When the Phone Rings…

So if you have ever been a substitute teacher then these stories will probably be very familiar to you. Basically these phone calls can be work, rent money, grocery money, solutions to boredom, experience, seniority days…you name it! These calls become a large part of our life – whether we like it or not.

Meaghan is recently back on the substitute teacher train and it’s been an adjustment remembering to answer the phone at those key times. On Tuesday she was going to watch Catching Fire at the theatre at 6:45 pm but callouts in our district start at 6:30 pm and she was waiting for a call for the following day. Usually request calls come out first and so the hope was that the call would come in before the movie started so she didn’t have to be one of those “Tommy Texters” they warn you about at the beginning. So you better believe that the cell phone was in hand at all times! And then Meaghan decided to go to the bathroom just before the movie started – but of course she brought the phone with her so as not to miss the call! The second she put her hands under the tap to wash up guess what happened? Oh yes! The phone rings… She quickly managed to hit the answer button and tried to dry her hands fast so the call wouldn’t time out before she could enter her pin. With dry hands and time to spare, Meaghan calmly picked up her phone – and in doing so, ever so smoothly she swiped that red “End Call” button – Ahhh!! With a squawk and a mumbled explanation/apology to everyone around her she turned and ran back into the theatre where her boyfriend would be getting the back up call any second. Now running in a movie theatre is no easy task – think people dodging and sign obstacles. Luckily she got there just in time to give an (oh so friendly) “ANSWER YOUR PHONE” yell at him and all was good in the long run…

So what are the odds of your On Call Phone Calls coming in at the most inopportune times? Pretty likely it seems! Here is our compiled list of some the funniest/most unfortunate stories of answering those important calls (from ourselves, friends, and colleagues)…

1. The Early Riser – It’s 6:45 am and you get up to go to the bathroom when you hear that phone start to ring. In a groggy, disoriented effort to run back to your phone in time for the call – SMACK! You end up running head on into a post.

2. The Teachable Moment – While tutoring an emergent reader, you notice him about to have a major reading breakthrough! He is about to sound out a whole sentence for the first time and then – RING – Oh just hang on a moment with this monumental occasion because I’m a teacher on call and this is my life.

3. The Search for Service – It’s call out time and you find yourself in a location with no bars on your phone. What do you do? You search high and low for that one spot that you can get enough reception to not miss out on a days work – even if it means putting your phone in a flower pot!

4. The Kiddie Clutch – While babysitting, nannying, or tutoring, you hear the sound of your phone ringing and realize you don’t have your phone. When you look around you notice that a small child is holding it about to press who knows what? Your normally calm, kind, patient, caring self becomes a panicked, screaming, mad man/woman yelling “Give me my phone” at a young innocent child… It’s happened to the best of us.

5. The Drained Battery – Let’s just say there is NO worse time for your phone to die (and, Heaven forbid, be stranded sans phone charger) than 6.30pm.

6. The Stupid Cell Phone Being a Cell Phone – Your phone rings, you successfully answer your phone, you even have the chance to type in your pin to accept tomorrow’s work…and then the kind robot on the other line says “beep beep beep…I’m sorry, the call has been dropped”. Your jaw drops and you stare at this ridiculous piece of technology that quite literally is your entire sustenance and scream, “ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME!?” And then you curse your service provider because, dang it, you DO pay your phone bill every single month, on time, and this is how they choose to repay you. *note: dropped calls are not the responsibility of the school district.

7. The Experience of Driving Between the Sacred Hours – Driving between 6.30pm and 8.30pm is the worst, especially when there is a police officer cruising behind you and work is on the other line. Pick up the phone to receive work and use the money you’ll make to pay the ticket you’ll inevitably get? Tough call. (Ps – not all of us have fancy enough cars with Bluetooth capabilities!)

8. The Mind Blank – When you look at the time and realize its 8:00 pm and you have NO IDEA where your phone is and haven’t had it on you at all. When you finally dig it out there’s that moment of silent prayer before you check to see if there is a missed call or not… Sometimes you’re lucky and sometimes you’re not.

We wish you all a great weekend! Thanks for reading.

Guest Post: Message from a Student Teacher

Today’s guest post comes to us from Reisa (Reis) Brooks, a student teacher working in a grade 8 classroom across the hall from me.  It wasn’t that long ago that I was in Reis’ position and we’ve grown close throughout the duration of her practicum.  Reis has been teaching my class’ social studies because her mentor teacher usually teaches my social studies.  Reis and I have bonded over our similar fashion sense (think daily comments from our students, “Mrs. Alleyn, you and Miss Brooks look exactly the same today!” – unplanned outfit coordination, I promise), our love for coffee and our daily triumphs and struggles with our students.  I will be terribly sad to see Reis finish her practicum and move on; however, our district is about to gain another incredible educator, which makes me very happy! I know I’ll be booking her as my TOC as soon  as she gets on the sub list!  Here’s what Reis has to say about a recent social studies lesson we co-taught…enjoy.

Amidst my final practicum I have strived to experiment with as many different strategies and forms of teaching as possible in order to keep the students engaged and interested in their subjects. In Social Studies 8 we are covering Ancient India, more specifically the Gupta Empire. Over the duration of this unit I quickly discovered that there are only so many ways to immerse your students in a cultural experience within the walls of a classroom. With the help of an excellent teacher mentor, Karley Alleyn, I was able to bring a cultural experience to the students in hopes that each student take ownership of their own learning, their own experience and challenge them to be present in an unknown cultural experience.

Students resting in savasana during our yoga practice.

Students resting in savasana during our yoga practice.

Moksha yoga (not the branded studio, but the type of practice itself) has a large place in Indian culture especially during this era, as well as in modern India. Moksha was traditionally practiced in the early mornings to avoid the heat of the day as well as to provide one with relaxation, focus and to bring forth positive energy releasing toxins from the body. Yoga, both a skill and a discipline, allows one to focus in on themselves and their own being, relieve tensions and bring both body and mind to a peaceful, calm state. My students accepted this challenge with open arms and, although some were skeptics at first, many of them felt the benefits that yoga can bring to one’s life in the short 30 minute practice we did at school. Bringing moksha yoga into the classroom was an excellent experience for myself as well as the students who came with open minds toward a culture and who succeeded in a challenge to experience an aspect of a culture many were not familiar with. Sending thanks and gratitude to Mrs. Alleyn for instructing such an amazing class. Namaste.      -Written by Reis Brooks


Following the yoga practice, Reis had her students (and mine) write an exit slip reflection about the yoga experience.  Here are some comments extracted from our students’ exit slips:

“I had mixed emotions at the start, I didn’t really want to do it. But once we started I actually enjoyed it it was very relaxing and peaceful.”

“I felt like I forgot about all my school work I hadn’t done, and things that stressed me out.”

“This was my first yoga experience it was so relaxing and calming.”

“Having no shoes on made me feel at home!”

” I liked it because it gave me a chance to focus just on myself with the music playing and my eyes closed.”

“Yoga is used to relax; I agree I’ve never felt more calm.”

“I really enjoyed that experience I wish we could do it again”

“It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. If I had the chance I would do it again!”

After reading our students' reflections about their yoga practice (for many of them, their FIRST yoga experience ever!) I am truly feeling this quote!

After reading our students’ reflections about their yoga practice (for many of them, their FIRST yoga experience ever!) I am truly feeling this quote!


Trusting without Borders

I feel like I’ve been absent from our blog lately.  Things have been going on, things have been busy.  Meaghan has had lots of good stuff to share on Tale of Two Teachers in the past week, so a shout out to her for taking on our “blog duties” for the past little while.

During the past few weeks I’ve been in a pretty deep, reflective state.  Have you ever had the experience where you think all is well in your world and you couldn’t possibly be wanting of anything? Well, that was me until four weeks ago.  Now, let me assure you, nothing bad is happening! (I just reread this sentence and it kind of sounds like I’m preparing you to receive some bad news…sorry to disappoint, but no bad news here!) I guess the short story is that I’m starting to figure out the WHY part of my current and constant question: WHAT AM I DOING AS A TEACHER IN THIS CLASS!?  Yes, you read that correctly…I’m figuring out the WHY part of a WHAT question.  I’m so crafty.

Clearly not driving hands free, but I had to capture this sunrise on my way to school on Monday.  Perfect way to inspire my day.

Clearly not driving hands free, but I had to capture this sunrise on my way to school on Monday. Perfect way to inspire my day.

Don’t get me wrong, I have the best support group a girl could ask for (a nice mix of colleagues, friends, a blessed combination of those two, and people who aren’t teachers).  These people (my husband calls them my “fan club” – ha!) remind me on the daily that I am doing a good job and that I am the right teacher for this class, but despite all their encouragement I still doubt myself…every single day.  I seem to keep repeating this phrase, but my goodness, this job is so hard.  This is probably the messiest state my heart has been in for several years and I’m feeling the whole experience pretty intensely right now, all while trying to create community amongst my students and teach them a little bit about science and French, too.  My past few weeks have been full of tears, fervent prayers (more like desperate pleas), journal writing, “mayday” style text messages to my people, and, because I love to talk, plenty of talking (and listening).  I’ve found myself on a quest, seeking to “trust without borders”.  I’ve been wisely advised that it can be a scary and dangerous path (dangerous in a “be careful what you wish for” sense)…but I find myself asking the Universe daily to take my feet deeper than they’ve ever wandered before.  Feel welcome to interpret this as you like because I’m not even too sure what it means? My favourite song of the moment encourages keeping one’s “eyes above the waves” – to me, this means riding out the waves, the highs, the lows, and taking it one moment at a time.   This is my scattered heart as of late, and my heart is a large part of my teaching, so I felt I’d share it with you all tonight.

All philosophical thoughts aside, there have been some delightful goings on in my school life lately.  Here they are in photo form:

Working on our body systems...always in the hallway.

Working on our body systems…always in the hallway.

A little yoga practice with my class in our cafeteria. This was a lesson extension for their Social Studies India unit (I don't teach their socials, but I DID teach the yoga class).  So good!

A little yoga practice with my class in our cafeteria. This was a lesson extension for their social studies India unit (I don’t teach their socials, but I DID teach the yoga class). I had not seen my class so focused and calm until this yoga class.  So good!

This is what we've had to do lately every single morning.  Last week my car's lock was frozen shut and I had to take Joel's car to work.  Um...we live on Vancouver Island, it's not supposed to get this cold.

This is what we’ve had to do lately every single morning. Last week my car’s lock was frozen shut and I had to take Joel’s car to work. Um…we live on Vancouver Island, it’s not supposed to get this cold.

Some hilarious student signed me up for the talent show...they think it's a joke.  Bring it on, kids.

Some hilarious student signed me up for the talent show…they think it’s a joke. Bring it on, kids.

Joel and I are starting our 24 Days of Gratitude next Sunday.  I think I'm going to set one up in my classroom too...

Joel and I are starting our 24 Days of Gratitude next Sunday. I think I’m going to set one up in my classroom too…

Yes, I did take a selfie while digging in the garden.  My mom was right...my vegetable garden = my happy place.  Grateful for this sunshine we've been having!

Yes, I did take a selfie while digging in the garden. My mom was right…my vegetable garden = my happy place. When things go wrong at school, there’s always a weed to literally pull from the ground at home.  Grateful for this sunshine we’ve been having!

Franklin needed to make another blog appearance because he helped me write this post.  Not to sound like a crazy cat lady (although I know I am one), but sometimes nothing makes me happier than a snuggle with this little guy.  Joel will say, "Franklin, the lady needs a snuggle" and Franklin will come snuggle my stress away.  Aren't pets amazing?

Franklin needed to make another blog appearance because he helped me write this post. Not to sound like a crazy cat lady (although I know I am one), but sometimes after a long day at school nothing makes me happier than a snuggle with this little guy. Joel will say, “Franklin, the lady needs a snuggle”, and Franklin will come snuggle my stress away. Aren’t pets amazing?

I’ll finish this post with a little note for my support group: I just love you. And thank you, thank you, thank you.


Teach it Tuesday: Physical Education

First off, I have lots of experience with Physical Education: coaching middle school volleyball/softball/basketball, coaching young kids multi-sport programs (1-6 years), 8 years of summer camp experience, and my own background in a variety of sports. But let me tell you, sometimes when I’m standing in the gym with a group of 8th graders who tower over me and I’m supposed to teach them floor hockey – I’m nervous! I can handle the games part of PE and I really love getting out of the classroom and running around with the kids, but the sports specific side of gym class is definitely out of my comfort zone. I’m working on it though and feeling more comfortable by the day

Back here I walked about my favourite games to play in Phys Ed class when I’m a sub teacher so today I thought I would share some of my favourite activities to use for sport specific lessons in the PE class.


Image Source


I usually start class off with a variety of dribbling/passing relays to get everyone warmed up (one hand, other hand, back and forth then add chest/bounce pass). For the main activity I make two squares in the gym and we do keep away in the square. The basic rules: you must keep dribbling, try to protect your ball, try to knock other people’s away (safely – no fouls allowed), and if your ball gets knocked out you switch to the other square. I like this activity because it keeps everyone in the game at all times and there isn’t much confusion – Plus you can set a goal of trying to stay in the same square the whole time for your basketball all-stars.


With soccer, I pick a drill to get them warmed up. Usually a short-short-long passing drill works if you have a good sized field or relays will work as well. The activity that I use for soccer requires teams of three, four can work too but three is best. Each team gets one ball and one cone (tall orange cone). The team picks one person to be the guard and they stand around their cone – they can block shots but can’t touch the cone. The other two people on the team dribble the ball around the field, passing between them, and try to knock over another teams cone. If a cone gets knocked over the whole team needs to come to me and I’ll give them a challenge (from jumping jacks to singing “O Canada” depending on the age group). Whenever I yell “Switch” the teams have to switch who is guarding the cone so that everyone gets a chance. Most groups seem to really enjoy this game and its nice that they are just working with their partners so you don’t have to worry about a discrepancy in skill levels.


I find volleyball a tough one for PE class, partially because I’m used to coaching a team of players who have been training but also because the skill level can vary so much in a class of 30 students. The game that I usually like to play with groups is called “King/Queen of the Court.” This game was a favourite of mine back in my club volleyball days and I find it relatively easy to adapt to a PE class. I usually let the students select their level (competitive/recreational) if we have two courts and then I put them in teams of 4 from there. One side of the volleyball court is the throne court (the side you want to be on) and then there is another team on the other side and the rest of the teams are behind the serving line. If your team is not on the court you start serving – if you miss your serve you go to the back of the serving line. If the serve goes over it is played out by the two teams on the court. If the team on the throne side wins the rally they get a point, if they lose then they are off and now in the serving line. If the other team wins they get to head to the throne side to try to win some points and the team that served the ball over gets to come onto the court.


Okay so maybe this isn’t one of your “regular” sports but it is something that gets played a lot in schools – and one of my favourites! Now come spring time this is often a go to activity for gym time outside so I like to switch it up a little bit with an adaptation I call, Reverse Kickball. In Reverse Kickball all the kids are up to bat and it’s just me in the field (grab a student or two to help you if you aren’t a runner and/or you are playing with older students). The goal for the students is to try to be the last one standing in the kicking line. Basically, if they kick the ball and I catch it in the air or tag them out then they join my team. If they are safe they keep running and once they get home safe they return to the end of the line. Once you start to build a team in the outfield it gets much harder for the students to get all the way around without getting out. What I like most about this game is that it seems to really balance who the winner is and it’s often not the hardest/farthest kicker. Adaptation: When they are in the field, if they catch a ball in the air they get to return to the kicking line up and the person who kicked it is in the field.

What activities do you do with these sports or others?


Getting Your Foot in the Door: Temporary Teachers

Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this post are reflections of my own personal experience and do not reflect the district and/or schools for which I work. I am writing honestly with only the intention to inform other new teachers what I feel is best for my career in hopes that it might be useful to them with their decisions.

So in our district (and most others in the area) the short term and/or part time contract is the best, if not only, way to break through the hiring barriers.

This means a lot of positives: trying out new grades and/or schools, learning the ins and outs of teaching without having the stress of full year plans or full time responsibilities, making relationships with a lot of new students, learning from many different teachers and administrators, and building up your “teacher tool box” of lesson plans and ideas.

It also comes with a lot of negatives: a LOT of goodbyes, inconsistency for students (having multiple teachers in the classroom), sometimes the stress of finishing assessment or report cards on short notice, and job uncertainty – the constant, sometimes terrifying, waiting game of “what’s next?”

I just finished my second contract since I’ve started teaching and thought this would be an appropriate time to give my advice on contracts (mostly applicable to our district but maybe some advice will be general to others)


My two vastly different temporary contracts…

Contract #1 – Almost full year (Oct-June) and a 0.246 FTE (which means 0.246 of a full time contract – basically a quarter of a full time)

Pros: I was at an amazing school with awesome admin and teachers who were really supportive! It was my first year and I got a contract for 9 months (pretty great start). I taught French and English to one class of grade 8 students so they felt like my own class for the year. I learned how to do report cards and assessment on a small scale (a quarter of the work basically). It was nice to have some time to be a substitute teacher while I had my own class – good balance. I also ended up subbing at the same school a lot so I got to teach my class and the other grade 8’s a lot! Being at one school (and not subbing) meant that I was able to coach sports – which I love! And career wise, I got almost a full year of seniority… priceless!

Cons: I worked two partial afternoons and then a partial day so money was tight. It was really tough to find subbing shifts for the half days I was available. I didn’t work a single full week from November until April – Not fun for the bank account. When I did work full weeks I felt like I was running around like a mad woman all the time between schools. My prep time was paid out instead of scheduled in so on weeks when I was subbing a lot my prep time took over my evenings and weekends – not my preferred balance. It was tough to make important meetings, parent teacher interviews, and other staff events when I was subbing at different schools.

Advice: If it’s your first year teaching – Take it! There really isn’t anything more valuable than a full year of seniority when you are just starting out. It was a bit tough financially but I have no regrets about taking that contract. Now that I’m in my second year though I don’t apply for anything that isn’t a full day of work (e.g. a 0.2 contract that is just Fridays I would apply for but a 0.2 that is Monday and Tuesday afternoons I would not).

Contract #2: Full time (1.0 FTE), originally 3 weeks extended to 9 weeks

Pros: Obviously I loved my class – huge pro! And again I loved the school, staff and administration (and no I would not just say that without meaning it – some schools don’t have the same feeling for me). I taught three subjects to two different grade eight classes which gave me a lot of practice with each lesson and unit. I had awesome support and got to do some team teaching. It was a new school that I had only been to briefly so it was great to make new connections. With the six week extension I was able to move into some project-based learning for a few weeks. And… I didn’t have to keep my phone on me all day every day waiting for subbing calls.

Cons: It’s hard pouring your heart and soul into a class and then having to say goodbye part way through the year… Really hard! Another con is the unknown of when it will end which makes it really tough to teach the way you want to or normally teach (e.g. I like to focus on project-based learning over longer periods of time). It takes about a month to get settled with a class I find so if you are only there for a month then you don’t really get to that point. Job postings sprung up a few times during this short term contract and I never knew if I should apply or not (everyone told me to apply) because I didn’t want to have this happen again, and I didn’t want to have to go start another class when there was potential of staying in the class I was in for longer.

Advice: I think it depends on the time of year these short term contracts get posted… This one was in sort of the last main round of postings for the full year so there wasn’t too much coming up after that. At the beginning of September I probably wouldn’t take something so short if I had a chance at getting something else because kids don’t need to feel that sense of abandonment – especially at the beginning of the school year! Overall I am 100% glad I took the contract and I would definitely apply to something like that under similar circumstances.

Obviously this advice is just what worked for me and for everyone it will be very differently depending on what you get offered. Some people really just like to be a sub until they get their full time contract and that works as well! I really love building those relationships at least for a while because I think it makes the subbing more meaningful.

From our district or similar – What contracts have you taken and were they worthwhile?

From another district – How does your system work? Do you have to work your way up with small contracts?


Guest Post: The Educational Role of Transformative places

We have a special guest post for you tonight from a friend and colleague of Meaghan’s with the UVIC Research project that has been mentioned here a few times. Nick Stanger is going to share with you how our stories of place have a transformative impact on our lives. The video is a preview of his research and then he will explain his background and project in the post so please read, enjoy, participate, and share. Thank you!

It was the first time I had really been on my own.  I was ten, and I was exploring the local hill, probably with my family dog.  I had convinced my parents, who were very protective of me, that I could responsibly walk my dog alone and told them I was going around the block.  Instead, I headed up the hill that had a little regional park on the top of it, an unused observatory, and some buildings originating from WWII.  This hill, though heavily urbanized, represented the wilderness to me.  While standing on the highest peak of the hill, I could see across the Salish Sea to the Gulf Islands and the Olympic Mountains.  But it wasn’t only the epic views that made it so exciting; It was that feeling of autonomy and connection to place.  I built forts, scrambled on rocks, climbed trees, got lost, found secret hiding places, and developed a love for this funny rocky park.

This place taught me something:  That exploration without goals often leads to wonderful adventures and meaningful moments.  I found myself learning about the systems up there: the water cycle, biology of the Garry Oak ecosystem, and the weather patterns. At the time, I had no language to describe this understanding, but it seeped into my skin and affected me profoundly.  These experiences also left me with a life-long curiosity about what was going on.  Since then, I have always been curious about the human connection to place.

After my undergrad degree in natural resources conservation, a Masters degree in Environmental Education and Communication, and my PhD in Environmental Education, I feel I am a little closer to understanding how humans connect to place.  For me it all relates back to that age when I was ten and the unstructured play I was engaged in.  By having the space and time to play without intentional outcomes, I had rich learning that were transformative and distinctly mine.  These experiences continue to transform me through my life.

With an increased interest in nature-based Kindergartens and Forest Schools in Canada, many school systems and teachers acknowledge that early connection to nature can lead to great learning.  I am of the mind that in addition to research stating that early exposure is critical, I believe that any exposure at all points of our life can be transformative and indeed critical.   This is why, for my research, I wanted to interview adults who do not readily identify as environmentalists.  In the summer of 2013 I identified four exemplary individuals and interviewed them in their childhood or adolescent transformative outdoor places. My participants included Tsartlip Elder and Cowichan Sweater knitter, May Sam; National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence, Dr. Wade Davis and his wife Gail Percy; Her Honour, the former Lieutenant Governor for British Columbia, Iona Campagnolo; and Hua Foundation co-founder, Claudia Li.

I filmed my participants during these interviews so that I could see beyond the words they were saying and have insights into their non-verbal communication.  I then created a website to share these films.  The goal of this site is to celebrate these places as a way to show their relevance throughout these four people’s lives.  Yet there is more.  Interviewing these four made me wonder about you and your story.

Likely you have been thinking about your transformative place throughout this blog.   Where would you go if you were to go to a transformative place?  You are encouraged to write about this place on the interactive map on the http://www.transformativeplaces.com website.  You can upload movies, songs, poems, artwork, and stories.

As teachers, be sure that you pay attention to your students’ concepts of place.  Where are they going right now?  What are they doing in these places?  I would bet that they are finding solace, exploring and learning with nature, playing in unstructured ways, and discovering new things about themselves.  Our current education system has missed many opportunities to teach about the ecological and cultural communities that surround us.  Take this opportunity to do that.  Share your place with your classroom and then ask them to do the same.

And the reason is…

If you’ve been reading for a while then you know the story of how my fall has gone… Subbing in September, received a 3 week contract at the end of September, 2 weeks into that I got my first full time full year contract, 3 days into that I lost the job in a grievance, returned to my original 3 week contract for the last two days, got extended in that contract until… Today!

So long story short – It’s been an emotional tornado of a year for me! And back when I wrote this post about losing my “dream job” I said that I knew it happened for a reason but I wasn’t sure what that reason was yet. I had a lot of advice and kind words from so many people who told me that some of the reasons were showing my strength, that writing that post and connecting with people was another reason, that getting through tough times is what makes us who we are… And you know what? I wholeheartedly believe in all of those reasons. But today I realized that the real reason was for this…


For these AMAZING, challenging, kind, struggling, beautiful souls that I had the absolute pleasure of teaching for 9 weeks. This class has changed who I am as a teacher – and I am so utterly thankful for that.

I’ve worked in “inner city” schools, run programs for at risk youth, and I’ve worked in subsidized housing projects… Nothing was like this class though. And it wasn’t because they were tougher than the average class or that they were all from crazy home lives. This class has changed my perspective but not just because they went through tough things. Although they went through very tough things that I can’t write about here, these events were all familiar to me, unfortunately, and some affected individuals or small groups, while other events affected the entire class.

What was different? During the past 9 weeks we helped each other (along with the support of an amazing school staff) to get past these things and as a classroom community we were stronger for it in the end. This was not my first tough class, and I know and hope that it will not be my last because when you go through the tough stuff together you become a support system for each other. Myself for the students, the students for each other, the students for me. I saw students support one another in ways that I would not have even dreamed of in my first week with this group.

And saying goodbye was so hard today. Not just because I wanted to stay and teach. Not just because I loved the school and staff I was able to work with. It was so hard because I have to leave this amazing community of support that we had built together and all I can do is hope that what I’ve done there will help to guide these beautiful kids through the rest of the year.

I am grateful. I am honestly, 100% grateful that I lost my “Dream Job” back in October.

Because the universe knew that this grade 8 class was the right place for me to be.


First Timer: Report Cards

I have just finished my first full report cards! (Pause for applause 😉 ) And… I SURVIVED!

Whew! It was a long stretch there but it was generally pretty smooth and I learned a lot. I thought I would share some of my tips and tricks that I learned for those of you who are coming up to this obstacle soon.

Some of this advice will be general but some is middle school specific and/or district specific.

Best pieces of advice from others…

1. Start early and do a little bit at a time
2. Don’t let yourself stress about them because they will get finished
3. Don’t try to write all your personal comments in one sitting. Do a few at a time or mix up the writing with marking if you can’t take a full break.

My advice…
1. Think about your students before you write (the interactions and conversations you have with them, what would you say directly to them about their work habits, etc.)
2. DON’T, I repeat – DON’T have kids hand in big projects the week before marks are due… Yup I did it again.
3. Set realistic goals (my first to do list had me finishing my report cards 3 days early and I was stressing so much… Why bother adding extra stress?!)

Subject Comments

For our report cards we have to have a letter grade, behaviour mark, and a minimum of 3 comments (from a database) for each subject. Before I went through my students marks I gathered all the comments I wanted to choose from for each subject.

And then I used a fresh mark sheet to write the letter grade, work habits mark, and comment numbers for each student. This made for easy and (relatively) quick data entry.

Term Comments
We then have to write a paragraph for personal responsibility and behaviour for each student. I really enjoyed doing this part of the report cards. I did 5 at a time and spread them out over about a week. It was really nice to take the time to reflect on my relationship with the students and suggest some goals for them for the coming months. I found it easier to write the comments for students whose parents I have connected with in the past. (I don’t know if this is helpful because we can’t always make those connections but I thought it was interesting.) My comments included a positive reflection on the student and what they do for the class environment, a goal or area for improvement, and then my own well wishes for the student (especially since I won’t be their teacher for the rest of the year!)

But, yes, I stressed…


6:38 pm finished… happy, relieved, and ya I went a little crazy!

There were a few moments when I was close to tears staring at the piles of work and marking on my desk. I hurt my back a week ago and sitting at a desk for that long was quite physically painful at times – there may have been some yoga on the classroom floor. And yes I had to double check my comments with other teachers and admin to make sure I was on the right track. And YES it was a ton of work! More than I ever expected it to be!

But it had to be done right? And I got through it while still enjoying my last couple of days with the kids – Last day is tomorrow 😦

Good luck to everyone battling the report cards as I write this! You can do it!!

What are your tips and tricks for us first time report card writers?


Teach it Tuesday: Language Learning

Today in French we started our “DuoLingo Tuesdays”! DuoLingo is a free, easy to access language learning website for learners of all ages and levels.  Why DuoLingo?  I chose to use this resource not only because it’s free and easily accessible, but also because it provides a “game like” approach to language learning.  Most of my students play video games and are very knowledgeable in the structure of winning points and passing/failing levels before moving on.  DuoLingo offers a video game like approach to language learning because one must pass a level before moving on (unless you succeed in the chapter test challenge).  DuoLingo also provides the learner with four hearts per level; every time the learner makes a mistake a heart disappears (if the learner runs out of hearts he/she must start the level again.  Learners can also gain hearts back by correcting errors).  Finally, DuoLingo is interactive; the program has the learner typing, speaking and listening in the language he/she is working with.  *Note: students will likely benefit from the use of headphones when using DuoLingo in the classroom.

I teach all three grade 8 French classes and I was really excited to get going on this interactive language learning initiative because I’m curious to see what my students can learn from this program.  We are lucky at our school because we have a school set of shared iPads.  I’ve managed to book the iPads during my French blocks every Tuesday for the next five weeks so that my students can plug in and use technology for language learning.

I introduced “DuoLingo Tuesdays” by guiding my classes through the account set up process on DuoLingo.  Once we had an introduction to the website I let the students take their iPads and get to work!  Most students remembered to bring headphones to class today (I reminded them yesterday) and once they plugged in and logged on the language learning began.  It was really neat to see my students working hard to develop their language learning skills on the iPads; some students even passed level one in the short amount of time we had!

I plan to assess my students’ learning on DuoLingo by floating around with a checklist and tapping in to their session either by watching them work or by asking them some questions about their learning.  For example, today I asked a few students to share some new words they learned from their brief first DuoLingo session…those asked were able to respond right away (something that doesn’t happen a lot in the French classroom!)

I think this DuoLingo Tuesday thing is going to be a hit…we will only plug in and log on once a week, which leaves us two more French blocks during the week to get other language learning done.  For me, this is a bit of an experiment, but I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with my students’ basic French comprehension.

Let me know if you try DuoLingo with your students or on your own!  My mother in law has passed the entire DuoLingo French program twice and has since moved on to Spanish…she’s a champ!  Happy learning 🙂


TEDx Victoria

This weekend I had the incredible opportunity to spend Saturday at TEDx Victoria!  I spent the whole day with my good friend, Jess, who is also a teacher.  Jess and I thought the entire experience was engaging and inspiring and we took pictures, Tweeted, ate good food and chatted about TED related things all day long.  TED stands for: Technology, Entertainment, Design (many of you likely have watched, or at least heard of, TED talks).  The “x” in TEDx stands for: independently organized TED events.  The energy in the audience was tangible and I felt so fortunate to be part of such a fun event.

A snippet of the great weekend Jess and I spent together at TEDx Victoria.

A snippet of the great weekend Jess and I spent together at TEDx Victoria.

The TEDx talks from this weekend will be posted on YouTube in the coming weeks, so until then I can really only describe some of my favourite presentations.

Adam Kreek: Adam is probably most commonly known to the public as an Olympic rower (gold and silver medals in Beijing and London, respectively).  Adam is hilarious, entertaining and full of amazing positive energy and his presentation on “Seeking Failure” caught our attention because the title of his presentation is exactly what most people don’t seek.  Adam presented right before the lunch break and he had the entire theatre engaged and laughing.  We were able to connect with Adam throughout the day via Twitter (oh glorious, glorious technology, what did we ever do without you?) and now I am in the works of planning to get Adam in to speak to my class about leadership and community. Yahoo!

Tiffany Poirier: Tiffany is an elementary school teacher, and an author, with a background in philosophy.  Tiffany presented an incredible speech concerning student inquiry and its role in the classroom.  Naturally, Jess and I ate this right up.  Tiffany provided samples of her students’ “Big Questions” and ideas via voice recordings and images and my goodness, do I ever feel inspired to dig deeper into the benefits of learner inquiry after listening to her speak.

Angela Moran: Angela is one of the farmers at the Mason Street City Farm here in Victoria, BC.  This presentation was a personal favourite for both Jess and I because of our shared interest in sustainable, local, organic food and farming.  What piqued my interest the most during Angela’s presentation was the idea about aquaponic farming – a technique using fish ponds, water pumps and raised garden beds to create a self-sustaining garden that belongs smack-dab in the middle of the busiest of any city.  Angela’s speech made me long for spring time; I can’t wait to get our garden going again!

Bob McDonald: Bob is the host of CBC’s Quirks and Quarks and is also a renowned science journalist (you can see where this is going, I know…)  Of course, I was super excited for this presentation because I am teaching science this year and ANY additional interactive science material I can get my hands on is definitely going to benefit my students’ learning.  Bob provided us with an engaging and entertaining presentation (he even used props!) I’m excited for his TEDx talk to be posted on YouTube because I know my class will love watching/listening to what he had to say about the world, galaxies, population, etc.

There were many other speakers at TEDx Victoria (we enjoyed all the presentations), but these four presentations in particular really stick out in my mind because I can relate them directly to my personal passions and teaching practice.  If you’ve never been to a TED event before you really should consider checking it out!  The annual TED conference is coming up during Spring Break 2014 and it’s in Vancouver this year!  I’m considering attending…anyone want to join me?