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Specials Are Special – Substitute Teaching in Art, Music, and PE

By now, the regular classroom may be familiar territory to you, but what about substitute teaching in specials like Art, Music, and PE?  Specials classrooms come with their own unique set of challenges and rewards.  Taking some extra time to make sure you are ready will help you to have a successful day.

  • Plan ahead. If at all possible, take a few moments to meet with the teacher ahead of time.  Be sure to get a copy of the class schedule.  Specials teachers often have blocks of time built in for planning, so you may not have every class back to back.  On the other hand, you may have several classes back to back with no built-in transition time.  Some specials teachers may not have their own classrooms.  Be sure to ask when and where you need to be, and get a map of the campus from the teacher or front office.  Also, be sure to ask about picking up or dropping off students at their classrooms, lunch, or recess.  You may need to do this with all or only certain classes.  Ask where to find critical supplies, especially if you are subbing in an Art classroom.  In Physical Education, make sure you have access to emergency protocol equipment such as a radio to connect you to the front office.  If you have been called in as an emergency substitute and there is no opportunity to speak with the teacher, arrive early and visit with a nearby teacher and the front office to get any information you can.
  • Be prepared.  The old boyscout adage is doubly important in a specials class.  Dressing appropriately is critical.  You do not want to be caught on the football field in high heels and a skirt.  Likewise, glue and paint are not dress-clothes friendly.  However, specials teachers in Music and Art likely have to conform to the same dress codes as the rest of the school.  Dress smart, but choose an easy-care fabric.  Take a full apron and stain remover pen to Art, and wear long hair pinned back.  For P.E., make sure to add a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, whistle, and layered clothing to your repertoire.  As for Music, you may be sitting in a chair while the students (in lower grades) sit on the floor, so avoid skirts and dresses.
  • Manage like a pro.  Specials teachers know the value of a strong relationship with classroom teachers.  Because students only come to a specials class once or twice a week, it is difficult to enforce real consequences within the specials class itself.  However, regular classroom teachers often play a supportive role by using specials teachers’ reports of good or bad behavior to determine privileges within the regular classroom.  Make it clear to the students that what happens in the specials classroom will not stay in the specials classroom.  Write headers on a few sticky notes for each class, with topics like “I had trouble listening today” or other common problems.  Also include a list or two for students with good behavior, and don’t forget to use it.  Every student will want to be on this list.  Then jot down the names of students who are repeat offenders, or who have consistent good behavior.  When the classroom teachers pick up their classes, give them the lists so they can offer corrective feedback and positive reinforcement to the students in a timely manner.  Of course, you can use your usual classroom management techniques in specials classes as well, but this extra step will make it easier for you the next time you substitute in a specials class because the students will know that the consequences of misbehavior will follow through to their regular classroom.

If you have any questions, please contact us.

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