Subbing Special Classes Guide for the Substitute Teacher

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Oct 14, 2011

Each of us has an educational specialty. Some teachers love writing, others enjoy history, some specialize in math. As a sub, you’ll be no different. You’ll have a favorite subject area. But as a sub, you’ll need to be adaptable and willing to extend yourself when the need arises. If I had let my incompetence and insecurity as an athlete affect my decision to accept a job as a PE teacher, I would have missed out on an enjoyable longterm subbing assignment.

Being a sub for a “special” can be a challenge, but you also can count on an interesting day with plenty of variety. Students are always happy to be in your room because specials are a pleasant break from the normal academic day. The arts provide a much-needed creative outlet while the computer lab and media center enable students to explore the world of information. PE provides them with a way to burn off excess energy.

So don’t be afraid to become a “specialist” for a day or a week or a month. You might find the experience rewarding in ways you did not imagine when you accepted the assignment.

Why are Subs Assigned for Special Teachers?

When students are sent to specials, classroom teachers get a well-deserved break. In most cases, the classroom teacher uses that break for planning. In other situations, the break might be used for a special meeting with administrators or parents. It might even be used to visit the bathroom! So when a specialist is absent and there is no sub, the classroom teacher is not happy.

What Challenges Will I Face?

Teaching a special is different and will pose a number of unique challenges. Among the most common are:

  • You will see all the grade levels in one day. This means that you will have to adjust your demeanor accordingly. With each grade level, you’ll set a different tone and your activities will have to be age appropriate.
  • You will have each class for a short period of time. This may present pacing issues, and it’s important to plan the class well. But overall, it’s a good thing. If the students present behavior problems, you only have to put up with them for an hour or less. And when things go smoothly, you’ll be sad to see them go.
  • You will be expected to have some basic, general knowledge of the special area of interest that you are teaching. Most specials provide sub plans that do not require any great skill level (often a video). However, I recommend that you have a few ideas for each special in case you need them for extra fill-ins. If you know about the assignment in advance, it’s best to stop in and see the teacher the day before so that you can have advance knowledge of what you might be teaching.

What if I am Asked to Sub for the PE Teacher?

The PE teacher will generally leave plans that require an easy game that the group is comfortable with. Some examples are kickball, soccer, field hockey, and volleyball.

A special helper can give you advice on the way things are “usually done.” (See the Helpers chapter.) If the game requires a monitor or referee, I always appoint a student to help me with this. You may not be familiar with the rules, but your special helper will be.

If the students are cooperative and they finish the game early, they may ask for free, unstructured time. They may want to organize teams and play in small groups. Use your judgment here, and make it a reward. If anyone takes advantage of this, remove the offending student from the group for five minutes. Tell the other students that you will stop the free time immediately if they are not cooperative.

PE teachers are trained to see everything and to be acutely aware of potential safety issues. Be sure to make yourself familiar with the procedures for handling accidents, authorizing trips to the nurse (be sure to send a classmate with the injured student), and handling blood borne pathogens. A good sub is informed of these procedures beforehand, and the school district may have a safety orientation. However, it is up to you to be sure you get the information you’ll need.

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