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Special Education Substitute Teachers

By For Administrators, Latest, Training Options

Students with special needsSpecial Education Substitute Teachers might be hard to find. In fact, in a recent study we conducted, 73% of the classes that went uncovered were special education assignments. Nearly 50% of the districts nationwide are experiencing a shortage of substitute teachers and have more unfilled absences than they would like.

There are two major ways to address this issue. One method is to recruit more individuals who would substitute teach with students with special needs and the other method is to encourage existing substitute teachers to take on more special education assignments. You’ve already invested heavily in your current pool of substitute teachers and most likely there are many who are not taking assignments as often as they would like. Many don’t work in special education assignments as they are unfamiliar with the terminology, methods and procedures, causing them to feel intimidated and unsure. There is a way, however, to encourage them to take on these assignments.

The Advanced Special Education course is designed for substitute teachers to not only learn about special ed assignments but how to work with students with special needs. This three-hour course, which includes an assignment is perfect in bringing individuals up to speed in special education.

Advanced Special Education Course for Substitute Teachers



Learn more on how to train all your substitute teachers in special education.




More suggestions asked managers of substitute teacher how they encourage substitute teachers to take assignments in special education classes. If you have other ideas to respond to this current topic, please send and email to Here are some solutions that we received:

What I do to relieve this problem is to schedule on-going training in the different areas we need subs, such as special education. I have classroom teachers from the different areas do presentations to interested subs on what the day in one of their classes might look like. The presentations are scheduled and a list is emailed to all of our substitute teachers to look through and indicate what training they may want. I then schedule the trainings throughout the year. The trainings last roughly 1 to 2 hours. This approach has relieved the problem with having unfilled classes.

– James Telles, Los Alamos Public Schools (NM)

Many of our substitute teachers prefer the Special Education assignments. The class size is smaller and for a few of the periods they are co-teaching with a second teacher who takes the lead and is experienced. The beauty of that scenario is that the Sub Teacher is able to observe and learn some new techniques to use in future teaching situations from the experienced teacher.

Many of our substitute teachers in this assignment feel that they are connecting with the students and making a positive difference in the student’s day and life!

– Mary Connelly, Franklin Township (NJ)

Our district has monthly meetings for our substitute teachers where we have speakers train and give them opportunities to ask questions. Every year we have a training given by our special education staff to give them more information on these students and how best to serve them. The substitute teachers can share their concerns and the special education staff can help them learn how to deal with issues that come up.

More substitute teachers are willing to try to work in special education classes when they know what to expect and how to handle the situations that come up. They also learn how many adults are in the classroom to help and it doesn’t seem so scary. We find that once they experience a special education classroom and have success, they are more likely to take that assignment again. Several substitute teachers really like special education and now always volunteer to take those assignments.

– Jane Fonda, Mountain View Whisman School District (CA)

We currently are able to encourage substitute teachers to take special education jobs by suggesting that they try it out and become comfortable through taking Special Education Instructional Assistant jobs. This way they can go in and learn about the classrooms and disabilities without being the one completing in charge of the classroom. It seems to ease the anxiety level of taking on a greater responsibility if they have never been exposed to a special education classroom. We also offer to pay them the same rate as a day-to-day substitute teacher as long as they have the teaching credential even if they take an instructional assistant substitute position.

This has seemed to help a great amount with filling our substitute teacher positions!

– Emily Kehr, Bucks County IU #22 (PA)

We communicate to our subs during training that subs who have experience working with students with special needs are in a better position to obtain a full-time paraprofessional position with our district.

– Dianne Hixson, Hamilton County Schools (TN)

We offer the same rate of pay and so far have not had any real problems in special education. Sometimes, we are just short of subs overall but that is due to a variety of factors.

– Linda Berard, Santa Maria Joint Union High School District (CA)

We started using AppliTrack, our job search software. We have a job posting specifically for our substitute teaching position. Any candidate that wants to apply has to do so on-line. We screen and choose only the most qualified candidates. Once chosen the candidate is invited, via email, to a new substitute teacher orientation. Once they’ve attended the orientation, they are considered hired, we process their paperwork and put them on SubFinder.

By being choosey about who we want on our sub list, we feel we are benefiting our teaching staff and our students by having the most qualified sub in the classroom. This will help toward classroom learning when a teacher is absent.

– Terry Unger, St. Vrain Valley School District (CO)

Administration spends time at our substitute teacher training sessions discussing all types of special education classes and programs, which are extensive in our district. Actual SPED substitute teachers have been allowed to address the attendees in our training sessions to encourage participation. We also provide handouts about our programs to substitute teachers in their packets of information. Our district understands that special education classes are not for everyone.

We also offer to schedule substitute teachers into classes to observe other substitute teachers in action or observe the actual teacher in the class settings that may or may not have paraprofessionals available in the classroom.

I also think our building administrators do an excellent job of including visits to SPED classrooms to show support openly for those classes. That kind of information is passed on to teachers and prospective substitutes alike. We do believe our efforts have helped recruit more substitute teachers in our SPED classrooms.

– Robert W. Martin, Cabot Public Schools (AR)

Last year we held a substitute teacher in-service that about 100 people attended. I asked our director of special education to address the group and she spent about an hour going over special education teaching topics. It was very successful!

– Lisa Jennaro, Elmbrook Schools (WI)

I believe in “quick and dirty” so I provide substitute teachers with definitions of all disabilities that we service, descriptions of what the disabilities might look like, and then provide some generic examples of strategies they could use. I also encourage substitute teachers to ask permanent teachers who the “high flyers” are in the class and ask other teachers how best to work with those students. I give the subs just a brief overview of “dos and don’ts” for all students.

– Ramona Stavros, Elmbrook Schools (WI)

If you have an idea that might help other Substitute Teacher Managers with this issue, please email it to

Overview of Training Packages

By For Administrators, Latest developed training courses with an overall goal of increasing the positive impact of substitute teachers on student achievement.  As substitute teachers follow this training outline, each will improve his/her skills in classroom management and teaching strategies, increasing student performance, and reducing complaints.

Above is a graphic representing the levels of training offered to substitute teachers.

The STEDI Model 


  1. Districts may want to require or give preferential hire/placement for those individuals who complete the SubSkills Online Training as an initial screening and training prior to hire and paid for by the applicant. (To read a white paper about substitute teachers and their link to student achievement click here.  Or to read about the benefits of having applicants pay for training click here.)

Note: The district has had no out-of-pocket expense. Post-hire

  1. Once the applicants have been screened and trained at their own expense hold a live training using the Substitute Teacher Handbook allowing time for orientation of new substitute teachers, discussion, observations, and role-play of key skills. This validates what they have learned on their own and makes them part of the organization.
  2. Use Advanced Online Training courses for substitute teachers who are looking to excel and to provide additional training.



[columnize] Additional benefits of this method include:

    1. Reduce the liability and exposure of a school district
    2. Reduced hiring costs by eliminating excess applications
    3. Reduced time managing substitute teachers by reducing complaints
    4. Reduced turnover by having a more satisfied substitute teaching pool
    5. Reduce unemployment claims do to lack of training


Check out these school districts who require the SubSkills online training course prior to employment. Substitute teachers are benefiting by paying for the training themselves.

Metro-Nashville (TN)
Boston Public (MA)
Ft Worth ISD (TX)
Frederick Co. (MD)
San Juan USD (CA)
Knox County (TN)
Macon County (GA)
Williamson County Schools (TN)
Sonoma COE (CA)
Joshua ISD (TX)
Kansas City (KS)
Fulton County (GA)