I feel like the combination of my experience as a performer, as a student of theatre, as a TV commercial writer, and as a student of some very good professors, has all contributed to my educational philosophy revolving around curiosity. Today I was able to try some fun ideas to see if it drew the students in – these were quick ideas that I thought of on the spot right before class began.

The first idea was to write down Scarf on the schedule instead of the subject English. Once students came to class they were all expressing confusion and wondering why Scarf was written down. (This was because they didn’t know I had a warm up activity planned before their presentations called This Is Not A Scarf.) I knew the presentations would likely eat up just over 2 blocks so I planned some warm up activities in the first block. By the time they found out what we were doing, they were already engaged. As opposed to just saying “Hey let’s do some warm ups.”

The 2nd thing I did was write something on the board as small as I could. When the students returned from their recess, they found something very small written on the board. It made them all try to decipher what was written and then once they figured it out, they tried to see if their friends/classmates could also decipher it. What a quick and easy and somewhat funny way to get students interested! 

This said “Time for math. Get your math books.”

I won’t always use the board to write things down – in the future I will also use songs and pictures and costumes to evoke some curiosity. But the main takeaway is that having a dash of fun and getting the students’ interest piqued is a good way to start a day or lesson.


My best day?

Today was basically the kind of day I think I’d like to have as much as possible once I start teaching full time in Sept. I had a great rapport with the students and it was a great bunch of students. Tons of challenges but all within my wheelhouse. I made the kids laugh, learn, and feel valued. The students were extremely well behaved and we laughed a lot. There was lots of variety in the day, and that helped. I have 2 more days this week with the same class, and I’m truly looking forward to them. Today was the sort of day that teachers wish for – appreciative students, great staff rapport at lunch time, no injuries, and leaving with some of the students exclaiming “you’re the best teacher ever!” Feels good. I know it’s a challenging career for so many reasons – I’m glad I had today as one of the truly great ones to put in my memory banks.

The Biggest Challenge

I think not only as a substitute teacher but as a teacher and parent, the biggest challenge will always be “Did I make everyone feel good today?” Learning is of course the #1 mandate for any educational setting, but true learning is difficult if students are expected to learn in an unsafe or even indifferent environment. This past week, my priority was to leave everyday knowing I made the students feel good and knowing they learned something. If you focus on one or the other, it defeats the purpose of school. If you focus on both, it makes school not only tolerable, but truly enjoyable. And to foster a positive environment where EVERY student feels important, valued, content, and challenged is a difficult task to undertake EVERY day.

I really found myself using my parenting skills this week – when the kids had boo boos, I showed much more empathy than some other people might, but I know the kids need that support. When some kids were being particularly annoying (one 6th grade lad keep screaming loud and sudden screams for no reason), I used my stern parent voice mixed with a dash of warmth — I said “Dude. Bro. Your screams are given me an instant headache. I love you but if you scream one more time, I’m gonna have to turn from Nice Mr. Holden to Mean Mr. Holden. I know we’re gonna have a good day together but it relies heavily on you keeping the screams on the playground where Mr. Holden is VERY far away… cool? Can we keep the screams on the playground, bud?” Once I got his confirmation, I smiled and said thanks. And he was pretty much on my side for the rest of the day.

At the end of this week, I felt tired but happy. I know that I was appreciated by the teachers and the students, and I gave about 2000 high fives so that’s pretty awesome on its own.

This week involved performing with the grade 4s at Festival Place for their Spring play, subbing for Grade 1, Kindergarten, Grade 6, and Grade 5.

Having Fun With Grade One. Mostly.

I subbed for the grade 1s this morning and I know they appreciated my efforts to be fun and keep them engaged, but it’s a challenge to keep patience when the same 3-4 students keep yelling out despite asking repeatedly & politely for them to raise their hands. I tried using positive reinforcement by always exclaiming how much I appreciated the hands up when other students were doing it, but the same handful of students just keep calling out, despite extremely clear instructions beforehand along the lines of “I’m going to give you 10 seconds to think of an answer, and when you think you have it, raise your hand and wait for me to call on you.” The next second there would be 1-2 students saying “FOUR!” and another student saying “MR. HOLDEN CAN I DRAW?” and another student saying “HAS IT BEEN TEN SECONDS YET?”

I know some of the other teachers were saying they could tell all the students were a bit derailed today, but I’d love to be able to not have that energy affect our class. I know I’m using some reasonable language and tools to keep everyone engaged, but despite some solid effort to keep things smooth, it started giving me a mild headache about 2 hours in. I had most of the class completely engaged and we were extremely productive for most of the morning – but the students who couldn’t and wouldn’t listen to me just would not respond to several different tactics. The only tactic I didn’t use was punishment and I wanted to avoid that but maybe I should’ve. I have some questions to ask the first grade teachers about keep things smooth.

An example of how good and fun but also how frantic the energy was was when the students were counting together in French and at the number 70 I stopped the students and said “Stop everything! I heard Grade ones were smart and I can’t believe you guys made it all the way to 70, but there’s NO WAY you guys can count to 80. That’s WAY beyond what first graders can do!” And they all responded “Oui!! We can count to 80!” So they counted from 70 to 80 and when they were about to go higher I said “Stop everything! There’s no way you guys can count to 90 though… counting from 80-90 in French is pretty much impossible for first graders! You can do THAT can you??” And they all responded “Oui!!” and continued… my point is I added an element of fun and surprise and gave the students a chance to show me what they’ve learned in an exciting/dramatic way – and even still there were 2 kids in the back yelling “WE CAN COUNT BY 2s and 5s!” and “CAN I COLOUR??” while everyone else was counting together. It just felt that most of the class was buying in and happy to be part of the activity, and 2 students, all morning, at any given momen, were complaining or just blurting stuff.

Despite all that – I think the students actually enjoyed the morning. I know I also praised each student at least once and I think each student felt liked/appreciated – so their takeaway from today is much different from mine.


2 of my friends said “you seem really happy” in the last 2 weeks. These are friends that have known me for years. They may be right. I may be happy.

This morning I subbed in the music class and it was mostly great.

In the afternoon I had an entirely different experience with the grade 4s and it was also great.

Connecting quickly with students is the best skill I have that contributes directly to effective classroom management. I knew I had the grade 4s in the palm of my hand when I made them laugh and one of the students exclaimed “you’re one of the fun subs, I can tell.” Truth be told, the plan for the afternoon was all fun stuff – free time (colouring or computer time), then gym, then recess, then music, then they were watching the grade 1 year-end drama performance.

With music I did some simple and fun “repeat after me” stuff on the piano and with voice, in addition to the songs they needed to practice for the weekly assembly.

In a brief moment where I had an unexpected prep, I went to another staff member and offered help which she accepted and suddenly I found myself supervising a grade 3 class in the gym for the grade 1 drama performances while the teacher was doing reading assessments with some other students.

I enjoy subbing a lot as it just has a tremendous amount of newness every minute. And the teachers really appreciate it when you do a good job.

I know I have that “new job shine” right now and am seeing things through rose coloured glasses to a certain degree, but my main takeaway is that my happiness at work and away from work is quite possibly at the highest level it’s been in my life. I may have reached a peak that I won’t be able to sustain forever – but I like acknowledging that I’m here in a very happy time in my life and I attribute it to finding a challenging career and recently pushing myself the hardest I ever have in order to finish my degree while still balancing family and financial responsibilities.

My friends are right. I seem happy because, well, I am happy.

(My daughter Sloan enjoys my presence in her school)

“Mr. Holden, j’etais frappĆ© dans les nuts!”

Interesting day with the grade 1s. At this time of year, their routine is pretty built in and they were a happy and energetic group. A few minor challenges but mainly coming from me not knowing quite yet what is normal for this age group.

After the first recess, a girl came in crying and I could tell by looking at her arm that it wasn’t just a normal boo boo. She fell off the high monkey bars and her elbow was swelling quite a bit. I brought her to the office and they called a parent to pick her up. At the end of the day I found out she broke her arm šŸ˜¦

At the very end of the day, a young lad I’d been teaching came up to me on the playground and yelled “Mr. Holden, j’etais frappĆ© dans les nuts!” (Which means ‘Mr. Holden, I was hit in the nuts’) He proclaimed this loudly and somewhat happily in front of the other teachers and it gave us all a nice laugh – after I advised him to breathe deeply several times.

Grade 1 is fun – again, bit something I’d opt to do full time, but fun in short bursts.

In another note – the school I’ll be working at in the fall is very close. I subbed there today and it was awesome that we could cycle there and back as a family. (The school in the picture is just on the way home)

Mr. Holden n’est pas un Jungle Gym

Kindergarten kids are awesome. 

They crave routine & encouragement, but they also love to explore on their own and with their friends. I had to ask the parent volunteer at one point whether their behaviour was “normal” or if I should reign them in a bit, but she reassured me that they were basically like this all the time. I did the best I could to have a good class and do the teacher’s lesson, but we didn’t get to all of it. I definitely found myself questioning my life choices when I had 7 kids climbing on me. They all listened to me, however, when I jokingly yelled “Mr. Holden n’est pas un Jungle Gym!” (Well, they listened eventually when they could tell I was serious)

During the morning, admin asked if I was available to sub for grade 4 in the afternoon. I ended up having a prep first period after lunch so I offered help to a grade 1 class where we discussed animal classification in French, then I had a frustrating gym class outside where all the students were accusing each other of cheating during capture the flag, then I had 2 periods of art and the students were carving their soapstone bears. The last 2 periods were good in that I was working with the other grade 4 teacher who is Francophone and I learned some good figures of speech I haven’t heard in a while, and I learned some art specific French terms. Good day overall.

Decide Now! App

In the math 6 class I subbed for last Wednesday, there was a lesson which required students to calculate the probability of how often a certain animal would come up with 50 spins of an arrow on a board with the animal names printed on it. I couldn’t find this premade spinner and then remembered I had an app on my phone that would work perfectly.

I entered the proper amount of each animal and then had the students help me out by each getting a chance to spin the wheel at least once, while we had come students writing the results on the board with tally marks. In the end, the actual numbers were very close to the theoretical numbers we predicted, and the students had fun throughout this relatively quick exercise.

I’ve used this app for randomly calling on students and I’ve also used it as a basketball coach where the students can spin the wheel and let it determine what drill we’re doing next.

I highly recommend Decide Now! as a helpful app in the classroom. Thanks to my IFX mentor teacher Drozda for showing it to me! (He uses it to randomly pick Improv games in his drama classes)

Parent Volunteers Rock.

Today I was a substitute for a kindergarten class and we had a field trip to Jurassic Forest.

I was definitely a bit nervous considering I didn’t know how many students were in the class or how many parent volunteers there would be… it turned out we went along with 2 other kindergarten classes from the school and we had about 5-6 parent volunteers per class. The other teachers helped me out and led the way, and I was definitely the teacher and go-to person for my volunteers, but in the end today really was “easy” because an EA was there to help me out and the parent volunteers kept their groups together. So, today was pretty anxiety-free and I credit the parents for that.

Next week I’ll be teaching a different kindergarten class at the same school – and this will be a more normal day since we won’t be on a field trip.

Seeing as it’s June, I’m seeing the effects of a year’s worth of routine. The kindergarten students in today’s class were extremely well behaved and very polite & friendly.

Overall, my first impression of teaching kindergarten was that it’s an age group I definitely enjoy and can hang out with – I don’t think I’d really want to teach that age group full time but I’m pumped about teaching music & music appreciation to these kiddos in the fall.

Subbing Is Interesting!

IMG_5804.JPGToday I took several students to the tennis courts, which was followed by Grade 6 math and science. I wish someone could have witnessed my roulette discussion with the 6’s – one of the students was so quick to calculate the odds. It was awesome. In science, we discussed fingerprints and detective work – in this case I told the students I was the commissioner and they were all detectives. Those that solved the crime were my senior detectives and those who didn’t finish their in-class work were my junior detectives… the class discussion was lively and it was a successful class.

In the afternoon, I accompanied the grade 4’s on guitar for their year end play rehearsal.

On Friday, I’m booked for a Kindergarten field trip. This will be interesting I’m sure!