Substitute Teacher Bag Essentials
Substitute Teacher Bag Essentials

Substitute teaching can be unpredictable – no two days are ever the same! Luckily there are some ways that you can prepare for the unknown. Packing a bag with some essential items is one smart strategy to help you feel confident to face any situation you may encounter. Here are some ideas for your substitute teacher bag:

Activities to keep in your substitute teacher bag


It’s always important to cover any work left by the teacher before engaging your class in other activities. However, there may be times when the teacher’s plans don’t fill the whole day. Having some spare activities on hand to keep your students busy ensures that you maintain control over the classroom.


Bringing a book to read aloud to the class is a well-loved way to fill extra time. You can borrow books from your local library that are age appropriate for the classrooms you’re substituting in. Pausing frequently to discuss the story with your class will allow you to fill any amount of leftover time.

Coloring Pages or Worksheets

You can find many coloring sheets (for younger students) and worksheets/puzzles (for older students) available for free online. Carrying some printouts for different age groups will ensure you’re prepared for whichever classroom you end up in.

Lined and Blank Paper

If you don’t have printouts, some plain paper can go a long way! Ask students to draw a picture or write about something they learned during the day. This versatile item will apply to any grade level and will help reinforce their lessons.

Rewards to keep in your substitute teacher bag


Bringing small rewards that you can give to students is an effective way to encourage good behavior. When other students see you reinforcing favorable behavior, they are likely to follow along because they want recognition too.


Stickers are perfect for your substitute bag because they don’t take up a lot of space, and they’re a cost-effective reward that most students love!


Fun pencils are another lightweight item that kids will get excited about.

Personal items for substitute teachers

Personal Items

As a substitute teacher, you can never leave your students unattended. That’s why it’s smart to think ahead and pack a few personal items to keep yourself comfortable in the classroom.

Water Bottle

When speaking all day, your throat can get dry. Bringing a water bottle (and maybe some chapstick too!) makes it easy for you to stay hydrated and prevent a scratchy throat.

Jacket or Sweater

Sometimes classrooms can be cold. Always having a jacket or sweater on hand can prevent you from feeling uncomfortable.

Hand Sanitizer

Classrooms can be messy. Hand sanitizer is a convenient way to keep your hands clean and avoid getting any bugs going around the school.

Additional Substitute Resources


Resourcefulness is a key trait of an effective substitute. Having a few extra resources in your bag can help you feel confident to face the day.

Extra Classroom Supplies

Any supplies you need will likely be available to you in the classroom, but it doesn’t hurt to carry some extra items with you just in case. Items such as pens, pencils, paperclips, rubber bands, sticky notes, and dry-erase markers may come in handy!

Print Outs from the ESS Resources Portal

The ESS Resource Portal features an abundance of tools and information to help you in your role. The following items may be worth printing and carrying with you in your substitute teacher bag.

  • Our Training Guides offer in-depth information and guidance for your specific role.
  • The “Tips and Reminders for Substitute Teachers” document contains quick, everyday tips for success.
  • Our “Back to School Tips and Reminders” handout features a “What Do I Do When…” section that offers advice for handling various situations that may arise in the classroom.
  • The “While You Were Out” sheet allows you to leave a well-organized note for the teacher so they can easily pick up where you left off! (Please note: some schools have official forms for this purpose which you should use if available.)

We hope this article gave you some useful ideas for what to pack in your substitute teacher bag. If you’re looking for some other substitute preparation tips, check out our other blog: Wardrobe Essentials for Teachers.