When a special education teacher is absent, a qualified substitute teacher should be available to step in and provide expert coverage. Unfortunately, teacher shortage data tells us that special education is one of the most common critical shortage areas across the US. In fact, a 2014 STEDI report says that 73% of uncovered classes were special education assignments.
For this reason, substitutes with special education credentials are very much in demand, and often tapped to fill long-term vacancies. This presents a challenge for those inevitable daily absences in special education classrooms. It is important for districts to understand special education substitute teacher requirements, and how can they can ensure access to qualified candidates.
Understanding Special Education Students in the Classroom
A special education designation means a student has been found to have at least one of the thirteen educational disabilities defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Federal law stipulates that students with a special education designation must be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), which means an educational setting as close to the general education setting as possible where they can still experience success.
For many students, this will be an inclusive general education classroom where they receive specialized supports or interventions for part of the day. For others, it will be a self-contained or categorical classroom in which they receive more intensive support throughout the school day in the company of other students with similar disabilities.
In either case, students will have their very own Individualized Education Program (IEP) that spells out their goals for the year and itemizes the accommodations and services they are entitled to.
Requirements for Special Education Substitute Teachers
Though many of the duties involved in the management and instruction of a special education classroom will be similar to those in a general education job placement, there will be some challenges that may require extra attention or effort.
Adherence to a schedule
Often students with special needs will have planned interventions. These may include appointments with the school nurse, physical, occupational, or speech therapists, and visits with the special education resource room teacher. In each case, the support personnel may come to the classroom to provide services or students may leave to go to them. A special education substitute must be mindful of the schedule in order to keep individual students on track.
Collaborating with support personnel
Substitute teachers in special education placements will often work with a team of support personnel that includes paraprofessionals, therapists, and co-teachers. The ability to work cooperatively, to lead, and to follow are competencies that are beneficial in this capacity.
Managing adaptive equipment
Students with special needs might use a variety of adaptive equipment to assist with mobility, communication, and the tasks of daily living. A keen sense of observation and a willingness to learn will help substitutes support students’ use of equipment in the classroom.
Ability to multi-task and attention to detail
Since students with special education designation will have unique goals in their IEPs, there will often be several learning activities occurring simultaneously. The ability to be collected and attentive in this dynamic environment is a desirable characteristic for special education substitute teachers.
Mindful of safety
The ideal substitute teacher for a special education classroom possesses the attentiveness to keep students safe and actively engaged. Mobile and observant, this teacher is constantly monitoring and aware of students’ physical and emotional well-being.
Comfort in communicating with parents
Students with special needs may require more frequent home-school communication. Working in a special education placement may bring a substitute teacher into contact with parents, who are important members of their child’s IEP team.
Finding the Most Qualified Substitute Teachers
When requesting special education substitute teachers, districts should be able to trust that a qualified professional will report. Unfortunately, statistics reveal that often these absences are harder to fill. Some substitute teachers fail to accept special education placements due to fear of the unknown. For help with changing these odds, many school districts are choosing to partner with an education staffing agency.
One way a high quality staffing agency can assist is through focused recruitment efforts targeting candidates with a special education certification. Additionally, they can provide training to prepare new and existing substitute teachers for the special challenges of working with students with disabilities. And finally, staffing companies encourage and nurture the type of professional commitment required to work successfully with all students, including those with special needs.
For help improving your fill rate for special education absences and vacancies, contact ESS. With decades of experience recruiting, hiring, and training professional substitute teachers, we will customize a solution to fit your needs.
Phil has been supporting school districts across the country for more than 12 years. He works hands-on with districts implementing customized solutions to improve their substitute teacher and support staff programs. When he’s not increasing districts’ fill rates, Phil can be found swinging his clubs on a golf course.