In the world of substitute teaching, being prepared is half the battle. Your substitute teaching bag can help make the difference between a smooth day and the day from hell. At the same time, substitute teachers are not known for earning fabulous amounts of money, so packing a substitute teaching bag needs to be inexpensive as well. Here are some tips on how to pack the perfect frugal substitute teacher bag:
1. Pick the right bag: Pick a bag that looks professional. Your ratty tote back that says "I Love to Shop" on the side may be functional, but it will not look professional. Decide on the type of bag that fits you. Do you want a backpack? There are many professional looking backpacks on the market these days. Would you like a briefcase, or a really large purse? Make sure the bag is roomy enough to hold all your necessities, but not so big that you have to dig through it every time you need a pencil. Take a look in your closet- do you already have a bag that will work? If not, check thrift stores, yard sales, consignment shops, and e-bay. I have a large leather messenger bag that I found at a thrift store for under ten dollars.
2.Get two small plastic school supply boxes, in two different colors. You can find these at back to school sales and dollar stores.
3.Pick up some basic school supplies: Never assume that what you need will be available to you in the classroom. I have chalk, dry erase markers, notebook paper, erasers, markers, colored pencils, pencils, pens, gluesticks, a small pencil sharpener, and crayons. I have used every one of these things at least once. One of the most inexpensive ways to get these items is to shop during back to school sales. I paid .20 cents for the name brand crayons, .10 cents for a twelve pack of pencils, and .10 cents for three glue sticks. I spent less than five dollars for all the supplies together. If you teach elementary school, having a digital thermometer and some thermometer covers may also be useful, as many school nurses will only see students if they have a fever or are throwing up. Eliminate having students out of your room unnecessarily by taking their temperature before you write a nurse pass. Having Band-Aids and latex gloves would also be useful, especially if you work with younger ages. Put your school supplies in one of the plastic school supply boxes. If you missed the back to school sales, try the dollar store, discount stores, and thrift stores. Yard sales also have these types of items surprisingly often.
4. Think about your personal needs: I recommend that you use the second plastic school supply box for small personal items. Keep small change, cough drops, headache medicine, tampons, etc in this box. I recommend getting the no water needed medications, such as Tylenol to Go, as you do not know if you will have water with you or a chance to grab a drink while you are teaching. I also keep a few granola bars and other snack foods in my box to keep the temptation to hit the vending machine down.
5. Have Something for the Kids To Do: When I started subbing, the district recommend that I buy a few (very expensive) workbooks for different age groups to keep the kids busy in an idle moment. I simply went online and found free worksheets for various age groups. Since I usually do not have access to a copier, I looked for things that I would not need copies. By having lessons and activities that I could easily write on the board, I eliminated the need for having enough copies on hand of something I may or may not use. I also have a few books that appeal to several age groups, like Shel Silverstein poems. Make sure that your books and stories are not too long, as many idle moments are ten minutes or less. Buy the books at yard sales, thrift stores, and Friends of the Library sales. Thrift stores and yard sales are also an excellent place to find flashcards, trivia cards, and other quick and easy small items to keep students occupied.
6. Get a whistle: You may be taking students out to recess, or subbing for PE. This inexpensive item will make this part of your job much easier.
Keep your bag packed and ready at all times, and you will be ready for any job at a moment's notice. Whether you just substitute teach here and there for extra money, or make a career of it, the organized substitute bag can make your job much easier. There is no reason that you have to break the bank to be the most organized substitute teacher in your district!
I have blogged before about a "Bag of Tricks" and while much is listed here I would also include running shoes for teaching gym, waterbottle, some stickers or a stamp, a few easy games - I always have a bean bag ball for various games, a good picture book, a deck of cards, and some dice.