Most students with special needs perform best in a structured, predictable environment. This can pose a distinct challenge to the substitute teacher of a special education class. Here are some tips for interim or substitute special education teachers to ease stress levels, gain student trust, and motivate special education students toward a productive and fulfilling day.
Children in general easily pick up on the stress levels of others. I’ve seen this in my own children, as I’m sure others have, too. In order to ease student apprehension, every substitute teacher should have a survival bag ready for any class you may be asked to teach.
Your survival bag should include flash cards, conversation starters, “getting to know you” games, stories, an easy craft project, and complete lesson plans to use in the event that a plan was not left for you by the regular teacher. When you are completely prepared, your students will notice your confidence level and feel more at ease.
Special education students can often be difficult to work with, especially since they may have formed a strong attachment to their regular teacher. An overall lack of motivation and low self esteem can cause these students to resist efforts to engage them in the learning experience. Constant affirmation and a positive attitude are vital keys to bringing students with special needs out of their shell.
Try to assess the abilities and potential behavior issues of each student right away by spending the first portion of the class period learning names and a little bit about each student.
Be sure to verbally praise all efforts of the students. Constant positive reinforcement is an important element in any teaching environment.
Keep that positive attitude, even when things go wrong. Substitute teaching for a special education class will be a challenge, but with a positive and motivating approach, the day will be rewarding for the educator as well as the students.
Keep Control of Your Class
All children, including special education students, require the feeling of safety that comes with rules and consequences. Be sure to have a definite do’s and don’ts list to go over with your students at the beginning of the day. By doing this, you will be able to stop the class activities as necessary to reinforce or redirect unacceptable behavior by referring to the do’s and don’ts you have already established with the class.
Teaching and learning should be a fun experience. If you find that you are losing the attention of the students, don’t be afraid to switch gears. Students can learn just as much through a puppet show as they can from being read a story. The more animated and upbeat you are and the more you appeal to all of your student’s senses, the more apt you are to engage your class in the learning process.
Don’t forget to thank your students at the end of the day and remind them what a privilege it was to spend the day with them. Also leave notes for the regular teacher explaining what the class learned that day and what problems or exciting experiences you had with individual students.
By leaving on a positive and upbeat note, you will be fondly remembered by the students. This will set you up for future success the next time you are asked to substitute for the same class.