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The ABCs of Special Education

While substitute teaching, you will almost certainly have the opportunity to work with special needs students. Here are some of the most common special education acronyms you will need to know to best address their educational needs (and meet state and federal laws and guidelines).

BIP – Behavior Intervention Plan

When a student displays detrimental behaviors that cannot be resolved using traditional approaches, the special education teacher and classroom teachers develop a BIP. These plans target specific behaviors and look for creative approaches to achieve a desired response from the student. Since these are very specific to the student, you will want to ask if any of your students have a BIP prior to the job assignment.

AIS – Academic Intervention Services

AIS is not an exclusively special education program, but it often overlaps with other related services. Most schools customize AIS to best fit their needs, but it is generally a period of time during the day where students work with a teacher to improve skills in areas where the data suggests a deficit.

IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

This is the current federal special education law that drives much of what happens within a special education program. This includes what services need to be offered and how the students are placed within the program. As a substitute, you will probably not have to know the specifics of IDEA, but it’s still good to know that it provides the framework for all things special education.

IEP – Individualized Education Program

All special education students have an IEP that is developed and revised annually by a committee involving teachers, administrators, and the parents. The IEP provides important data on the student and sets goals for the school year. It is important for you to know these goals as they are not always aligned with the general grade level curriculum. They are individualized to the needs of the student.

504 Plan – Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

A 504 Plan is part of federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities. 504 Plans are used to make accommodations and modifications to remove barriers to students’ learning.


Substitute teachers need to be prepared for anything. For more helpful tips and resources for working with special education students, check out our blog!

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