4 Simple Steps to Stress Free Substitute Teaching

Cassie (Teach Starter)

Written by Cassie (Teach Starter)

The alternative title floated for this blog post was “How to be the Most Prepared, Most Relaxed, Most Awesome Substitute Teacher in the World” but we figured that was a little too verbose. However, if you’re a substitute teacher who has made it past the lofty promise in that first sentence, keep reading! You can totally be prepared, relaxed and awesome with these easy and actionable substitute teaching tips and ideas.

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This post is going to show you what you can do to ensure that receiving a phone call twenty minutes before school starts doesn’t cause you any stress at all! That when you’re told “I’m not exactly sure what class you’ll have today”, you can reply “that’s okay!” with authentic calm instead of actually freaking out in anticipation the whole way to school.

Substitute Teaching Tips

Our article “Substitute Teaching Tips and Advice” gives you a succinct list of things to think about in preparation for work as a substitute teacher. The first tip on the list is “come prepared”, which is what this blog post will help you with.

While it’s true that substitute teachers rarely take home marking, do reporting nor have the same level of ongoing planning obligations, you still need to spend some time preparing. This isn’t just so that you can feel less anxious about casual teaching work (although that’s a massive bonus!), but also so that the students in your care are engaged in learning (and happy to be so!) when you are their substitute teacher for the day.

How to Prepare for Substitute Teaching Days

There will be days when the class you’re attending has no daily plan. At the beginning of the year, get yourself organized to ensure this doesn’t affect you or the students on those ‘unplanned’ days.

(1) Print & Copy Full Day Plans and Resources for All Grade Levels

Relief Teaching Resources Lesson Plans

We’ve created a huge number of full day plans to make this super easy! In our Substitute Teaching Resource Collection, you’ll find six different full day plans for every year level from Kindergarten to 6. Each plan contains activities and resources for a ‘Morning Session’, ‘Middle Session’ and ‘Afternoon Session’.

  • Simply print out each plan and prepare a folder for each grade level and plan version.
  • Make extra copies of the “Substitute Teaching Day Feedback Form” to keep in the front of each folder so you don’t run out even when using the same folder multiple times.
  • Photocopy class sets of any worksheet resources needed in each plan.
  • Laminate any of the resources you can use repeatedly (such as bingo cards, task cards, writing prompt cards).
  • Store all of the substitute teaching lesson plans, worksheets and resources in the folders.

Here’s a small selection of the printable substitute teaching resources available to Teach Starter members.


(2) Prepare Your Substitute Teaching Toolkit

What to take on a relief teaching day - markers, dice, cards, stickers

As an elementary school substitute teacher, it’s going to make your day a lot easier if you have access to the kind of physical resources and materials you prefer to use in the classroom. Rather than hoping that the classroom you’re going into has what you need (and in a place that you can find it!), prepare these yourself.

Consider having these resources packed in containers or a bag ready to go.

Student Resources

  • dice
  • playing cards
  • dominos
  • puppets
  • picture books
  • origami paper

Teacher Organization Resources

  • whiteboard markers and eraser
  • pens, correction tape, pencils and eraser
  • a stopwatch or timer
  • post it notes
  • sticky labels for names tags
  • stickers

(3) Prepare Your Favorite Games and Resources

Task Cards ready for Relief Teaching Days

The Substitute Teaching Resource Packs are great, but you should also prepare some of your other favorite games and resources ready to go! We’d suggest storing these in lower grades, middle grades and upper grades containers or bags ready for you to grab and go.

These resources are excellent for substitute teaching days:

‘I Have, Who Has’ Games


We have over 50 resources in our classroom Bingo collection! You can look at all of our printable bingo games, or check out which are the most popular in our “Most Popular Bingo Games” blog post.

Classroom Bingo Games stored in clear ziplock pouches

Task Cards

Laminate a variety of task cards and store them on hinged card rings. You could keep each on another card ring or key ring to have a lower grades, a middle grades and an upper grades stash ready to go.

Select sets of task cards with activities that can be completed with resources you know you’ll have access to (e.g. literature task cards that can be used with any picture book in the classroom or a book you bring)

Laminated Task Cards stored on hinged rings
Here are some of our favorites for each age group:

Lower Grades Task Cards

Middle Grades Task Cards

Upper Grades Task Cards

(4) Store in Your Car

Keep the folders and resources you have prepared in a box, crate or car boot organizer. This means that if you get a late call, or you are going to school without knowing which class you will have that day, you’ll still be able to grab what you need as soon as you find out!

Get your hands on a suitably huge bag that you can fill with the resources you need that day. We LOVE these handmade Teacher Carry Alls from High Tea Vintage (who are making a men’s teaching bag soon too!)

Teacher Carry All Bag with relief teaching resources

Helpful Links for Substitute Teaching Ideas

So! Once you’ve got all of the ‘stuff’ organized, it’s time to ready your mind for the actions you’ll take that day. Have a read of our Amazing Substitute Teaching Plans and Activity Ideas blog to get yourself ready for a day of substitute teaching.

You can also check out the complete Teach Starter Substitute Teaching Resource collection.

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