The Challenge of Teaching

I was remembering today a conversation I had with a teacher back when I was in high school. I was discussing what I thought I might want to do after high school and I mentioned that teaching was something I had been considering. This teacher looked at my grades and stated that he thought I might get bored teaching because I wouldn’t find it stimulating enough. Now I do see where he was coming from in terms of academics – I was one of those annoying students who got high A’s without trying all that hard. But if I had known then what I know now I would stop that conversation and say to him that I really can’t think of anything that would challenge my whole self more than teaching.

Teaching challenges me mentally… as I spend countless hours every day and week trying to learn different concepts in multiple ways, trying to understand new ways of teaching material. Also, during the school day my brain works harder than it ever has before trying to be careful of the language I use, and trying to catch as many “teachable moments” as I can. On a bigger scale, I am challenged mentally every time I think about the education system and how much I want to change about it – I often dream of the little and big changes I want to make and how I can start to make those, even in small ways, right now.

Teaching challenges me emotionally… because every time a student enters a classroom I’m teaching in, I am trying to find a way to connect with him or her. Sometimes this connection is easy and sometimes it is so hard. Sometimes it takes everything I have to not take the comments or attitudes personally. And then there are the students who I want to protect from the horrible hand they’ve been dealt in life – or at the very least help them to build resiliency. Teaching challenges me emotionally more than anything else I’ve done. I come home at the end of the day emotionally exhausted, having worn the weight of so many problems and celebrated so many joys throughout the day.


My almost healed scrapes from a schoolyard tumble during a game of tag

Teaching challenges me physically… when I am trying to keep up with my students and spending time with them. Whether that means being on my feet for 6 hours straight or coming into work even though that cold I have is begging me to stay in bed. It may mean working out in the middle school gym during our PE time or playing tag with the elementary kids during a free block outside. I am also always trying to be a role model for healthy living for my students and keeping up with a fitness routine that demonstrates life long health (it is obviously for myself first but I do push myself harder to be a role model).

Teaching is the most challenging thing I have ever done, it is also the most rewarding. I am so thankful that I did not listen to the advice of my high school teacher and am able to be surrounded by students and teachers and all of the other amazing people in education. The process to become a teacher has become a huge part of who I am in every aspect of my life. I look forward to the challenges that teaching will bring me tomorrow and the challenges that I will face many years into my teaching career down the road – because with those challenges comes the even bigger reward and I am so happy to be in such a fulfilling career.


One of the challenges of being a teacher… Patience! Comic from Shoebox


Teach it Tuesday: PRISM Word Game

It’s Teach it Tuesday, I’m not working today, and it’s pouring rain…perfect day to dig in to the blog and share with you all one of my most favourite and simple “go to” activities.  This word game is called PRISM, but I like to refer to it as the “$20,000 lesson” because PRISM is probably the only strategy/game/activity I have used repeatedly from my B. Ed days at Uni.  Thanks to my language and literacy prof, Alison, for teaching this one to us in 2009!  *Note: this game might very well be published in a teacher resource book somewhere.  I do not intend to steal this idea or take credit for it, because I did not create it…I only have the handout from my Uni days, which has no reference on it!

Here’s how the game works:

PRISM acts as a word bank and can be used as a pre-write activity.  There are only three expectations:

1) You may not use proper nouns (will likely have to refresh the concept of a proper noun)

2) Each line may only have ONE word on it

3) You may use words only once, even if they reappear in a compound word (e.g. if you use the word “dog”, you may not use the word “doghouse”)

First, demonstrate PRISM by leading the class through one game on the board.  Set up the line like this:

Notice the lines are arranged by doubles: 1 line, 2 lines, 4 lines, 8 lines...and then 4 lines, 2 lines, 1 line.

Notice the lines are arranged by doubles: 1 line, 2 lines, 4 lines, 8 lines…and then 4 lines, 2 lines, 1 line.

Next, invite the class to play! Come up with a starting word (e.g. water) and write that word on the first line.  Then, ask the class: “What word do you think of when you hear the word “water”? and write down the first suggestion that is offered.  Note: the words do not have to be related in any way, although they likely will turn out that way.  Imagine a student offers the word “ocean” to be connected to the word “water” – this is how you would chart in on the board:


Continue on with the second set of lines and ask the class what else they think of when they hear the word “water”.  Imagine one student suggests the word “fish”…add “fish to the PRISM:


Move on the the third set of lines and notice you are now working from the words “ocean” and “fish”.  Imagine a student offers the word “whale” to stem off of “ocean” and another student offers “seaweed” off of “ocean”…chart the words this way:


Continue your way through the PRISM with your class and eventually you will have a PRISM full of words.  You can then have your students work with this word bank in various ways.  I usually have my students create a sentence (one that makes sense!) using the first and last word from our PRISM.  We usually talk about how in the world those two words, whatever they may be, ended up on the same PRISM.  Other times I’ve had students write poems using the words from the PRISM.  I’ve also had students choose ten words and write a short story using all the words (this version was done around Hallowe’en last year, so we started off with a Hallowe’en-y word and our PRISM was gory, scary and terrifying, to say the least).

Two weeks ago I played PRISM in my grade 7 language arts class (my “start up” job for this year).  I let the students work on the white boards (dream of dreams come true!) and this PRISM caught my attention:


Isn’t that a cute sentence using the first and last word of their PRISM?

You see, the boys playing this game are both ESL (English as a Second Language) and PRISM was challenging their English vocab!  These two managed to make it through the PRISM using their knowledge of the English language and only had to ask for my guidance once (impressive, hey?)  What happened post-PRISM was amazing though…as the boys went back through their word bank they started to find word connections between their first languages (Arabic and Spanish).  These grade 7 boys got so fired up about the English/Arabic/Spanish connection that they called me over and excitedly described to me how some of the words in their PRISM word bank “must be related, Mrs. Alleyn, because when you say “gum” in Arabic it sounds like ________________, which is similar to how it sounds in Spanish…”  Now, isn’t that CRAZY!?  🙂

Happy PRISM making!

There are many ways you can extend this activity to create writing lessons from it.  Let us know if you try this PRISM game with your class and if you come up with any other ideas/uses for the word bank!

My Three Week Mission

So… I got a job! It’s just for three weeks but it’s full time and I’ll be teaching grade 8 so I’m very excited about this start to the year!! I will be teaching Math, Science and PE for the three weeks to two different classes. It basically feels like a practicum again planning for such a specific time frame (but without the stress of having all those supervisions!)

Now I’m feeling very lucky to have this position (pretty rare after only a year in out district) and don’t get me wrong – I am so very grateful for everything I have and by no means am I complaining here…

Here’s my teeny tiny issue: I really don’t like teaching science! I absolutely love teaching Math, English, French, Social Studies, PE, Drama… You name it! I will happily teach a day of music even though I’m not musical! Art? Sure, anytime! But there is something about science that just rubs me the wrong way.

It doesn’t make sense either. I absolutely loved science when I was in school and most of my favourite high school teachers were science teachers! In grade 11, I was seriously considering going to university to do a double major in biology and chemistry – loved it! So what don’t I like about teaching it? I really don’t know! I have some fun lessons that I’ve done on practicum, a decent university methods course in science, lots of resources… everything I need to love it but I just don’t!

So I’ve made it my mission that by the end of these three weeks I’m going to enjoy teaching science! Maybe I won’t love it. It probably won’t become my favourite subject to teach. But I am very determined that I won’t dread it anymore!

And this is where it will start…


My Organized Mess of Resources…

I’m digging through my boxes for ideas and inspiration because I know if I feel inspired to teach it will help students feel inspired to learn! Grade 8 Science? I’m ready for you! With an open mind and creative juices ready to start flowing…


Getting science ready for our new contracts!

What better way to get excited about Science then prepping with a good friend? Karley and I got a good start on some fantastic unit planning today and I’m feeling better than I expected to start teaching science!

And my final way I’ve tried to get excited about this is by pooling awesome resources from people around me. I’ve found ways to turn my science unit into a creative project with lots of room for critical thinking! Turning science into something that I am excited to teach will take some effort but it is effort that I’m willing and ready to put in and I think (I hope!) that’s what counts in this situation.

How do you get excited about teaching subjects that aren’t your favourite?

Any great science ideas or resources for me?


O, Happy Days!

WOW – what a week.  I don’t always say TGIF, but when I do, I really mean it.  You all have probably picked up on what an emotional roller coaster Meaghan and I have been since the start of the school year.  Questions, such as these, have been filling our text message inboxes for the past three weeks: Are you working? Am I working? When is that French exam happening? Am I going to even PASS that French exam? Am I going to get this job? Why are they taking so long to get back to me about this job? I really want to be at ____________ School.  Do you think I’ll get a job at _____________ School? I’m exhausted, is 9pm too early to go to bed?  Why am I so broke?

We’re nutty.  We drive ourselves nutty.  We talk about teaching until our partners and friends can no longer stand to be in the same room as us.  We can’t help it.  We love our job and we just want to have our own classrooms and propel ourselves deeper into our teaching practices.  Maybe we will hit a wall one day…but for now, it’s the nuttiness that’s keeping us alive.

SO – guess what happened this week?  We got jobs!  I’ll let Meaghan share her story, but here’s mine!

Remember this photo from this post back HERE?  Well...I am proud to announce that this is now an untrue statement :)

Remember this photo from this post back HERE? Well…I am proud to announce that this is now an untrue statement 🙂

The other morning at 8.27am, just before the bell rang to start off the school day, I got a phone call.  The nice man on the other line was calling from the school district to tell me that I had passed my French as a Second Language oral test (taken the day before).  I tried to remain as calm, cool and collected as I could, but inside I was literally BURSTING with joy.  Understand this: pre-July 2013 (yep, that was this past summer), I did not really speak French. I know you all remember Meaghan and I going on and on about our French school experiences (and if you don’t, you can read them here and here), but I don’t know if I can accurately convey to you all just how much I learned this summer!  I guess the fact that I managed to have a 20 minute conversation in French is evidence enough that I did a lot of language learning this summer.  I am so extremely glad that I took LMF and I highly recommend the program to any teachers out there who are contemplating either learning French or improving their French.  Follow this link to learn more about La Maison Francaise.

Anyhow, FSL test passing was a huge milestone for me.  I was the happiest girl in the school that morning as I ran down the hall, hugged my dear friend who teaches three doors down, and high fived another teacher.  We were in celebration mode for a very good reason.  You see, having FSL certification (in our district at least) is essentially a “make it or break it” deal when it comes to getting full time teaching jobs in middle school.  Passing this test wasn’t only exciting for me on a personal satisfaction level, but it also officially qualified me for all the full time job postings I applied for.

Fast forward through the day, which was probably a great day in the classroom, but I can’t really remember anymore.  It was around dinner time and my phone rang again (I swear I’m not this popular on a daily basis…)  This call was from a lovely principal in our district and he was calling to offer me a full time job (until June) at his middle school.  My actual first response to him was, and I am not kidding, “You’re JOKING me!”

Nope.  He was not joking.  I burst into tears (still on the phone to this lovely man) and accepted the job.

So, on this day, not only did I get my awesome French test results, but I ALSO got a full time job.  Does this happen in real life, people? Does it?!  My new principal laughed with me as I remained stunned and blabbering on the phone (must actually be a really fun job for principals to offer new teachers jobs!) and told me that I should celebrate by going out for dinner.

And that’s precisely what Joel and I did.

The most excited Grade 8 science teacher you've ever met!

The most excited Grade 8 science teacher you’ve ever met!

Guest Post: The Courage to Lead

Today’s guest post, The Courage to Lead, comes to us from one of the most dedicated leaders I’ve ever worked with. Nadine Naughton, a vice-principal in our school district, is a source of sunshine for all those who cross her path, as well as a shoulder to lean on when one needs support. Nadine leads her team of staff and students with purpose, creativity and genuine love. I hope you enjoy what Nadine has to share about leadership from the heart.

The age- old question about whether leaders are born or made is a well- worn cliché. After over a decade in diverse leadership roles from teacher-leader, district leader to Vice Principal, I have come to believe that a bit of both are present when analyzing and learning from influential leaders. Indeed some individuals are born with natural tendencies towards leadership much as one has a natural aptitude for sports, the arts or Pythagorean theory. However inspiring leaders must remain life- long learners and reflective practitioners to achieve mastery in this complex and challenging role.

My master’s degree in leadership provided me with theoretical and conceptual touchstones on which to operate as a leader, but it is the daily work in schools that has deepened my thinking and developed my skills as a leader. Underlying every action a leader takes must be the firm and unwavering practice of courage. I define courage in all areas of school leadership as decisive, fair and caring action in the pursuit of justice for children.

Niccolo Machiavelli in his historical work The Prince states, “It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.” Leadership is not for the faint of heart.

Within the education system and in our schools in the 21st century we are teetering on the edge of a new order of things. Fundamental changes to curriculum are necessitating changes in instruction and assessment. Ongoing developments in brain research are forcing educators and stakeholders to re-envision learning from a passive “sit and git” perspective to an active, inquiry-based one. The balance of power has shifted; the learner must take the wheel firmly while the teacher assumes the comfortable position of passenger. The role of technology and its potential for teaching and learning is so profound that it has many of us spinning as we try to determine how best to implement and support this rapid and undeniable force in our schools. The impact on teaching today is profound; and change is difficult.

We cannot establish a culture in our schools or district that expects and supports risk-taking behaviours in the pursuit of new ways of doing business unless we are courageous. Whether it is participating in the inquiry process with colleagues about improving instruction and assessment practices, initiating difficult conversations with staff, parents or colleagues, or challenging systemic structures, leading is a feat that involves both the head and the heart. The root of the word courage is “couer”- translated from French meaning “heart.” Challenging what has always been and forging new ground in schools, can be frightening. The moral imperative to act in ways according to what is just for the children and families we serve requires leaders to stay in touch with their hearts. I have never found that my heart has led me astray in making a choice between what is difficult and what is right for a child.

Leading in a culture of change is exhilarating but it also forces leaders to run towards the fear and not away from it. Courage propels the runner somewhat like the wind at one’s back. As we grapple with the rapid changes imposed upon our system through the forces of globalization, technology and economic uncertainty, what was and what needs to be for our students and the teachers that serve them, depends on courageous leadership.

Courageous teacher leadership in our schools is the heart of innovative and promising change in how we do what we know we must do for our students to become communicators, collaborators, and creative problem solvers in our world today. The single most important factor in improving student engagement, learning and achievement is the quality of the classroom teacher. This is no longer a debatable statement. International research and practice supports this fact in all high-functioning education systems. Our highest quality teachers catupult themselves, arms wide open, into new assessment practices and new strategies that are brain-friendly for kids. They stay abreast of current research, engage in the inquiry process with peers and utilize social media to extend their connections. They blog, tweet and share what inspires them as teacher-learners: often inspiring others on their journey. They do all of these things as still arrive each day excited and energized to forge new ground with the students in front of them. That is courage.

The role of the principal is to ensure that teachers continue to receive the support they require to develop into master educators through ongoing, collaborative professional inquiry, access and training in educational technology and learning-centered conversations in our hallways every day. There are countless tasks a principal must undertake in the course of a day, a week and each year. None of them takes precedence over supporting courageous teacher-leadership in schools.

One of my preferred courageous authors in school change and leadership, Alan Blankstein profoundly proposes that, “Courage is the connective tissue between knowing what needs to happen and getting to the business of doing it.” Dig deep and find the courage to lead.


Nadine Naughton

Vice Principal
Gordon Head Middle School

Teach it Tuesday: Music Lesson

I spent my day in a music class today and had a great time with the kids. Sometimes the best part of subbing in a prep job is that you get to try one lesson over and over again!music-notes

By the end of the day I felt like I had mastered my “Body Percussion” lesson with the intermediate students. I am not a trained music teacher by any means, nor do I have a lot of experience teaching music. I do, however, have a lot of fun teaching music the odd time I am given a chance! Here is the lesson for you to try (let me know how it goes!):

Body Percussion:

1. Discussion (5 min) – Talk about what percussion instruments are and how we play them. Generate examples of ways that we can create different percussion sounds using our bodies (stomping, clapping, etc.). Explain the challenge for the class is to (in small groups of 3-5) create a body percussion rhythm that represents a couple of lines from a well known song. I give two examples at this point – We Will Rock You and ABC’s/Twinkle Twinkle. Then discuss why “We Will Rock You” is so easy to recognize and suggest that they choose similar songs with strong beats when they do their own. I also mention how we can use the height of our body percussion to represent the pitch of the song (e.g. a clap over our head would be higher pitch then a foot stomp or knee slap).

2. Creation (20 min) – In groups of 3-5 have students choose a song and create a body percussion rhythm (no humming or lyrics) for about two lines of the song. Remind them that they need to be in sync for it to sound right and they will need to practice. Make sure students know that their first job is to decide on a song and that part needs to be done relatively quickly (rock paper scissors or take a vote if necessary), and then they need to create their body percussion to perform. During this time I make sure that I’m visiting each group to make sure they are on task and working well together. I will help get them started on a rhythm when necessary but try to leave this up to them.

3. Performance (15 min) – After the groups are ready we get back together as a group and each group gets a chance to perform their sequence. We then take three guess (charades style) on what the song might be. Most of them are pretty difficult to guess but they sure have fun guessing! After three guesses the group tells us what their song was and does their sequence one more time with singing or humming to show how it goes.

We had a lot of fun today with the body percussion and it was cool to see what the kids came up with. Let me know if you ever give this lesson a try and how it goes!


Schools Full of Laughter

Well I started writing this post the other day after a wonderful day of teaching a group of funny kids… and then I read this letter from a Sandy Hook parent that has been circulating around. This letter made me think about what my role really is as a teacher. I know that creating a safe enough space for students to grow, share and learn is my main role but what about laughter? Laughing with one another can cure us and lift our spirits so isn’t it an important part of a strong, healthy community? I think a community of people that have learned how to laugh with one another can be one of the biggest agents of change in our world.

One of the main reasons I love teaching middle school is the amount of times I get to laugh in a day! The students in middle school are hilarious with their ability to have adult conversations but also remain uninhibited (mostly) and silly and playful. Honestly, they can get me laughing harder than most people in my life. So how do we return the favour to our students? How do we get the class laughing together in a caring, supportive, fun way? Now, despite the fact that I like to think I’m hilarious, I’m really no comedian – and I don’t think you have to be!

All of our students are coming from a variety of backgrounds and home situations, and when they come into my classroom I want them to know they are coming into a space where they are welcomed and enjoyed! There are always times for serious conversations, just as their are always times for laughter. You know those moments where you are caught off guard by a joke from a student and you laugh out loud? (As long as the joke was appropriate…) Don’t stop yourself – laugh out loud with your students! What better way to show them positivity then to join in with them and laugh? You don’t have to be a comedian, you just have to let laughter into your classroom. I think children need to see more adults who have fun with their lives and their jobs.

Here are some ways to incorporate laughter into your classroom:

  1. Laughter Yoga (I haven’t tried this year but I want to!)
  2. Mad Libs (teaching parts of speech)
  3. Joke Books (reading, public speaking, or just for fun)
  4. Comic Strips (book report or project)
  5. Dramatic Readings (reading/public speaking – Robert Munsch?)
  6. The “Ha! Ha!” Game (my personal favourite with the right group of kids)
  7. Improv activities (most can be incorporated into all curriculum)
  8. Have students write their own nonsense words/poems (start with Jabberwocky)
  9. Drama games like Bus Stop or Hitchhiker (Brain breaks!)
  10. Be overly expressive, dramatic or use voices when you are reading and giving instructions (not all the time of course but just when you’re feeling a bit silly and to get kids laughing)



It has been proven time and time again that people are more inclined to take action for people and places when they have a sense of love and connection to the person/place. Positivity can change the world if we just allow more of it into our lives. So despite all the politics and strife in our teaching world (or maybe because of?), we need to laugh more! Let’s show our students that we don’t let people suck our fun circuits dry and remember Ana Grace and all the children who have had tragedy in their lives. Let’s teach with courage, faith and love and let’s be the positive change in our schools and communities!


Guest Post: Parent~Teacher~Student

I’m so excited to introduce our very first guest blogger here on Tale of Two Teachers: Paul Abra, from Island Parent Magazine. Paul was a teacher and administrator before becoming publisher of Island Parent Magazine. (He also happens to be Meaghan’s dad!) His post is to share his experience about the parent role with school from his perspective as both a parent and an educator. This is a hot topic as we are kicking off the new school year and both kids and parents are adjusting to the new routines of a different class and teacher. Everyone has their roles in a child’s education but when it comes to a parent’s presence at school, how much is too much? Here’s what he has to say:

Parents need to let go sometimes and especially in schools. Too often, parents want to know everything that’s going on in their child’s day. In the words of parent educator, Barbara Colorosa, these are the helicopter parents, hovering over their child’s every minute and every move. Does this actually teach the child anything about independence and growing up as a self reliant individual? With Mom and Dad controlling every move including trying to choose the teacher and friends, the child is stifled and not prepared for the real world of life.

Schools are sometimes the first instance where children have an opportunity to experience some independence and growth. As parents, our job is to help our children become more independent and self-sufficient, our job is to start to let go. We still need to have rules and boundaries in place but we also need to let our children have space to grow and develop as individuals. Parents need to place trust in teachers, coaches and other adults, to provide their children with mentors and role models beyond the parent.


Source: Unearthed Comics

We want to hear from parents and teachers:

What are your thoughts on this topic?

Teachers – How much parent involvement is wanted in your classroom?

Parents – What are some ways you have found to help yourself let go and let other adults take on important roles in your child’s life?


You Know You’re a Substitute Teacher When…

After a quick poll of friends and coworkers we compiled this list – all of these have been done/thought by one of us. You know you’re a substitute teacher when…

1. You hope to be woken up well before your alarm goes off

2. You are out for a romantic dinner date with your phone sitting right beside you just in case

3. You answer a telemarketer call 8 km into your run because it might have been a day of work

4. You choose the aisle seat at the movie theatre in case you need to run out to answer your phone

5. You find your teacher business cards in every pocket of every bag you own

6. You don’t know if the tall male walking into your class is a student or the assistant

7. You crawl back into bed fully dressed in work clothes because you haven’t got a call yet but haven’t quite given up hope

8. You have to park next to a car full of students because the staff lot is full

9. You are eating your lunch in your car while desperately trying to get to your afternoon school before the bell

10. You regularly field questions like “How old are you?” and “Can I have your snap chat name?”

11. You know within the first 5 minutes the names of the students you will have to talk to multiple times before recess

12. You get really good at your one go to lesson


My pop out hand art (from Pinterest)… I can probably make one of these with my eyes closed by now!

13. You love when you can turn your phone off at night because you already have work the next day.

14. You get excited when you answer your phone and it’s an automated voice on the line

15. September is super stressful even though you don’t have anything to do

16. You seem to either have too much work or not enough

17. Your clothes come from the same stores as your students’ clothes

18. You become a master of every subject (or you can at least fake it!)

19. You recognize at least one student no matter where you go in public

20. You stress about how you shouldn’t be stressing right now

What would you add to our list? Comment and we will add to our list!