To Reward or Not?

Classroom rewards are often a point of contention… What is best for kids? And for the things you do want to reward what do you give as a prize? It has taken me a little while in my teaching practice to figure out what exactly I believe in here – when is it okay to give rewards and when does it undermine the values I am trying to instill?

Personally, I do not believe in rewarding behaviour on a regular basis. I think that being ready for class is an expectation. As is being a good classmate or helping clean up the class. My students do not expect to be rewarded for these behaviours, it is the expectation that this is how they act.

Having said that there are times when I do offer rewards in class. When we forget to clean up at the end of the day and I need incentive for a few to stay after and help with the cleanup. Occasionally during math (right after recess) I offer a reward for those that are ready to go and started on the warm-up without being asked, because even in May we still struggle with this transition. Prizes for classroom games we play every so often. And, although I haven’t done it this year, I believe that offering rewards to speak French in class is useful because speaking in another language is scary, students need practice, and often there isn’t a ton of intrinsic motivation for this one.

So then the second question – What do you give as rewards? This has always been a tough one because, especially in middle school, what can you give that students will actually like? I do not believe in giving any kind of food reward like candy but often find that it is the only thing students really seem to want as a prize so I cave and buy it anyways. This year, besides the odd holiday treat, I have not given out any candy or food prizes. I found the next best thing…


Scholastic Mustache Pencils! And no, this post is not sponsored, I honestly just love these pencils so much! The kids get excited about them, they are relatively inexpensive (especially if you have Scholastic bonus coupons!), they aren’t made of sugar, and kids are less likely to lose them.

I also have a bunch of other fun pencils and colourful erasers as prizes, as well as glowsticks from the dollar store. I think if I offered a choice of candy or these then candy would still win but since they only get the choice of which pencil colour they still get pretty excited.

Added teacher bonus – the more pencils you give out the less kids say “I don’t have a pencil”! But yes, I still here it a few times a day.

I think students can get excited about whatever you give out if you do it in a fun way too! I had a really tough grade 8 class last year who were definitely in that “too cool” for anything phase, but we did Friday stickers after class cleanup and I just played it off as a big joke – in a mock preschool teacher voice saying “Okay class you did such a wonderful job cleaning up that I have a sticker for you!” Then they would roll their eyes at me… but 75% of the class would be lined up for their sticker at the end of the day!

So all in all, for me classroom rewards are meant for fun and to show students that you care but they do not reward for expected behaviours.

What do you use for classroom rewards?


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?


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?


What Makes a Good Substitute Teacher?

Substitute teachers, Teachers-On-Call (TOCs), Supply Teachers… Whatever your title in your district is we are all in this together! Sometimes you feel like a babysitter, sometimes a drill sergeant, sometimes a self-promoter, and, hopefully more often then not, you feel like a “real” teacher. This substitute territory can be tricky to navigate for the classroom teacher and substitute alike. This post was written to bridge the gap a bit when it comes to expectations and what is helpful for the classroom teacher – as always we would love to hear your feedback!

In the last few weeks we’ve experienced some teacher angst among our more established teacher friends.  A new school year is about to begin and those teachers with their own classrooms and students are facing another year of struggles…finding a good sub. We can attest to these struggles because we both had small contracts last year and we both got sick and needed to book substitutes for our own classrooms.  Unfortunately, we never got the chance to sub for one another, but we did manage to find good people to cover for us when we needed them too.  So what makes a good substitute teacher, then? We’ve asked a few of our teacher friends to help us out with the answers to this question.

Here’s what they have to say:

Have a bag of tricks with varied lessons, games, activities and art projects for a range of subjects.  Be “friendly tough” with students – don’t put up with silliness or rudeness, but also don’t publicly shame students if they do cross the line.  Using your sense of humour goes a long way!  Don’t assign homework unless you’ll be around to mark it (i.e. longer term stints), or if the teacher has specifically asked you to assign homework (when a substitute assigns homework it usually doesn’t get completed and can turn in to a “make work project” for the enrolled teacher).  Similarly, when a substitute creates lessons that don’t get finished in class, it can be hard on the enrolled teacher because he/she doesn’t know how to finish up the lesson or mark it (if you, the sub, are doing an in-class project, make sure you have the time to mark it yourself).  *This next point is specific to the style of the teacher: Prepare to do your own planning/prep if you are subbing for more than one consecutive day.

A nice reminder for tonight, because we know that we will not be sleeping soundly at all! A mixture of nerves and excitement has taken over.

A nice reminder for tonight, because we know that we will not be sleeping soundly at all! A mixture of nerves and excitement has taken over.

Karley’s thoughts:  I am definitely not a pro by any means, but I’ve found some key things that really tend to work in my favour when I’m subbing.  When subbing I try my best to be as competent as I can.  I always show up at least 30 minutes before the bell rings (I’m usually more like 40 minutes early), I check in at the office in the morning and meet the office staff and principal/VP if possible, at the end of the day I make sure the classroom looks like it did at the start of the day, I leave a detailed note or email for the teacher, I introduce myself to neighbouring classrooms teachers (“Hi, I’m Karley Alleyn and I’m subbing for _______________ today.  I just wanted to introduce myself and let you know I’ll be here all day” kind of thing), and I always bring a few good stories (my own, personal stories) or quick activities.  I find that establishing myself in the classroom as best as I can before the school day starts is what really sets the tone for the day.  These things might seem like “no brainer” actions, but I do know of subs who don’t engage with the school and the students from the moment they set foot in the school; ignoring to establish immediate rapport can set one up for disaster before the bell even rings.

I always introduce myself to the students in a fun, yet clear and concise, way.  I make sure the students know that even though I’m “just a sub”, I mean business.  I frequently have had students switch names on me, or sit in different seats…when things like this happen I don’t let it bother me, but rather I approach the students in a warm manner (I’m not the kind who raises their voice and yells) and let them know that I have the seating plan right in front of me (most times I actually DO have it right in front of me).  I let students know that the name switching thing might be funny, but it is actually a safety issue.  I tell the class that if we were to have a fire or earthquake that I would be doing attendance outside and if they were joking around with switched names we could all get into serious trouble, or worse.  If it sounds like I’m in “lay down the law” teacher mode during these discussions, it’s because I AM! I can pull a quality “serious face” and in my experience kids seem to get the point straight away and come clean with the switched names.  Of course I never hold a grudge on the students who try to play games; they’re just testing the waters!  For me it’s basically just about setting the boundaries as the TOC from the moment the bell rings; if I let the kids know they aren’t getting away with their silly antics from the get go, then we are usually good for the rest of the day, and beyond, because we are able to establish trust with one another.

Meaghan’s thoughts:

I actually really enjoy subbing! Not that I want to do it for the rest of my life or anything and I definitely prefer being a classroom teacher but I think subbing is fun and that really helps me out with the job. For me, attitude is the most important part of it – I need to have a positive attitude about the job from the time I get the call to the time I leave the school at the end of the day. Yes there will be those moments where you have no idea what’s going on but hey, what can you do? That’s all a part of it.

Karley is exactly right with being prepared, that’s how you start the day off right! Now I’m not so much of a morning person so being 40 minutes early has probably never happened for me despite my best intentions haha but 30 minutes for sure! You never know what you might have in the classroom so it’s important to make sure you have enough time to prep, plan and photocopy. One of my best days of subbing was when there was absolutely no day plan for me – getting to do whatever I want for all the subjects = AWESOME! I got to try all of my best one off lessons for every subject all day and the kids really enjoyed it as well. However, many times you will get a detailed day plan left by the teacher and it’s important to try to follow the plan to the best of your ability. Most teachers will be fine if you couldn’t get to something or had trouble with a part of a lesson (as long as you leave a note) but I think it’s really important that you at least try to get through everything. I’ve heard of a few situations where a substitute just did their own lesson even when there was a detailed plan left by the teacher… This is a no go for me. Teacher’s have timelines and missing a day of work could really throw things off especially when there is a deadline like report cards or a holiday coming up. Unless a teacher gives you the option to do your own lesson you should always follow the plans that are left.

My best advice on being a good substitute teacher is to truly enjoy it: make connections with the kids, participate in your own games and activities, be positive, and be your best.  If you are anything like us we are working towards those full time contracts so we won’t be substitutes forever and there are many positives to being a substitute (little or no marking/planning, less time at school, etc.). We have the unique opportunity to try out different grades, schools, classrooms, and routines on a daily basis – Let’s enjoy it!


Go To Lessons: Primary

Since most of our posts relate to intermediate/middle grades I thought I would add my go to primary lesson. It’s only one lesson because it has three parts and can take up a bunch of time! I did this lesson on my first day of 100% teaching on my second practicum (grade 1/2) and it went so well that it became a regular in my TOC plans!

This lesson is based on the book “Children Make Terrible Pets” by Peter Brown. It is one of my favorites for drama activities because the main character is oh so dramatic!

Part 1
I make sure to hide the book from the kids because the title and picture would give away a key part of the lesson
For the first part of the lesson I do a drama activity called a Swish Story. A swish story is where you tell a story and have students silently act out parts of the story. The “swish” is the sound you make at a scene change when students head back to their seats. When I do the swish story for this lesson I use the characters names (Lucy and Squeaker) and tell the same story but I never give away any details about what species the characters are.

Swish Story example: One day Lucy (student stands up to be Lucy) goes for a walk in the forest (a couple students act out trees) when suddenly she hears Squeaker (student acts out squeaker) who was hiding in a bush (couple of students make a bush for Squeaker to hide behind)

The students really love acting out the Swish Story! I usually make it last about 20 minutes including the explanation and practice of a swish story.

Part 2
Next I have to students make guesses about what kind of creatures they think Squeaker and Lucy might be. I really encourage creativity here (I’ve had peacocks and fairies and everything in between!)

I give students a worksheet and they return to their desk to draw and color a picture of what they think Lucy and Squeaker look like.

This part usually takes about 15-20 minutes depending on how much detail you ask for in the drawing.

Part 3
Read aloud time! If you have spread these activities out throughout the day then students will be VERY excited to find out the real story. This part is simply reading it aloud but I always make sure that I add conversation about how our drawings weren’t right or wrong and just creative ideas. At the end of the story we have a discussion about pets (the story ends with foreshadowing about a new type of pet…)

As I said this is one of my favourite lessons to do and I’ve done it in grades 1, 2 and 3. I think the activities could easily be adapted to other stories as well and I would love to hear where you take the ideas! Please leave a comment or message me if you end up using this lesson!


Go To Lessons: Phys Ed

So as you may have read here, we have been trying to compile some of our favourite “Go To Lessons” for different subjects. Most of these were developed for the substitute teacher but can easily be used as one off lessons for the regular classroom teacher as well. Also, check out our new Teachers Pay Teachers store for more ideas!

This here is really my “Go To” lesson for any PE class I teach (grades 4 and up) – I use it pretty much everytime I teach PE if there isn’t a lesson plan left for me. I like it because the three games are a progression on each other and all three are really popular with students. I follow the old adage where you finish a game on it’s high point and then switch it up but by keeping the games relatively similar I find that students are engaged throughout the class wondering what comes next.

I always play them in the order that follows and then if there is time left in the class I ask the students to vote on their favourite game and we re-play that one.

*Head Shot Rule: If anyone hits anyone in the head it is a 2 minute sit out whether it is an accident or not. I always use this rule and stand by it because it makes kids really careful about their throws and eliminates the he said she said of “But I didn’t mean to…”

1. Ga-Ga Ball

This started as a summer camp favourite for me but has soon become a go to indoor game as well.

Goal: To be the last one standing

Supplies needed: dodgeballs (usually 6-8 in a class of 25-30), half of a gym (must have distinct boundaries)

Rules: To start the game we throw the balls in the air and yell “Ga-Ga Ball” as they hit the ground. After that all the balls must remain on the ground and cannot be picked up at any point. Students must use and open hand or fist to hit the ball towards others (we play knees down for this game as the ball shouldn’t be leaving the ground). If you get hit below the knees you need to remember who hit you and go to the outside of the boundaries. When the person who hit you gets out then you get to go back into the game. I usually yell “free life” a few times and have everyone get back in just to keep it going.

2. Poison Ball

This is an easy progression from Ga-Ga Ball by just adding a couple of rules (same equipment and boundaries).

Rules: You may now pick up the ball but when the ball is in your hand you cannot move your feet. You must hit waist down for this game and if you are hit you sit down right where you were hit and can’t move from that position. If you get a ball while you are down you can hit someone who is standing up to get back up (so they go down and you get up). Again, I often yell “free life” and let everyone back up to keep the game going.

3. Chinook Ball

This game only has one change from Poison Ball but it definitely adds another element that works really well (especially in the older grades!)

Rules: Same as Poison Ball except now if you are down and you get a ball you can pass it to other people who are down (as long as it doesn’t touch the ground in between) to make a train. When someone who is standing gets hit by the ball then every person who was a part of the train gets to stand back up. This usually keeps the game going long enough without needing to call “free life.”

20130828-200512.jpgI love how well this sequence of games works together! I really like that by the time you get to Chinook Ball the kids really buy into the teamwork aspect. I find it makes a big difference doing the progression instead of just playing a couple of different games and the class feels way more organized to me. My biggest tip for PE lessons… Join in! The kids will absolutely love it if you play with them and it makes for a nice break in the teaching day to run around a little bit.


Speaking Up

I ran into a friend today who is also the parent of a child that used to come to one of my recreation programs frequently. For the sake of anonymity I’m going to call the child Sarah and the parent Michelle. All views expressed in this post are my own and in no way related to the families, communities or schools – just general thoughts on an important matter.

I hadn’t seen Michelle in months when I ran into her this afternoon so it was nice to randomly bump into her. We covered the usual catching up comments – “How’s your summer?” and so on. When I asked about her daughter Sarah something changed in her voice and my stomach sank with worry. Sarah had attended a new school this year and I had heard through the grapevine that things have been tough but nothing could have prepared me for the stories Michelle told me today. Not only were things not going well at school, but the bullying she was experiencing had carried over onto the internet… And it was awful! I was shocked by some of the things that had been said about Sarah online but even more shocked to hear who they came from, some other kids that I have known relatively well throughout the years.

Yes, I’m a teacher. Yes, I’ve heard a lot about cyberbullying. Yes, I’ve read the copious amounts of blog posts, news articles and the like about the topic. But no, I didn’t realize quite how much it would hurt when it was happening to someone in my life.

What I wasn’t prepared for today was the sinking feeling that there was absolutely nothing I could do in the situation. Watching Michelle cry, giving her a hug, telling her I was willing to help in anyway that I could… it felt like nothing. When she talked about the worry of suicide and self harm that often comes with this type of bullying I could see the grief in her eyes and I felt it too. I’m not a mother, the best I can do is imagine what kind of pain that must be to feel your child go through something so horrible – and imagining it hurts me deeply.

When will this stop? We can no longer blame Facebook or Twitter or whatever other social media fad comes next. Social media is here to stay and really, that’s not the problem anyways. The problem isn’t that people have anonymity online. The problem isn’t that schools can’t control the external environment. The problem isn’t that children have too much freedom on the computer.

The problem is that for some reason we have lost what it means to be caring and empathetic. We can’t seem to remember that the person on the other side of that comment/photo/video is a real human being. We have lost the respect for one another and seemingly the ability to accept each others’ differences.

And it is literally killing our youth.

Let’s stand up and speak out…


Teachers – This is a real issue and saying that we can’t control what happens outside of the classroom isn’t good enough. We need to talk about it, we need to share the information, and we need to teach our students how to respect one another. We need to model appropriate behaviour and show students what respect looks like each and every day.

Parents – Remember that it is easy for kids to get wrapped up in the drama of being a pre-teen or teen and that may mean that a child forgets about the consequences of his or her words/actions. Remind them about the power they have to be a friend to those who need one. Remind them that they have a choice to make when it comes to how they act towards their peers at school, home or online.

As Karley would say, “We don’t all have to be friends, but we do have to be friendly.” And this doesn’t stop when children leave the school or the house. It doesn’t stop when a child signs onto an online profile. And quite frankly, it doesn’t stop when we become adults. It is true that in this world of technology it can be easy to hide behind anonymity, but what doesn’t make sense to me is that anonymity turns us into cruel, hurtful, and malicious people.

Let’s speak up about love, kindness and empathy. If we practice this and teach our children to practice this we can create a better world and a safer world.

Please share what you think we can do.

What are your school and district policies on cyberbullying? Are they effective?


Let It Go…

As I’ve entered into this new profession of teaching I have really connected with a lot of people and made some great new friends… It’s really nice to have so much in common with people around you. But on the flip side I have noticed a striking common ground with a lot of teachers – Perfectionism! I’m sure it’s in other professions as well but holy smokes there are a lot of perfectionist teachers out there!

Now perfectionism isn’t something new to me (as you may remember from this post) but rarely have I been surrounded by so many other people striving for the impossible right alongside me! Unfortunately this has made my goal of allowing more imperfection in my life infinitely harder…

This summer has been eye opening for me when I realized just how much of a perfectionist I can be. From planning a friend’s wedding shower to writing compositions for French class, I have realized how hard it is for me to chill out and relax (even on my summer break!)

Enter in my new mantra…


I’m really working on just letting it go. Instead of stressing about not getting an A+ in the course that has been challenging from day one, I’m going to try to acknowledge that everything I have learned is vastly more important than the letter grade at the end.

Instead of stressing about the job I may or may not have in September, I’m going to remember that things happen for a reason and I will be able to find joy in whatever I may end up doing.

Instead of stressing over whether or not my new apartment is put together enough to have people over, I’m going to invite them anyways and enjoy what is set up here.

And the biggest stressor of all for me – I’m going to work to become okay with missing out on some things because it really is impossible to try to be at every social event with every friend all the time (most people probably know this already but it’s new news for me!)

I feel that life was somehow passing me by while I was try to make all the pieces fit in a row. I think learning how to let things go and live in the moment will help me become more of the teacher I want to be.

Next school year I hope that I will not miss out on as many of the little conversations or moments with my students. I hope that I will be more relaxed and able to focus on the beauty in my daily life.


End of Year Q&A: Meaghan

Three favourite things from this year (because one is not enough!):

1) The first week of my contract back in October when for the first time I had the thought “Ohhhh I DO know what I’m doing!” Somewhere between the crazy planning over Thanksgiving weekend and the end of the first week with my students I had that realization that I would make it through and it was a great feeling!
2) Pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and making new professional connections and friends. I am shy – very shy sometimes… So every conversation and connection I’ve made this year has made me so proud!
3) Finding that balance between teacher and friend with my students and building relationships with each and every one of my incredible students. I’m going to miss them so much – I am so thankful for the best first class ever!

Worst moment from this year:

I’m going to combine a whole bunch of moments into one for this… The STRESS of not knowing if I’ll be working or not! Holy was that a steep learning curve for this girl! It took a lot of deep breathing, running and distractions to learn to be okay with the on-call thing. The first few months had me feeling as if I was pitted against my friends for my paychecks. I remember Karley and I both saying sorry over similar matters (i.e. “Sorry I went to YOUR school to hand out my cards”) and we both ended up laughing about it. In the long run, we get enough work and days off should feel sacred because come May and June I don’t think I had a second to breathe between all my shifts!

A mantra I continually used this year:

You are a teacher. You are meant to be here. There were so many times this year where I felt unsure of what I was doing or way too young to be a teacher (I could fill a whole blog with this “too young” perception I have of myself) . It took me a while to find my voice in conversations with other staff and to make decisions about what I thought was important or not in regards to my teaching and students. Reminding myself that there is a reason I am where I am was so helpful. I know I am a teacher in my heart and soul – it just takes a little reminder here and there 🙂

Something I wish I’d known last year at this time:

Man, Karley’s tip is pretty much right on the nose for me as well… I’ll add something else though! Please keep in mind that this time last year I was in a really bad place (think anxiety, unstable home environment, loss of a few people close to me, and just overwhelmed in general).

If I could go back and tell myself anything it would be that I will be genuinely happy at this time next year. That all of the hard times will help me to grow stronger and become more of who I am. And I would remind myself that it all happens for a reason because I truly believe it does even though we can’t always see the reasons until later on.

I cannot believe it has already been a year since we graduated!

I cannot believe it has already been a year since we graduated!

Going into my second year I plan to do _____ differently.

One word – assessment! I am still learning so much about assessment: what works, what doesn’t, how to organize everything, and on and on and on… I will take any and all tips and tricks you can send this way but I need to be more efficient and organized.

What I’m going to do during my first official summer as a teacher:

I will be doing a French course in July, running a leadership course for the first two weeks of August, and then taking some time off to enjoy my lovely new neighbourhood! Also starting my half-marathon training this week and playing some softball and volleyball. And my book list has grown unbelievably long this year so I have a good chunk of reading to do – stay tuned for the book reviews!

Plus I got a lovely bookstore gift card today... Uh oh!

Plus I got a lovely bookstore gift card today… Uh oh!