For many special education teachers, getting a substitute when they are gone can be a real struggle. People feel uncomfortable dealing with kids they do not understand, and many people form stereotypes about special education children. This misconception has led many people to avoid substitute teaching in special education classrooms. It is important to understand special education is not a part of the school to fear but a place where you can have great substituting experiences. In most schools, special education will be divided into different levels to accommodate the different students’ needs.
If you are substituting as a special education teacher in an inclusion classroom, there will be a general education teacher who will do most of the teaching. You will probably be working with just a few students. You may even be working one-on-one. Often these students either need someone to keep them on task or to explain the material to them on a more basic level. On a multiple choice assignment, they may need the choices reduced to just two or three instead of four or five. If you work with a child with physical limitations in this environment, the student may only need you to take notes or write down what he or she tells you. With a limited amount of help, many of these students can achieve the same level of success as their general education peers.
Students who need extra help in one or more subject may spend time in a resource room. Ideally, these students spend a good portion of their day in class with their general education peers. As a substitute teacher, you can help them to not feel like they are less intelligent than their mainstream peers. Treat them the way you would any other student in their same grade level. Often assistance is provided in mostly math and English.
Generally, these students struggle more with academic work than those in the first two groups. Depending upon the school, these students may have similar diagnoses. For example, students with autism might be placed in one classroom, and those with emotional impairments might be placed in another classroom. Sometimes students spend less and less time in the self-contained classroom as they progress, and by high school, they might be in a resource room or even in general education classrooms.
Depending upon the school, these students may spend a portion of their day with their general education peers at recess, for music classes, or for other activities. Many of these kids need one-on-one help, and as a substitute, you can provide that for them. They also often need structure and routine which means even as a substitute you should try to stay to their normal schedule as closely as possible.
Special Needs Classroom
A special type of self-contained classroom is a special needs classroom. This is more the type of classroom people generally envision when thinking about a special education class. There will probably be children in wheelchairs and those using walkers. The majority of the kids will have limited or no verbal skills. Still, many of them are eager to learn. Often, it is either a one-on-one or one-on-two set-up. As a substitute, especially as a new special education substitute, most of the time you will get to work with the easier, more cooperative students. Others in the classroom know the harder students’ behaviors and know how to better deal with these behaviors. They also understand what might set a child off and can work to prevent that from happening.
No matter what type of special education classroom you substitute teach in, you can know you are not alone. There are always others you can seek for help including other teachers, administration, and aides working in the same classroom. One of the best parts of a special education classroom is you are rarely working alone. Most special education classes have multiple teachers or several aides to assist you. If you have never substitute taught in a special education classroom, what is holding you back from working with special education students?