A Substitute’s Story: When Flu Took Out the Teachers

Author: Gretchen Huesmann

Here’s How I Survived

A principal phoned from a classroom, “I need another substitute now! The teachers are dropping like flies.”

I raced to the school to find the frazzled administrator digging for lesson plans amid mounds of art projects, stacks of Valentine boxes, and Christmas décor. Every teacher of this grade level had fallen ill. The students wandered the room—some confused at the altered routine, some delighted with the unexpected freedom. Here’s how I survived, with a few insights from the day the flu took out the teachers.

When Flu Took Out the Teachers

Take A Deep Breath
“Good morning!” I said in my cheeriest voice. “Looks like we’ll be together today.” My heart pounded as I smiled at each face and nodded to the principal. When he confirmed he could not find lesson plans, I sent him on his way. After a deep breath I said, “We are going to have a great day.”

Entering a classroom unexpectedly can cause anxiety for all involved. Children may respond with confusion, fear, or misbehavior. Use a calm voice, even if you feel nervous and uncertain. Your confidence will assure the students and set the tone for the day.

Find the Schedule
I toured the room in search of a schedule, looking at walls and near the teacher’s desk. Inside the door, I found a general timetable of the day’s routine.

The daily schedule should include the educational sequence, the lunch and recess times, and list any special classes such as library or art. With this discovery, I knew how to begin the day.

Search for a Substitute Binder
Next, I hunted for a substitute kit or notebook. Many schools require teachers to prepare extra lessons, with a class roster, and emergency procedures—all vital information for an unexpected substitute. On this day, I did not find a binder, and lesson plans appeared to be buried in the computer with passkeys known only to the teacher.

Ask the Children
So, I asked the children: “Is anyone missing today?” and “How far are you in reading?” This age group readily provided accurate information. Older students will sometimes purposely share misinformation. You will quickly discover whom you can trust. Overall, most students want you to succeed. Don’t be afraid to ask for their input.

Check Children’s Desks for Clues
When the children couldn’t answer where they’d left off in handwriting, I searched a student’s desk. I uncovered the completed work and discovered an unfinished assignment in math. Now I had a starting point for a few subjects.

Consider Universal Fillers for the Rest
As the morning progressed, we had time to spare before lunch. Substitutes often find themselves with extra minutes, even when provided with prepared lessons. Filler activities can include reading aloud, movement and music, or an extra recess. Check with the office first to see if outdoor space is available. That day I added quiet reading time and a couple of games.

Ask a Neighboring Teacher
As the day’s end approached, I pondered the student dismissal process. The children provided too many variables, so I poked my head into the adjacent classroom. “What’s the pick-up procedure here?” He also was a substitute, but knew the school’s protocol.

I smiled as the last student left my care. Was it a perfect day? Certainly not. Who knows if I provided the most accurate lessons or covered all that had been planned. Yet, the students were safe, loved, and hopefully learned a little something. I know I did.

For more content ideas read Tips to Set Up Your Substitute for Success.

About the Author

Gretchen Huesmann is a teacher, speaker, and award-winning author. She has taught in seven U.S. states for over three decades. When not in the classroom, Gretchen enjoys mentoring and encouraging educators. She is a member of Word Weavers International and enjoys writing non-fiction for adults and children’s fiction. She and her husband of 33 years have raised 4 children and reside in Florida.
Scroll to Top