Substitute Teachers

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Substitute Teachers


Your regular staff members deserve time off for whatever reasons they see fit: they have an appointment to get to, they’re sick, they’re taking a quick family vacation, etc. You will not always have advanced notice, so having a system in place for substitute teachers – and making sure that regular staff know that system – is a must.

How you choose to staff your substitutes will depend greatly on your program’s location and size. A smaller program with classrooms well-within state childcare ratios might be able to cover a teacher’s absence by shifting around staff that are present, with no need to bring someone else in. Larger programs might use an agency to outsource substitute teachers on an as-needed basis; the agency would take care of hourly wages, payroll taxes, worker’s compensation, etc.

Unless you have complete faith in a staffing agency, a list of available substitutes is an absolute must. Familiarize yourself with your area’s regulations about substitutes (do they need CPR training, background checks, and registry confirmation?) and start creating a list of individuals that are available to substitute. Ensure their contact information is up to date and that you know what days and times they’re available. Many schools start their substitute lists by looking to retired teachers – either from their program or otherwise – and current part-time staff. You need a mix of people that can work with any of your age groups or settings, at any time – there isn’t a magic formula for how many substitutes you should have on hand.

Some programs have a staff member who handles all absences and coordinates coverage, while others ask those who will be absent to find their own substitute. What works best for your program is mostly a matter of size and personal preference: if you utilize an agency, they might ask for one point-person, while if you have a smaller program, it might be easier to ensure everyone has access to a substitute list and can contact someone when they need to.

A final word on substitutes: they’re professionals, just like the rest of your staff, and deserve to feel comfortable and welcome into your program. If you have a ‘pool’ of substitutes for your program, you might consider inviting them to get to know the teachers, see the classrooms, and chat in a casual, child-free environment (and you could invite them to any community events!) You might invite them to submit photos and bios for your program website, allowing families to get to know them. Ensure that your regular staff feel comfortable interacting with substitutes and providing them guidance as needed, leaving important information (daily schedules, allergies) in easy-to-find places. You want to cultivate great relationships with your substitutes so that they’re excited to join you.

Where to Include

At Playvolution HQ, we recommend programs have three handbooks–a Parent Handbook, a Staff Handbook, and an Operating Handbook. Consider adding this policy to your Staff Handbook.


  • If you’re asking staff to contact their own substitutes, how do you expect them to do that? (Phone call, email, text?) What is the easiest option for last-minute needs, and what do the individual substitutes prefer? At what time do you expect staff to contact substitutes if they’re not able to attend work, and how will your staff inform you of who will be covering for them?
  • If you’re planning on using staff in the program to cover for absences, do those staff members know that to be part of their duties? How will you support them if they have to make many classroom/age group changes throughout the day?
  • If no substitutes are available (look, it can happen), what administrative staff is qualified to provide child care? If no one is available, how will you inform parents and caregivers of program closure? What will that mean for tuition, per contracts with families?
  • If you’re using a staffing agency, who is in charge of contacting them to arrange coverage? How will you ensure that staff understand how to correctly use the agency’s systems?
  • If a staff member has a negative experience with a substitute, how will it be handled?

Sample Policies

Sample 1

Work Attendance

When a teacher chooses / needs to take time off, and the absence will be three days or less, the teacher may be responsible, in conjunction with the staffing and program coordinator, for making sure that the class is covered at all times throughout their shift in accordance with Title 22 and 5 licensing regulations and Center policy. A list of available substitutes will posted quarterly. Please ask the Program / Staffing Coordinator for additional suggestions if you are having problems finding adequate coverage. The Coordinator may be able to arrange the coverage for you, but, it remains your responsibility to check in a timely manner and be sure that arrangements have been made. When arranging substitutes, a teacher should replace her/his self with a teacher assistant for the hours in which another teacher is regularly present in the classroom. There may be no time that a teacher assistant is scheduled to be alone with a group of children.

UCSB Early Care and Education, California, USA

Sample 2


The teacher is responsible for finding someone to substitute for planned leave prior to submitting a leave request. If you are sick and need emergency time off, you are expected to call in as soon as possible on every day that you are out sick. Please call and speak to an office personnel, do not wait till the last minute. Try and find coverage so that someone can arrive in time to cover your shift.

UNF Preschool, Florida, USA

Sample 3

Holidays and Holy Days


Staff members will be supplied with an approved substitute list and phone list at the beginning of each school year. Staff members are expected to use these lists to find substitutes when unable to work for any reason (vacation, illness, appointments, etc.).

Lilypad Learning Center, Iowa, USA

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