How to Prepare to be a Special Education Substitute Teacher

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Note: This is the first of a three-part blog series on subbing in special education classes. Part two will focus on strategies to succeed once students arrive, part three on what to do after the school day ends.

As you prepare to sub in a special education classroom, know that there are many things you can do before, during, and after the assignment to make it a successful day of subbing.

Many of these tips and ideas can be used regardless of what grade(s) you will be subbing for (i.e. elementary, middle, and high school). So let’s get started.

RELATED: Subbing in Math Class | Subbing in English Class | Subbing in Foreign Language Class | Subbing in PE Class

Starting on the Right Path

There are many things that you can do even before students arrive to help you get started on the right path. Here are several suggestions:

  1. If possible, arrive early! This will give you the time you need to prepare for the day. (In certain situations, the school may be able to give you the option to shadow the full-time teacher or meet up with them before the assignment begins. However, an unexpected teacher absence may not make this possible, and it’s especially important to arrive early in those situations.)
  2. Find the IEP (​Individualized Education Program). If you can’t, ask the paraeducator or neighboring teacher/site administrator to help you locate it.
  3. Look for information about present levels (stated in the beginning of the IEP about where students are academically and behaviorally).
  4. Determine if students have behavior plans, and read them and follow them. (These can be found toward the back of the IEP; alternatively, the classroom teacher may have left information in their notes and lesson plan for you.)
  5. Identify accommodations and modifications (listed either in the IEP or teacher’s notes) and follow them to the best of your ability.
  6. See if there is a health plan (toward the back of the IEP or teacher’s notes). This will let you know when and if students have to take medication as well as any medical conditions that you need to be aware of (i.e. seizures, allergies, etc.).
  7. Look at the related services page on the IEP (toward the back) to see if students receive services for speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc.
  8. Find the lesson plan and any other materials that you might need, including worksheets and PECS cards. PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) cards are used for ​communicationand/or instructional purposes.
  9. Determine whether students will have communication books for you to fill out (this should be written in the teacher notes or in the lesson plan). They’re just a way to let parents know how the day went.
  10. Find computers, laptops, or chromebooks, ​assistive technology​ devices for communication,​ and make sure that they all are charged and ready to go.

If you are missing any of these materials, don’t fret! You can talk to the paraeducator/paraprofessional, other special education teachers in the building, the school nurse, or the site administrator. It’s recommended that you do this rather than improvising — it is important to try to provide as much consistency as you can for your students. (This is another reason why we highly recommend trying to get to campus early.)

Stay tuned for parts two and three of our series on succeeding as a special education substitute teacher!

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