What is it about being in the high school art room that sets off alarms and shakes the nerves of even the most seasoned teachers and substitutes? Is it the music playing while students talk the WHOLE time? Is it the materials and everyday clutter that come with even the most organized art rooms? Is the general controlled chaos that we’ve come to love, that makes the uber-conservative English teacher want to run for the hills when assigned coverage for your class? After being a substitute myself and being in the art room for more than 23 years, let me share with you my tried and true tips for substitute success in the high school art room!


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If you’re like me, taking a day away from my high school art room is sometimes more challenging than just working through the cold or fatigue! With Covid precautions and digital learning, having a plan in place is even more important than ever. Check out these 5 tips for substitute success in the high school art room.

Create an Emergency Sub Folder

In my school this is a mandatory obligation before the week of school is over. But some administrators may let you skip this step….DON’T do it! A well-organized substitute folder will make everyone’s life easier whether you’ve planned this personal day for weeks or woke up at 6 am with the sniffles.

Leave the subfolder in the main office or plain view on your desk so that anyone who walks into your room can find it right away. Consider telling a neighbor teacher, a secretary, or even a trustworthy student where it is located.

Consider the following items for your emergency subfolder:

Seating charts 

As a substitute myself, I found that knowing the names of students in the room was key to the success of my day. Students of all ages will test the will of even the best substitute teachers and knowing the names of the students in the room provided immediate authority when speaking with and getting to know students. 

PRO tip: leave a little note on the seating chart as to who the trustworthy and helpful students might be. These students can help pass out supplies and will be happy to step up if the sub finds themselves in a little pickle with a difficult student.

Create a Master schedule

This includes your teaching schedule, the school’s bell schedule, room numbers, and helpful notes for navigating the building. My admin gives us this information in about four different papers. Having it all on one master sheet for your sub will save them time, especially if the environment is new to them. Nobody likes to get left with a mess or be in the middle of a sentence while everyone walks out because the bell rang. And if you teach in multiple rooms as I do, be sure they know where they need to be and when.

PRO tip: Spend a few extra minutes creating a master schedule for your subfolder. Not only does this master schedule help your sub, but I find it helpful to carry with me during the entire first week of school. The extra 15 minutes to type it all up will save you loads of time in the rush of the first week.

High School Art Room Classroom Management: 

Things in the high school art room are different from the regular classroom. My current school uses a demerit system while my former school didn’t have any formal disciplinary procedures and left things like detention up to the teacher themself. Spelling out common procedures and explaining your school’s policies will give the substitute the autonomy to control the situation.

PRO Tip: Use my Substitute Classroom Procedure template to help you get organized. 

Download it here for FREE.

Emergency Sub Plan: 

What if this isn’t a planned absence? Have some one-day art lessons for substitutes that can be completed with little or no supplies to use in case you are experiencing an emergency that just doesn’t allow you to prepare anything. KEEP it SIMPLE and keep it in your sub folder!

PRO Tip: Explain where basic supplies like plain drawing paper, colored pencils, and markers can be found in the room. Photocopy some adult coloring worksheets and leave them in your subfolder with instructions on where to find the photocopier. Remember, this is for just one day, this is for the times when you just can’t deal with making a proper plan…an adult coloring page is still better than a study hall!

Create an emergency substitute folder

2. Create an ongoing assignment that can be completed independently as part of your normal routine.

In my classroom, we keep an annotated journal as our notebook/sketchbook. I got serious about sketchbooks about six years ago and they are an invaluable part of my grading system and classroom management. Even my admin has noted that the sketchbook is a make-or-break piece of success in the art room. Throughout college and in my first years of teaching I always considered a sketchbook to be, well, for sketching. I thought it was a tough sell to ask students to complete the difficult task of drawing independently. But then as I moved into a more choice-based style, I found that using them as annotated pages could be quite helpful. In the first week of school, I set up an ongoing, eight-part assignment due at the midpoint of the quarter and the end of each quarter. This has helped with early finishers as well as when I am out for a personal or sick day. It requires very few supplies and can be completed fairly independently so the sub can tell students to work on their sketchbook assignment and know exactly what is expected. 

Having students break down the Elements of Art or the Principles of Design is a good way to do this.

Sketchbooks are for more than just SKETCHING!

3. Label, label, label… EVERYTHING!

Lots of teachers are nervous about actually telling everyone where they can find things in the art room. Maybe it’s because people often feel like the art supplies are free for the taking (when they really aren’t) or maybe because they feel more in control when they are the master of their space and know all the secrets. I find it so much easier for students and guests in my classroom when everything is organized, labeled, and easy to find when needed. Your sub is a new guest in the room and things you and your students may take for granted aren’t always so obvious to the substitute. 

4. Set expectations and follow up.

One of the things that I love about teaching middle school and high school is that I can talk to my students. In addition to building a rapport and atmosphere of trust, I try to spell out clear expectations for expected behaviors; both when I am present and when I am not. Early and often, I explain that when we have a guest in the room, they are to be treated as such…a guest! I tell them that I expect “grandma visit” behavior. 

Explain what empathy means to your students and try to establish a climate that allows them to see the classroom through your eyes and by extension, the eyes of the substitute. I’ve seen a culture in some schools that don’t really value the efforts of the substitute. Perhaps this is because they are less experienced teachers or perhaps it’s because the school population just hasn’t gotten to know this person, as a real person. But explaining to your students that this person is helping you and spelling out that they need and deserve their respect goes a long way in helping your students to show empathy for the person who is in your room in your absence. 

Additionally, when you return from your absence, be sure to follow up with any notes that the sub may have left behind. I wouldn’t suggest starting an all-out brawl over the sub’s account of the situation, but even a gentle nudge of saying “so what happened yesterday, would you like to talk about it” will open up a dialogue about what took place. Oftentimes, misbehavior with a sub is because of a miscommunication or misunderstanding of expectations. After all, a stranger in the art room safe space tells a young adult what to do.

5. Plan ahead and TAKE THOSE DAYS!

We can’t take ‘em with us folks. Let go of that feeling that nobody can do it as well as you because you are right. Everyone wants you there and you want to be there, so there you go. You are right! Now that we’ve established that you are right, let’s move on to the fact that you need to let go sometimes. For your own sanity, let yourself use your days! I have often sat and worried and wondered and worried about whether I should take a sick day or days. Guess what, the building was still standing upon my return. I remember being in a panic over my three maternity leaves and guess what, the building was still standing upon my return. I’ve had a mess from time to time, but nothing was earth-shattering and the building was still standing upon my return. I’ve had subs that were really better suited for the Math classroom than the art room, but the building was still standing upon my return. Life is too SHORT! Heck, there have been times when I didn’t have a sub at all; just coverage from the English teacher (he managed with a few eye rolls and a bit of barking, but he survived and so did the kids.) With a little planning ahead of time, you should feel free to take the time you need to be the best person for your students.

If your administration allows it, tell them ahead of time that you will be out. Plan well with a good subfolder, a good set of plans to keep them busy, AND learning. Be upfront (if you can) and be direct about what you need. 


We all know some subs are better than others and as art teachers, we all know that the best sub for the English classroom isn’t always the best choice for the art room. At the end of the day, the substitute is a necessary and valuable asset to the school. During Covid, we almost couldn’t function if it weren’t for our pool of dedicated and brave subs who stepped up to help out. Value your subs and your subs will value your classroom and do their best to help out in your absence. It sounds simple enough, but appreciating and understanding what makes your sub have a great day could make the difference between smooth sailing and complete catastrophe upon your return; even if the building is still standing when you return.

Read more here about planning for Sub Success in the High School Art Room:

Adventures of an Art Teacher

Angela Watson

Elective Teachers Unite:

Just like in the art room, most electives teachers find themselves with unique challenges for planning for a substitute, classroom management, and more.

Check out these great blog posts from elective teacher friends of mine! Just as things are a little different in the high school art room, you’ll find these tips and tricks apply to your classroom as well! Be sure to check them out here:

Top 3 Tips for Co-Teaching Success Between School Librarians and Teachers by Angela J Maxwell shares tips for co-teaching and making the most out of the school librarian and teacher relationship!

Eight Ways to Streamline Your Grade Level Google Classrooms for Maximum Efficiency by Laura at Total Time Savers walks you through valuable tips for setting up your Google Classrooms as you get ready for “Back-to-School.”

Nail French Syllabus Day in 3 Easy Steps by Cindy at Balade French Resources shares her tips for writing a Syllabus that is sure to set your year off right!

Cooking In The Classroom: How to cook with students by Kristen at Growing Global Citizens offers tips for cooking in the classroom; even if you thought you couldn’t!

3 Essential Components for Science Classroom Management by Fleur at Aloha Monday Teaching shares Science classroom management strategies that apply to the art room!

I’d like to give a big shout-out to Allie and Team Kayse for helping me with this first blog post!

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