Implementing a Successful Special Education Substitute Lesson Plan

Special education substitute teachers are among the most patient and dedicated of all education professionals. Though some substitute teachers may feel reluctant to accept a special education job placement, there are others who thrive in that environment and willingly accept the invitation. And since it is quite common to find students with special needs in general education classrooms as well, the ability to implement a special education substitute lesson plan is a valuable competency for any substitute teacher.

How Substitutes Can Successfully Implement a Special Education Lesson Plan

Like all substitute teaching job assignments, special education placements require expert classroom management and the implementation of an instructional plan. But, unlike a general education lesson plan, there are a few additional considerations. To successfully implement special education lesson plans in an inclusive general education or self-contained special education classroom, exceptional substitute teachers use helpful strategies like the following:

  • Arrive a little early. Since special education classrooms typically have a diverse group of learners with varying needs, teachers often leave very detailed plans. It is always a good idea for substitutes to arrive a bit earlier in the morning to read over the lesson plan and any additional notes, and to get acclimated to the classroom. Preparing in this way will allow the substitute teacher to confidently greet students at the door or meet them at their buses as the plans specify.
  • Collaborate with enthusiasm. Special education classrooms often include paraprofessionals or teacher’s aides and other team members who can help make the day run more smoothly. Successful substitutes respect and rely on these team members’ expertise, and students thrive on their cooperative efforts. The ability to function as a team will ensure a more pleasant and productive day for all.
  • Approach students with a smile. Because substitute teaching is usually a short-term and transient assignment, teachers have less time and opportunity to build trust and develop relationships with students. For this reason, approaching students with sensitivity and a smile will help to facilitate comfort and establish a positive working relationship.
  • Vary the delivery of instruction. In a given day, a special education lesson plan will likely require whole class instruction, work with small groups, and more intensive one-on-one interventions. Comfort and experience with each of these instructional methods is especially beneficial in a special education placement. 
  • Exercise flexibility and adaptation. Since no two students learn the same way and students with special needs have additional challenges, implementing special education lesson plans will likely involve patiently making adjustments and providing extra support. With curriculum modifications based on students’ needs and Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals, there will likely be some multitasking required. Being flexible and willing to adapt are traits that not only benefit students but also prevent teacher frustration. 
  • Make it concrete. Though all students benefit from a concrete to representational to abstract learning progression, this is especially critical for students with special needs.  Making the introduction of new content very concrete and involving as many of the five senses as possible will help students understand and learn more effectively.
  • Be attentive and trust your intuition. Through watchful observation and confidence in their powers of intuition, successful substitutes recognize students’ needs and may anticipate problems before they occur. Taking a proactive approach helps to keep students safe and learning on track.
  • Communicate effectively. From patiently communicating with students and respectfully collaborating with other classroom professionals to leaving an informative note for the absent teacher, the ability to express oneself effectively is an important skill for special education substitutes.
  • Be empathetic. Empathy is important when working with all students, but none more so than students with special needs. When they puzzle over content or struggle to master new skills, having a substitute teacher who understands their challenges and is willing to encourage them can support sustained effort.

Increasing the Odds of Success

When teachers must be absent, they worry about their students. Nowhere is that concern more warranted than in special education classrooms. Having capable and enthusiastic substitutes to cover special education teacher absences is critical for achieving continuity and providing trustworthy care. And once exceptional substitute teachers make a favorable impression, school districts can build a list of preferred substitutes who they can rely upon to successfully implement special education substitute lesson plans.

For help building a pool of quality substitute teachers capable of implementing detailed lesson plans and supporting students with special needs, contact ESS. We prepare substitute teachers to succeed in a variety of learning environments, including a specialized track for special education.