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Unique Challenges for Daily OTS

Nancy Baldree

Talking into a different class each day as a daily occasional teacher can present its own unique challenges. You will certainly be working with a class composed of students with different learning styles, background experiences, and skill levels, but  you may also have a number of students with  special  education  needs. In fact, approximately 15 percent  of all students in Ontario are  receiving special education services and/or supports – often in regular classrooms. The range of needs students have may be extreme:

  • Students working above grade level (modified programs)
  • Students working below grade level (modified programs)
  • Students working on alternative programs
  • Students who require accommodations in order to be successful at grade level
  • Students with behaviour concerns
  • •  Students with diagnosed conditions such as autism, ADD/ADHD

Where does the occasional teacher begin to support these students? Ask! Many school boards require there to be a folder for occasional teachers in the class- room, which includes information about the students in the class. In addition to standard information such as fire drill procedures, this folder is often a wealth of information for an occasional teacher. You can find safety information, medical information and program accommodations/modifications information in it. Your local agreement is also an impor- tant source  of information. It may contain details regarding your entitlements as an oc- casional teacher. If the information that you require is not available, seek advice from the administration and your local. You may want to check in with the school administration to see if there are any students with safety plans or behaviour plans you should be aware of. Information should be shared on what the processes are for ensuring the safety of these students and of the whole class. The  Individual  Education  Plan  (IEP) is an important document for any student with special needs and the occasional teacher should be aware of it. Outlining the program and services being provided, the IEP should be implemented every day in the student’s program. It can include: Accommodations: Include special teaching and assessment strategies that help the student learn and demonstrate learning. All accommodations in the IEP must be made available to the student. Accommodations typically include:

  • Instructional accommodations – adjustments in teaching strategies required to enable the student to learn and to progress through the curriculum
  • Environmental accommodations – changes or supports in the physical environment of the classroom and/or the school
  • Assessment accommodations – adjustments in assessment activities and methods required to enable the student to demonstrate learning

Modified Expectations (MOD): Expectations that differ from regular grade expectations. These may be changes to the grade-level expectations (above or below grade-level expectations) or changes to the number and/or complexity of grade level expectations. Alternative Expectations (ALT): Expectations that help the student acquire knowledge and skills not represented in the curriculum. As a daily occasional teacher, the reality is that you may not have easy access to IEPs. Another source of valuable information will be the staff  who spend time in the classroom. Educational assistants, while not responsible for programming for students with special needs, often have a wealth of information they can share with you about the students. Additionally, the special education resource teacher may provide some insight into the needs of the students you will be working  with. As always, it  is  important to remember that the information  learned about students is confidential and you are required to be discreet. It is important for occasional teachers to have knowledge of special education exceptionalities and an extensive toolkit to draw on when working with students with special needs. Some excellent resources on special education are:

  • ETFO Special Education Additional Qualification courses (
  • The ETFO OT website (
  • The Ontario Teachers’ Federation ‘Teachers’ Gateway to Special Education’ website (
  • Ministry of Education document, “Supporting Minds: An Educator’s Guide to Promoting Students’ Mental Health and Well-being” ( )

Walking into a different classroom each day is an exciting opportunity to learn – for both you and the students. Being knowledgeable about working with students with special needs will help you feel confident and prepared to deal with the range of students who will greet you each day.