One of the most important things about substitute teaching is being self-sufficient. When you have your own classroom, you can stock it up with all the things you think you may need throughout the day. When you’re a substitute teacher, you need to carry all these things on your person. You need to find your balance of having nothing and having so many things that you’re cramming a full desk in a small bag.
First things first: the bag. I have gone through a number of different bags over the years. They’ve all been big and somewhat professional looking. My current bag is my favourite bag. It fits everything I want and need to carry, and I don’t have to struggle to find anything in it. If I could make one change to it, I would add a shoulder strap. When you’re travelling between classrooms and lugging a huge stack of substitute work, you want to make your own belongings as easy to carry as possible.
Personal side note; while a knapsack is one of the most convenient ways to carry all of your things, I am not a huge fan. When I started teaching, I was very young looking. Like, mistaken for students young looking. Young face coupled with being a stranger in the school made me want to distinguish myself from the students. Therefore, no knapsack.
Now, my suggested bag contents (aesthetically dumped out for your viewing pleasure):
- Wallet. That’s a given. As an adult, always have it on you.
- Notebook. I try to take lots and lots of notes for the teacher I’m replacing. I want to leave the kind of info I would like to get if I were the teacher out of the class. I also tuck some post-it notes in there in case I want to label things I’ve picked up during the day (completed work, extra handouts, passed notes, all the fun stuff).
The notebook is good too for when unprepared students ask for paper. Instead of looking around a classroom you’re unfamiliar with for paper that may not be there and lose a lot of work time, you can tear a couple sheets out and everyone can get back to work. I’ve got a few sheets of loose leaf tucked in there too. If I find abandoned supplies, I keep them for myself.
- iPad. It is super convenient to have some sort of tech with you. Try to get connected to the internet (most schools have an open wifi source for students that you can piggy-bag onto). It helps when you’re given a subject you’re not familiar with and students have questions. Instead of telling them to ask their friend or teacher tomorrow, you can find the info together really quickly, and model appropriate use of technology in the classroom. Bam! Lesson taught!
- Books. Have a hobby and bring it with you. Some days are very busy and you’re required to do actual teaching. Other days your presence is required simply because there needs to be a teacher in the classroom by law. Have you ever sat in on a Grade 12 advanced Physics class? The most you will do is take attendance and say yes when someone asks to go to the bathroom. Make sure you have something with you to pass the time. I get a lot of reading done on days like these. Here are some things I have seen other substitute teachers bring into the classroom with them: newspaper, knitting, needlework, coursework, deck of cards.
I really try to avoid spending time on my phone or iPad when in the classroom though because, as mentioned in #3, we need to model appropriate tech use, and reading cracked.com or Buzzfeed lists–while entertaining–isn’t modeling the behaviour we expect students to follow.
- Agenda. I am not super dependent on technology to keep me organised. I hand-write notes for teachers on paper, I keep track of teaching work I’ve been scheduled to do, and–most importantly, in my opinion–I keep track of the work I have done and am owed pay for. Unfortunately there have been a couple times where my pay stub was short a day or two that I actually worked. Keeping track means when I call the school board’s payroll office, my phone call is under five minutes.
- A pen and pencil case. You would be surprised how sparse some classrooms are. I can guarantee that you will find a classroom that does not have a single pen or pencil to spare. Bring your own. Model coming to class prepared to the students you’re entrusted with for the day.
My pencil case contains the following: pencils, pens, pencil sharpener, white out, more post-it notes, eraser. Again, these are all so important when a student asks for something and you can’t find it to lend to them. Pencils are super important for attendance since some schools use ScanTron, which, for whatever reason, rejects pen notations.
Teacher hack: whenever you find a pencil or pen or anything of use (as mentioned in #2), take it and keep it for yourself. I’m talking about things you find on the floor after students have gone and it’s clear no one is coming back for it. Give these orphans to students who come to class unprepared.
- Socks. I also have a pair of rubber boots in my car. When you get scheduled for substitute work, you rarely are told if you have supervision. Too many times have I gone to school in flats and get scheduled to go outside for twenty minutes after it has rained. Be prepared!
- Beverages. Something caffeinated and something of substance. Caffeine is a godsend on days when you’re called at 6am to be at school for 7:30am and you have a 45 minute drive and need to shower. Substance is good for days when you were called for a half day and 10 minutes before you’re set to leave the secretary calls you and asks you to stay the full day and you don’t have a lunch. If you are super familiar with the area and the school, you might be able to leave and pick something up, but if you can’t leave, you’re going to want something to tide you over for the rest of the day.
- Acetaminophen. For some reason, society says it is okay a sub’s life a living hell. I wish I knew why, but it’s a thing. Some students suck. There is no other way to put it. There will be days that are awful. These are the days when you get a massive headache and you’re stuck in a building that is not allowed to pass out Tylenol or Advil to students. A headache is going to make a bad day worse, and you’re going to want to address is as quickly as possible.
The biggest take away from all of this is to be prepared for any possible situation. The more you teach, the more you will be able to expect the unexpected!