Teaching in inclusive classrooms is very challenging. Being a substitute teacher (supply teacher) in one is even more difficult. Working as a substitute teacher in a special education classroom is a demanding but stimulating task also. The school administrator and regular teacher can do a lot to make the transition to a substitute teacher go more smoothly. Parents also can prepare their special needs child so they can accept this change and work well with the substitute. What are the steps both the school and parents can take to make a substitute’s stay pleasant and productive for the students and a positive experience for the substitute teacher?

This is the topic for my Coffee Klatch Tweetchat Nov 7th at 9 a.m. EST with guest Lorrie Servati. Lorrie is a special education substitute teacher, mom of four with one on the autism spectrum hence her blog Nathan’s Voice. Join Lorrie and Lorna, both teachers, and share what YOU do and what the schools could do better. To join Tweetchat chatroom go to http://tweetchat.com/room/tck Sign In – put TCK in the hashtag box then click Authorize App – thats it you’re in #tck

What Schools Can Do for Planned Absences

If the regular teacher’s absence is a planned one, the school and teacher herself can send notes home telling the parents about her leave, the substitute who will be taking her place, the length of the absence, and any change that this will cause. These notices could invite parents to reply with information about their child they wish the substitute to know. Often the parents are invited to a meeting to discuss this new arrangement and meet with the substitute teacher. Parents, this is your chance. GO! Write a message and open the lines of communication immediately.

The regular teacher should discuss with her students the role of a substitute and the cooperation she expects of her students when she is away. This “little talk” should be done at the beginning of the school year, a few times throughout the year, and then once more before each planned absence. Substitutes have all the responsibilities of teachers, but often students think they have little authority. Moreover in each classroom there are students looking for ways to take advantage of the substitutes and test their limits. The students should be told the following:

The substitute IS their teacher and should be treated as all their other teachers.
The substitute will report to the regular teacher and collect their class work.
The classwork and assignments have the same importance as when the regular teacher is there.
Classroom rules are in full effect and they have to be on their best behavior.
They should follow the instructions of a substitute even if they sometimes differ from the regular teacher’s.
When the regular teacher returns to class, she should discuss their behavior during her absence mentioning what the substitute said about her time spent in their class. Be sure the students know good behavior with a substitute is expected and required. Praise the class if all went well; reprimand those that did not do well.

What Schools Can Do for Unplanned Absences

If the regular teacher’s absence is an emergency that no one could plan for, this does not mean the substitute has to “wing it”. Many schools have a policy that the regular teacher must have, at all times, a “substitute survival plan/kit”. This guide for substitutes should be kept up-to-date and include:

A roster and the name each child uses if it differs from the given names (Elizabeth is now Liz)
A seating chart and seating routines for various activities
A list of class and school rules
Classroom procedures and routines during each day of the week
The daily class schedule
The location of teaching materials and supplies
The reward system the class uses
The names of students with medical concerns, academic, emotional, behavior problems, or any other special needs and strategies for dealing with them, the contact numbers and procedures for emergencies
The name of school personnel that can help you when the need arises during class time
The names of responsible students who can be called on for assistance
A request that you want to have a summary of the day(s) work and how the student were
Also the regular teacher usually must have a full day of lesson plans and class materials ready for a substitute at all times. These will be used for unexpected absences and can only be general in nature. These activities can be part of the program but can be taught any time of the year. Appealing activities that vary throughout the day could include brainteasers, a captivating story to read, fun math puzzles, arts and craft projects, an amusing written assignment, a ready-to-use music CD for classroom movement… The students must not feel they are being “baby sat”. The sub and students should have a productive and problem-free day.

The guide kit will not be complete without engaging activities for the students who finish their work quickly and fun, filler activities for unexpected things that can happen during a school day. This is the time when tired students can act up and ruin the day for everyone. Some substitute teachers bring their own “bag of tricks” crammed with ready-to-do educational, interesting, and fun activities. These are appropriate for multiple age/grade/ ability levels; however they should not be used instead of the planned-by-regular-teacher activities… just used in an emergency when nothing has been left for the substitute.

Also the school administrator who looks for the substitutes can try and hire the same ones to place them in the same classes throughout the year. This is a great help because each time the replacement teacher will get to know the class routine and students better. The “sub” is expected to pick up wherever the regular teacher has left off and having been in the classroom before or with this group of students before in a previous grade are all advantages.

Tips for Substitute Teachers Working with a Special Needs Child

A substitute teacher should now assume that she will be in an inclusive classroom from time to time. Before ever being asked to go in for work, the sub should be familiar with the terms and acronyms used in regards to special education students. Also the subs should know about the usual accommodations or individual programs or support special needs students might have.

As soon as the school day begins and the substitute teacher identifies the special needs child/children because of the student seating chart and the teacher’s notes, she should speak in a calm, kind voice directly to the child/each child and reassure him/them she is ready, willing and able to help them have a good day. A substitite is disorienting to all students, therefore a pleasant greeting and a short get-to-know- each-other session paves the way to a better day.

When addressing her special needs student, when possible, the sub should speak directly to the child by moving closer and trying to build a rapport with him. The first step is to make the child feel safe and comfortable with the new situation. Sometimes by just showing the note the parents wrote or the regular teacher left and telling the child his contact information and schedule is all there is enough to appease this anxious child.

What Can Parents Do For Their Child

The best thing parents can do is be positive and supportive about their child’s teacher’s upcoming absence from work. Listen to your child for hints of unease or anxiety about having a substitute teacher. Assure your child you will send a message to the sub to make sure she knows about his special needs, his accommodations, his special interests, and how to contact you. Include a brief list of strategies that work best with your child and invite the sub to contact you if her stay is extended and she wants more information.

When discussing the substitute teacher with your child, remain calm, confident, and show that a substitute can be a new, fun experience. Use this event as a good practice for learning transitions skills and on becoming more flexible with changes in routines.

Write or find a Social Story about substitute teachers. This Social Story should explain why a regular teacher may be absent. What is the role of the substitute teacher. How sometimes the substitute teacher may do things differently or change the schedule. How it feels to have a sub and how the sub feels. Words of assurance the regular teacher will return.

Communication between parents and the school is key during the whole school year. It is the same when a substitute teacher is there. Parents must make every effort to help the substitute teacher understand the needs and learning differences of their child. Sometimes it just takes a bit of your time to make such a huge difference in your child’s education.

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