

  1. Safe
  2. Tidy
  3. Predictable (this doesn’t mean you can’t plan for surprises)
  4. Fair
  5. Fun

Put yourself in a student’s shoes.  If you were invited over to a friend’s house to attend a Tupperware party, how would you feel if–

1. … a large dog sat in a corner waiting to jump on you at your slightest move? (UNSAFE)

2.  …the house looked like a pigsty and you could not possibly pay attention to the demonstration because your eyes were constantly pulled to the underwear sticking out of the sofa cushions and the open box of uneaten pizza behind the recliner?  (UNTIDY)

3.  …you had been to this house before and strange things happened on each occasion?   At one party you got no dessert, at another there was no place for you to sit, and the last time, there was a bug in your coffee!  (UNPREDICTABLE)

4.  …the last time you attended the party, you were overcharged for the merchandise you ordered, and you found out that other attendees were given large discounts–but you didn’t get one?  (UNFAIR)

5.  …you found that the only seat left was in the kitchen where you could see nothing, hear very little of the presentation, and you had to sit with the hostess’s husband who tried to engage you in conversation about how he was facing knee surgery? (NO FUN)

Would you EVER want to go back to this person’s house for a Tupperware party?  How do you want your students to feel when they come into your classroom day after day?

Ask yourself this question?  How can I make my classroom safe, tidy, predictable, fair, and fun?  Then MAKE IT HAPPEN.  Here’s how it works:

Safe–Everybody must be convinced that they will be protected in your classroom.  You absolutely must defend all students, from weakest to strongest, from both ridicule and physical harm.

Tidy–You must straighten up your room each night after school and train students to pick up after themselves.

Predictable-You must devise an orderly set of classroom routines that will operate flawlessly (for the most part) from day to day.

Fair–You must maintain consistency in grading and meting out consequences on a daily basis and not let your emotions rule when you are tired, upset, or stressed out.

Fun–You have a product to sell–education!  You must do the best you can to create interesting and motivating lessons with the hope that all students will want your product!

If it is truly your desire to conduct your classroom in this fashion, your first minutes of the school day/class will be productive and enjoyable.  This takes practice, but is achievable by all teachers when your heart is set on being the best teacher you can be!