#LearningInTheLoo: How to Recharge this Summer

Learning in the Loo

I slacked off a bit (OK a lot) in getting regular editions of the Learning in the Loo out this spring. So I wanted to put one last edition out there (also I might have been procrastinating on my marking ūüė¨). I asked colleagues to make suggestions of how to recharge over the summer break & here’s what we came up with!

Past editions can be found here.

‚Äď Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

What drives the Collective Knowing & Learning of the #MTBoS community?

#MTBoS: The Math Twitter Blog-o-sphere.

Do you participate? Contribute? Creep? Math teachers seem to have carved out a particular niche using Twitter & blogs to share & learn from each other in order to better our teaching. Teachers in other subject areas are often wondering, why doesn’t this exist for my subject? How exactly does one instigate & support a #MTBoS for a different subject area? Why are so many Math teachers so engaged in this professional learning community via social media?

Judy Larsen & Peter Liljedahl put together a research paper that looks into some of the ways that the #MTBoS promotes interactions & learning among those teachers participating in it. And I sketchnoted their article:


Stimulating sustainable mathematics teacher collaboration can be challenging in many commonly found professional development contexts. Despite this, an unprompted, unfunded, unmandated, and largely unstudied mathematics teacher community has emerged where mathematics teachers use social media to communicate about the teaching and learning of mathematics. This paper presents an analysis of one episode where teachers engage in a prolonged exchange about responding to a common mathematical error. Analytical tools drawn from complexity theory are used to explain moments of productivity. Results indicate that enough redundancy and diversity among members is necessary to make conversations productive. Identified sources of redundancy indicate the ‘taken-as-shared’ values of this group.

Full article available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316994276_Exploring_generative_moments_of_interaction_between_mathematics_teachers_on_social_media [accessed Jul 27, 2017].

‚Äď Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

What pedagogical skill took you the longest to learn? #BFC530


This morning’s #BFC530 chat was on this question:

And this week I’ve been trying to sketchnote some summaries to the chats in advance of hosting Thursday’s chat about how we could use sketchnoting with our students in class. I posted my visual summary of today’s chat on Twitter but it wasn’t until this tweet . . .

. . . that I thought maybe it’s worth sharing on my blog, also, for new teachers.


A colleague and I who are both on prep period together were just discussing  how beginning teachers might view this list differently than a seasoned teacher. Thoughts? Are you a beginning teacher? How do you feel about this list? Leave a comment below or get in touch via Twitter!

‚Äď Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Why I use Twitter

I struggled with the title of this post:

Why I’m on Twitter
Why I like Twitter
Why you should use Twitter …. before settling on
Why I use Twitter.

The first title wasn’t so great because I’ve been “on” Twitter since May 2009 according to my Twitter profile. But for a long time I just didn’t get Twitter … what was I supposed to write about? Who’s reading what I post anyway? (Answer: no one at the time!) It took a couple of years before I really understood how to use Twitter to get what I wanted out of it.
The second title didn’t get to the point. I like Twitter for lots of reasons outside of my teaching life, like keeping up to date on breaking news stories.
The third title sounded off-putting. Who am I to tell you what you should or should not do?
So I settled on the fourth title; I’ll tell you why I find Twitter useful and you can decide for yourself whether or not you might like to try it out if you haven’t already.Why I Use Twitter Sketchnote
Why I use Twitter:

  1. To get lesson/activity ideas:
    Teachers on Twitter tend to be a very share-y bunch! Twitter users like @MaryBourassa & @AlexOverwijk share great lesson ideas for the MFM2P course that I teach year after year. Sometimes they share tidbits in 140 characters and add photos, and sometimes they link to their blogs which go into greater detail on the lessons. Both these teachers are in my school board but at other schools. Twitter allows me to see what happens in their classrooms!

    A big game-changer for me a few years ago was Dan Meyer‘s 3-act math. Again, the material was mostly on his blog, but Twitter was often where I would find the links to his blog posts; reminding me to go read it.

  2. To expand my Professional Learning Network (PLN):
    I work with some pretty amazing teachers at Ridgemont HS, but I also want to learn from people outside of my school. Twitter lets me connect with teachers elsewhere in my board and around the world!
    I have a list of blogs that I read regularly via the¬†Digg Blog Reader app for my phone/tablet. The first blog I ever read was Dan Meyer’s. Through his blog & his tweets I found others I wanted to read as well. Following and engaging with people on Twitter has helped me find other teacher blogs that I find helpful to add to my list.
  3. To learn about & discuss the bigger ideas in education:
    There are some Twitter users I follow, not because I get specific math lesson ideas from them, but because they tweet (& blog) about some of the bigger ideas/ challenges in education:

    The subject specific Twitter chats are great for this. My current favourite is #msmathchat which occurs each Monday evening from 9-10pm. People also post to the hashtag during the week in between designated chat times.
    My PLN’s tweets make me think deeply about the HOW and WHY of my pedagogical choices. Often these get me thinking about a topic or idea that I then discuss face-to-face with my colleagues in my building!

  4. To engage in conversations:
    To ask questions & get answers:
    Bouncing ideas back & forth:
  5. To find out about PD opportunities:
    Twitter was where I first heard about¬†Ed Camp Ottawa and about ECOO’s annual conference where I ended up facilitating a workshop on Twitter for Teachers.

This tweet about the stages of Twitter users rang true to me:

If you’re brand new to Twitter & need a little help getting started, you can watch this video I made a while back about the basics of signing up for & using Twitter (apologies for the less than stellar audio quality):

Why do you use Twitter? What have I missed? Leave a comment below!

‚Äď Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

BYOD Classroom Management

BYOD = Bring Your Own Device
The Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) is in the process of implementing a BYOD policy in their classrooms board-wide. You can read more about it here.

And many teachers are still unsure of how to integrate student’s own devices into the daily classroom experience; often nervous about what that will mean for their classroom management. As part of a BYOD PD initiative I am taking part in, we are creating some videos with tips for teachers on how to implement BYOD initiatives.

Here is my first attempt:

What do you think?

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

A Day in the Life of a Math Teacher

Here’s a look into my typical day (a blog post suggested by the MTBOS last year). The day I tracked in particular was Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014.

5:15: Get up
Alarm clock rings. Hit the snooze. My partner gets up w/in the first 10 minutes after the alarm as he gets ready to go & is out the door on his bike to get to his school early too. I sleep a little longer.

5:45 – 6:00: Get ready
Turn off the snooze function (after hitting it too many times). I do a quick check for any message on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Email before getting dressed, putting on a touch of makeup & pulling my hair into a clip or ponytail. Some days I’ll fry up a couple of eggs on toast for breakfast at home. Other days I wait to eat something at school.

~6:30: Leave for work.
Most days I drive. A couple of times per week, when the weather’s nice, I try to bike. The bike ride is 1h10mins so I don’t do it very often.

7:00 – 7:30: Arrive to work.
I’m usually the first one in.
IMG_5930.JPG IMG_5931.JPG
I make coffee for my colleague & I each day & this morning I waited for breakfast till I got here so I also made some instant oatmeal to eat w/ with my coffee.IMG_1216.JPG

7:30 – 8:15: Planning my classes
I cozy up to a computer & try to plan my lessons for the day.
I spiral my curriculum (instead of teaching one unit at a time) & try to do activities as often as I can (instead of chalk&talk) but today will be a day to work on practice problems individually.

8:15 – 8:50: Math help
Wednesday mornings are when I’m scheduled to supervise the math help room. I chose a morning slot as my lunches are often filled up with club meetings. But mornings do not seem to be a popular choice & I often find myself sitting alone waiting for kids to come by.IMG_5935.JPG

8:50-9:00: Get to class
Classes start at 9am & I make my best effort to be waiting outside my classroom door to greet my students. This allows me also to keep an eye on the hallway activities during a very busy time & try to hurry along those that are busy chatting by their lockers instead of getting to class on time. I like it too because I get to say hello to past students I’ve taught as they head past me in the hall. I’ve had some great interactions with students I’ve never even taught, simply because I was hanging out in the hall as they were heading by – spend more time in the halls with the kids if you can!
As my students arrive, I hand them each a numbered playing card from 1 to 6. This tells them their group number for the day; every day they sit at a different group with different partners (visibly random groups).

9:00 – 10:15: Period 1 (grade 10 applied math)
Bell rings. We all stand for Oh Canada. Today’s bellwork was a game of fast fingers so we jumped right into that. I chose this game because it gets the kids up & active since we’ll be doing seat work afterwards. Today’s task is to work individually on practice problems for linear systems of equations. They are working individually, but still seated in their groups (max of 3 to a group). Each group has an extra desk so that myself or my peer-tutor this period can sit with the group and help them when they get stuck on a problem. Today I’ve given my students the choice: they can work on a set of systems problems in their Khan Academy accounts, or they can work out of the textbook. Some students don’t have a smartphone or don’t want to drain its battery & so choose the textbook instead. A few have just decided they don’t like khanacademy for whatever reason; others love it. I also have a few iPads that belong to the math department that I brought in to loan out to any students without their own device.IMG_5945.JPG

10:15: Prep period
I clear out of my classroom as another teacher teaches here during my prep period. This was a bit of an adjustment for me this year as I had my room all to myself last year, and with our growing staff, I gave up my desk in the math office to let a newer teacher take it since I had my classroom. So now I’m a bit of a lost soul during my prep period. I tend to hunker down at the large common table in our math office or on the couch in the CWS/Languages office where my desk used to be a few years ago.
Today I head down to the main office in order to post our daily announcements (which are submitted to our office administrator) on our Twitter account. IMG_5941.JPG
On my way into the office, a colleague comes out & tells me that shots have been fired on Parliament Hill! I head in, post the announcements & by the time I come back out to head back to my office to work our administration team is all out in the halls & we have been told by the school board to put the school in “shelter in place” mode. In hindsight, we now know that there was only one shooter, but that morning there were rumours of several shooters & their whereabouts were unclear (the day’s events described here). Shelter in place means that nobody goes in or out of the school building, but we can move around inside (as opposed to a lockdown or secure school mode).
We need to block all exits, and so I offer to go stand at the end of the phys. ed. wing to keep students from leaving out the exits there. I spend the rest of period 2 there, checking my Twitter feed for the latest news on the downtown developments.

11:35: Lunch
Normally I would have a lunch-time club meeting; Wednesdays is our Spartan Stars meeting (Link Crew).
Today, though, with “shelter in place”, no student is allowed to leave at lunchtime, so we have a staff member at every doorway blocking the students from leaving; I’m sure the cafeteria has never seen better business! The students aren’t happy about not getting to go to the plaza down the street for lunch & the hallways are packed! They’re high-school kids so they’re all checking Twitter for the latest news too.

12:35-1:50: Back to class (grade 10 applied math)
I leave my colleagues who have preps next to guard the doors & I head up to my classroom to welcome my afternoon math class. We do the same thing as my first period class. I teach a grade 10 applied class in the morning & again in the afternoon so I try to keep them on track with each other by doing the same each day. Honestly, though, my mind is elsewhere – thinking about the events downtown, wondering about people I know who work downtown being on lock-down, and wondering about the ramifications of this shooter targeting a soldier on sentry duty since my partner is a reservist who will be performing at the site of the shooting – the tomb of the unknown soldier – on Remembrance Day in a few weeks’ time.
Just before the end of this class, the principal comes on the PA to announce that the “shelter in place” mode has been lifted, & please proceed to our last period classes.

1:55 – 3:10: STARS class (Link Crew)
Last class of the day is STARS (what we call our Link Crew at Ridgemont). We cover SMART goals – how to make them. Students are asked to create & share SMART goals about a learning strategy or skill they would like to try & improve this year. A couple of students arrive 30 minutes late with fast food. They say they went to the plaza for lunch after the shelter in place was lifted because they don’t like caf food. I expressed my disappointment that they chose to skip half of my class for that – they could have eaten in the caf today.

3:10: Class lets out.
I warn the students that busses will have delays today & that busses with routes through downtown will be rerouted or cancelled; be prepared for that. I spend some time looking at the latest news on Twitter & CBC’s live blog on the event. It seems that the downtown area & the bridges over to the Quebec side are packed with traffic with police still doing searches for the potential other shooters. I decide to stay at school & get some work done until the traffic subsides.
I head to the staff room & settle on a couch there with my laptop & get some marking done. I am teaching a course in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa this semester so I have a lot of marking to do for that course in addition to my high-school classes. I mark some of their math blog review assignments – it takes a few hours; I am a very slow marker.

6:30: Drive home
I check Twitter & I’m no longer seeing any warnings about crazy downtown traffic, so I brave the drive home across to the Quebec side. It’s slow moving downtown but I get home eventually.
I cook some dinner. My partner gets home from playing hockey about 8pm & we eat dinner together. I veg on the couch at 9pm to watch Republic of Doyle on CBC before going to bed at 10pm. I read a chapter from my current book, Lake in the Clouds, then sleep!

Let’s do it all again, tomorrow!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Teacher Interviews

It’s that time of year again: student teachers are graduating and looking for jobs, and supply teachers & LTOs¬†are¬†looking to find work for September.

In much the same way as students should never be surprised by the material/questions on our tests, I firmly believe that a¬†school board’s¬†interview process, question topics, and look-fors should not be a secret or come as a surprise to any teacher.

A few acronyms to get out of the way:

  • OT: Occasional Teacher (day to day supply teacher)
  • LTO: Long Term Occasional (a teacher hired for a duration of minimum 10 days and maximum of one semester).
  • Contract Teacher (a permanent position; don’t ask me why they coined this as “contract” which would mean¬†short-term work in any other industry)

DISCLAIMER: While I am an OCDSB secondary teacher, I am not in charge of any part of the hiring process. Everything written in this post reflects my understanding of the process at the time of posting and is not an official account of the OCDSB’s hiring process. Please contact the OCDSB¬†directly if you have any questions.

“The Lists”:

To get on “the lists”: The hiring process in Ontario was complicated significantly by the introduction of regulation 274 a couple of years ago. First, a teacher new to our board will apply for an interview in order to be added to the OT list. The interview will occur at a central location with one OCDSB principal and one OCDSB vice-principal. Once on that list for at least 10 months and having taught at least 20 days, a teacher can apply for an interview in order to be added to the LTO list. These lists only “open up” a couple of times per year.

To get a specific LTO posting: At peak times of hiring (Aug-Sept & Jan-Feb) the school board looks at the LTO list which is organized according to seniority and makes decisions centrally about which LTO-eligible teacher will be given which position, according to seniority; no interviews. At less busy times of the year you may be granted an interview at the school for which the LTO was posted (see the next paragraph for that process), or the board might still centrally assign a teacher to the position.

To get a specific contract position: As far as I understand, teachers are not assigned centrally to these positions; they are always interviewed first. However, the interviews will be granted to the top 5 senior teachers qualified for that position off the list. I see to remember hearing that you have to have at least 4 months in an LTO position in order to qualify for a contract position.

So if you’re lucky enough to be granted one of these elusive interviews, what follows is a list of items I suggest you bring with you as well as topics / questions that may be part of your interview.

Suggested items to bring to your interview:

  • Your portfolio (tagged with specific pieces you plan to show; lesson plans, unit plans, student work, student feedback, etc.). Don’t wait for the interviewers to ask to see your portfolio; many of them won’t. Offer pieces to view as you answer questions (e.g. if you’re explaining how you would plan a unit, pass around your portfolio open to a sample unit plan you’ve created). Your portfolio (w/ your philosophy of teaching, certificates, etc) can also be useful to yourself as you prepare your answers to the questions; it reminds you of your accomplishments that are worth mentioning.
  • Copies of your r√©sum√© & cover letter. Even though you sent them in electronically when you applied to the post, the admin team may not have a printed copy in front of them during the interview. In fact they might not have even seen your r√©sum√© or cover letter before interviewing you. Make sure to include links to your classroom website, Twitter feed, and/or blog on your r√©sum√©.
  • A pen and paper to prepare your answers.

What to Wear:

Dress professionally.

For men: Nice slacks (dress pants, khakis, etc), button up collared shirt and tie. Facial hair should be nicely groomed.

For women: Dress pants or a nice knee-length skirt with a nice top or sweater. Nothing too short or low cut; nothing skin tight (NO leggings unless covered by a skirt or dress); no crazy jewellery; simple shoes; subtle makeup; hair nicely groomed.

Arrive Early:

You will be given 15 Р30 minutes before your stated interview time to prepare your answers to the questions. There are usually 5 to 7 questions listed on a sheet of paper. You will be given a private space where you can compose some notes to help you answer those questions. That question sheet and your notes will be collected from you at the end of the interview; you will not be permitted to leave with them.

The Interview:

You will most likely be interviewed by the principal and one or two vice-principals. It will last approximately 30 minutes (which gives you¬†about 5 minutes per answer). The interviewers will be making notes about your answers as you talk, so they may not look at you very often; don’t be insulted. Don’t talk too fast or they won’t be able to write everything down.

Sample Interview Questions / Topics:

  • ¬†“Tell us about yourself”
    Almost every interview I have had started with this one. “Well I was born in Ottawa in 19__ …” is probably not the answer they’re looking for. Use this opportunity to give a snapshot of your teaching background and positions. It might also be a good spot to explain where you see yourself going; how does the current position applied for fit into your long-range plan?
  • Classroom management / Behaviour / Discipline
    The question might be a generic “Tell us about your behaviour management philosophy” or it might be more situational such as “Tell us about a time when you had a difficult student in terms of behaviour and how you responded.” or “A student in your class¬†exhibits behaviour X. How do you handle it?”.
  • “Explain to us how you would teach X”
    It might be a whole unit (overall expectation) or one specific lesson (specific expectation). Many colleagues have suggested having a sample unit plan and one lesson plan that you have created for the course for which you’re interviewing. This could be in your portfolio. At the very least, you should have looked at the curriculum documents for the course before the interview so that you have a working knowledge of the¬†expectations.
  • Assessment & Evaluation (A&E)
    This is almost guaranteed to be one of the questions right now as September 2014 will see the implementation of two new A&E documents in the OCDSB: the Evidence Record and the Assessment Plan. Both are based on the framework of Standards Based Grading. You should be familiar with these documents and the philosophies behind them. If you’re not familiar with them, I would suggest that you find a teacher that is and ask them to give you the run-down.
  • Collegiality / Teamwork
    “Explain a time when you have worked as part of a team to run or create X” ¬† ¬† or
    “You are creating an exam for a common course with one of your colleagues but you’re having trouble agreeing on what to include. What do you do?”
  • IEP / Special Education
    “Describe how you ensure you meet the needs & accommodations for students with IEPs in your classroom” ¬† ¬†or
    “A parent emails you, concerned that his child’s accommodations as per the IEP are not being met. What do you do?”
  • Differentiation
    For gifted AND remedial.

    “Tell us about a lesson in which you differentiated your instruction” ¬† ¬† or
    “You have a student who has significant gaps in her learning. What do you do?” ¬† ¬†or
    “You have a student who consistently finishes his work well ahead of his classmates. What do you do?”
  • SIPSA goals
    Speaking of SIPSA, you should try to find what the current SIPSA is for that school as those goals may find their way into interview questions. Contact a teacher teaching at that school, or the admin team to ask about their SIPSA ahead of time.
  • Technology
    “Explain to us how you incorporate technology into your classroom”. Have specific examples to share and describe the impact it had on student understanding of the learning goal.
  • Communication
    There may be some questions relating to communication with colleagues, parents, and/or students.
  • Extra-curricular Involvement
    “How will you get involved at our school?”
  • Why you?
    “What sets you apart from other candidates?”
    “Why should we hire you over the other qualified candidates?”
  • ELL: English Language Learner
    “Explain how you support ELL students in your classroom”.
  • “Describe a time when X happened, what you did, and the result”
    X could be a lesson didn’t go as planned, a student misbehaved, you had a conflict with a colleague, a parent was unhappy, etc.
  • “What would you do if …” situational questions
    There is an endless number of situational questions that could be asked such as “What would you do if 60% of your students failed the most recent test?”. Come up with questions you think would make good situational questions and practice your answers to them.
  • At-risk learners:
    The best I can do for you on this one is lead you to have a look at OCDSB documentation mentioning at-risk learners because I don’t see anything on their site dedicated to this topic specifically.¬†
    Google search for OCDSB + at-risk learner
  • Professional Development/Learning:
    “Tell us about the last book you read to further your own learning about teaching & education” or “tell us how you keep up to date with current teaching practices”. These days, a lot of my own learning is online, so personally, I might redirect the book question to be more about what I’ve been reading online on the many teacher blogs & Twitter accounts that I follow.

I’m sure there are many interview topics or questions that teachers have encountered that I forgot here. Leave a comment below or send them to me via Twitter and I’ll add them to the list for the benefit of everyone.


You are entitled to request a debrief from your interviewers regardless of whether or not you were successful in the interview process. You should always take advantage of this opportunity to hear about your strengths & weaknesses from the interviewer(s). This process provides you with the information you need in order to improve your interview skills for the next round. And if you do request a debriefing make sure you show up to it; that principal has taken time to meet with you & it will not look good if you do not show up!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Update: A follow-up blog post to this one:
A Principal’s Perspective on Teacher Interviews

Update: This video on how to use visual note-taking to prepare for an interview has some great tips!

Useful Tip! Videotape yourself answering practice questions; get a friend or family member to interview you using some of the questions above. Then watch the video to get an idea of what your answers sound like, things you did well, and what you might be able to improve.


Bonus: “5 Things You Think Principals Want to Hear (And What They Really Want to Hear)”:


Dear Student Teacher,

You are about to embark on your first practicum. You’re probably excited; this is the beginning of your chosen career after all. You’re probably a little nervous; unsure of what to expect.

Your associate teacher (aka. mentor teacher) is excited for your arrival too; we learn a lot from watching you teach and your sharing of new ideas. We’re also a little nervous about your arrival; we’re about to hand over our wonderful students and our carefully cultivated classroom to you for one month. That scares us a little bit.

So I wanted to give you some advice from some very seasoned teachers that have also had their share of student teachers. Personally, I have now mentored 5 student teachers during my 9 years of teaching. I have done so in 4 different subject areas, in 2 different provinces, with student teachers from both the regular B.Ed. program and the concurrent education program. I have had student teachers who were classroom ready & I recommended that they be hired to any principal who would listen. But most student teachers are not naturals. Most of you will need to work really hard at becoming a decent teacher. Some of you are not meant to become teachers at all and will either be removed from your practicum by your associate teacher and university supervisor, or will simply bow out of the profession within the next few years. This might seem harsh, but it is the truth.

Another truth: Teaching jobs in this area (Ottawa, ON) are hard to come by these days and regulation 274 has made it even harder. So you have to be an awesome teacher. You have to network. And you have to be OK with the fact that it might take you 5 to 10 YEARS to get beyond working as a substitute teacher.

Your goal is to learn as much as you can from the students, teachers, and school while you’re in your practicum. Here is, what I hope is, some helpful advice to lead you towards a successful, smooth student-teaching experience.


1. Introduce yourself to your associate teacher:
Once the university tells you which school and associate teacher (hereafter referred to as AT) you’ve been assigned to, send an email to your AT introducing yourself. Long enough to tell them a little bit about who you are and any teaching experience you have. Not so long it becomes a self-indulgent biography; we’re busy people and don’t have time to read long-winded emails. It’s also a good idea to phone your AT and leave a quick voicemail (we’re rarely by a phone during the workday) introducing yourself and mentioning that you sent them an email as well. Some teachers still prefer phone calls while other teachers hardly ever check their voicemail box but answer email religiously; this way you’ll have covered both bases.

2. Drop by / meet / volunteer in the classroom ahead of time:
Ask your AT if they have time to meet with you during lunch hour or after school some day before practicum begins. You can make this request in your original email to your AT. If you have the time in your class schedule, you may wish to offer that you could spend time volunteering in your ATs classroom before practicum starts. This is a great way to get to know the school, your AT, and the students before officially starting your practicum.
Things to ask about/for (ask in advance of arriving so that the AT can prepare materials for you when they get a free moment):
– Course names & codes that AT teaches.
– Course outlines
– Copy of textbooks to use during practicum
– Class list w/ photos
– Approximate section of course that will be taught during your practicum
– Copy of the staff handbook
– Map of the school (if available)
– URL for the AT’s class website (if they have one)
How much of this your AT is willing to do before practicum starts will vary. Some ATs will want you to show up on day 1 of practicum and will start working with you only then. Other ATs (myself included) would be very happy for you to start working with my students as a classroom volunteer before practicum starts. If your AT is not amenable to you visiting ahead of time, don’t take it personally; they might just be too busy at the moment.

Visit your teacher in their classroom!

WEEK 1 OF PRACTICUM: First impressions matter!

3. What to wear:
Here is where the school visit suggested in #2 comes in very handy; what do the full-time teachers and principals at the school wear to work? A good rule of thumb is to always dress a notch above what the majority of staff are wearing; just like you would in an interview. You don’t want to overdress by a long shot because you’ll stand out. You also don’t necessarily want to take your cue to wear jeans everyday just because the full-time teachers are relaxed enough in their teaching positions to do so. Dress professionally. For men: nice slacks (dress pants, khakis, etc), button up collared shirt and tie. For women, dress pants or a nice knee-length skirt with a nice top or sweater. Nothing too short or low cut; nothing skin tight (NO leggings unless covered by a skirt or dress); no crazy jewellery; simple shoes; subtle makeup; hair nicely groomed. If you do wear jeans on a Friday (I wouldn’t any other day as a student teacher), make sure they are dark wash jeans and pair them with a top that is on the dressier side.

4. Arrive early & stay to the bitter end:
While the public tends to think of teaching as a cushy 9-3 job, the reality of the teaching day is much different. Most teachers arrive at school anywhere from a half hour to two hours before the first bell rings. We often work through lunch; tutoring kids, coaching sports, supervising clubs, etc. And then we often stay late for extra help, sports games, planning for the next day, and so on. Find out what time your AT arrives each day & arrive at the same time. Stay until they do at the end of the day. While on practicum you are expected to engage as a teacher would, which goes far beyond 9-3!

5. Meeting staff:
As you walk around the school over the first few days greet everyone with a smile. And that means everyone; students, teachers, janitors, office administrators, … everyone! The people that you might think matter least in the building usually have a much bigger impact on your reputation than you realize. Introduce yourself to people; and write down their names as you go so that you won’t forget. Be a positive, upbeat energy in the school; it will not go unnoticed!

6. Observe … all the time!:
I know you’re keen to get in & get your hands dirty teaching, but this time of observation is so key for you so please make the most of it. I wish I had time in my teaching day to observe the skill of my fellow teachers in their classrooms; I could learn so much!
Observe not only your AT, but other teachers in the school as well. Ask your AT to suggest some teachers with different styles, or trying innovative things in their classroom that you might observe during your first week. And not only in your subject area, as a math teacher I can learn a lot from watching English teachers do their thing!
Take notes. Take more notes. Then ask questions.
A big part of becoming a great teacher is developing the ability to reflect on your practice. A good start is by reflecting on the practice of other experienced teachers.
I suggest dividing a sheet of 8.5×11 paper into 4 squares in order to take notes on the following four aspects:
a) classroom routines and rules; what are they and how are they used to make the classroom run smoothly?
b) lesson breakdown & timing; what are the “parts” of today’s lesson or activity, how much time is devoted to each part?
c) teacher actions; how does the teacher get the class settled & start, how do they transition b/w activities, how do they interact with students, how do they deal with behaviour problems, how do they answer questions, what sorts of questions do they ask their students, how do they wrap up the class, how do they use non-verbal communication to get what they want from students, etc.
d) questions; what do you want to clarify with the teacher, why did they do what they did?, how come they answered that student the way they did? NOTE: Be careful in how you approach this discussion with your AT or other teachers. You, by nature of being a student-teacher, don’t know everything yet. Your questions should come across as genuinely curious, and not accusatory. You might think you know a better way, but trust that the teachers you’re observing know more about their individual students than you do and they have a wealth of teacher experience upon which they draw.
In addition, you also need to observe what your AT is doing before school, during their prep period, during lunch, and after school. What duties are assigned to them? How & when do they plan lessons? What other responsibilities does your AT have around the school? Teaching extends far beyond the actual classroom and so you must participate in all of these duties and activities with your AT.
Your week of observation is a bit of a “fly on the wall” experience. You should not be piping up with thoughts and ideas while your AT delivers a lesson. At no time should you ever challenge your AT in public about information they’ve stated or an action they’ve undertaken (you may wish to make a note and ask them about it with an open mind later in private). However, with your ATs permission & hopefully encouragement, you should be interacting with students during individual and group work time. Learn the students’ names (a class list w/ photos is very helpful here). Offer your AT help with administrative items such as taking attendance (also good for learning names) and photocopying.
You are here in your practicum to learn! Learn through thoughtful and reflective observation of expert teachers.


7. Workload:
Depending on your program the expectations of how much teaching you do will vary. ATs will also have their own ideas of how much teaching you should be doing. My advice to you: go with their flow. If they ask you to take on more than you’re ready for, or earlier than you’re able to, speak up with your concerns. But, in general, you should happily take on whichever classes and however much workload they offer you. You can use all of the classroom time you can get! Plus next year, if you’re lucky enough to land a full time position or LTO, you’ll have a full workload of courses that won’t necessarily be of your choosing. As your AT, we’ll be here to coach you through the hard work.
Side note: your personal life, while important to keep in balance, will necessarily take a bit of a back seat during your teaching practicum. Be ready for long nights of lesson planning, lesson editing, and test marking. Yes, this will probably get in the way of hanging out with your friends or spending quality time with your family. Welcome to a career in teaching!

8. Planning:
Use a month-at-a-glance calendar to plan each course that you’ll be teaching – which topics on which days?
Print up copies of the curriculum documents for your courses; you should be using them all the time as you plan your lessons.
Ask whether you need to make your own original lessons or does the AT want to offer you their past material that you can use & adapt? Share your long-range plan for the month with your AT so that they may help you adjust it as needed to fit into their long-range plan for the full year.
Do not plan chalkNtalk lessons where you talk for 75 minutes and the students listen and/or take notes. Think of interesting ways to engage your students in the material and have them think critically about it. I usually suggest breaking each period into 15-20 minute “chunks” or activities; beyond 20 minutes many students get bored and off-task. Submit your lesson plans 2-3 days ahead to of time to your AT so that they can look it over, offer feedback & you can adjust them before implementing. Take your ATs criticism seriously and adjust your lessons or activities accordingly. Try all technology AHEAD of time (does your powerpoint file work on school computers, is that website accessible on school internet, how do you use a graphing calculator?) so as not to be surprised when it doesn’t work in front of the kids. Know your stuff; if you’re not sure about a topic then read up about it, practice it, ask your AT for help. The students will eat you alive if you stand up in front of them for 75 minutes without knowing the topic inside and out.

9. Teaching style:
You do not need to mimic your AT. In fact that strategy will probably backfire spectacularly. You need to be yourself, let your personality shine through, show that you care about the students and their learning. That said, by now you will have observed countless other teachers and you can experiment with different strategies you’ve seen to test which work the best for you in the classroom.
You are not here to be the students’ best friend. They have their peers for that. What they need from you is a strong, reliable caring adult that will be a positive influence on them, but not let them get away with murder. I know you want them to like you. I promise they will if you develop a strong, effective teaching style. They will not like you if you let them get away with misbehaviour and walk all over you.
Develop a solid approach to behaviour management. It is my experience that teacher colleges rarely spend enough time teaching and discussing behaviour management strategies with teacher candidates. So take it upon yourself to start discussions amongst your peers on the issue, to google “behaviour management” and read a variety of teacher blogs on the topic, to ask an experienced teacher or AT to host a lunchtime workshop on the topic. Getting a handle on dealing with student misbehaviours will make your practicum run that much smoother.

10. Reflection:
You don’t know everything. None of us ever do; learning is a life-long process. Approach your practicum with a growth mindset and be open to learning to become a better teacher; that’s why you’re here!
Ask your AT for written and oral feedback daily. What went well, what could be improved?
Take time at the end of each day to write down some thoughts about what went well and ways to improve each lesson or activity. It is only through focused and intentional reflection that you can begin to improve your teaching practice.
Engage in discussions with your peers. You can help each other reflect on and improve your teaching as well.
I would also strongly encourage you to start developing your online personal learning network (PLN) via Twitter. There is a global community of connected educators on Twitter sharing their thoughts, experiences, and research with you. This will encourage you to become more reflective of your teaching and is a great way to network as well. Start by following the Twitter account of the school you’re in and any connected teachers there.
A “how-to” of getting started on Twitter: http://youtu.be/aaj71cDbh5M
Near the end of your practicum ask your students to reflect on your teaching as well. I often suggest having them fill out a sheet with the prompts “Something Ms. Wheeler did well is _____ ” and “Something Ms. Wheeler could do even better next time is _____”. The first one gives you some quotes that can be cut out and put together as a collage in your teaching portfolio (useful for job interviews). The second one gives you honest feedback on things to improve from the students’ perspective.

11. Get involved:
I’ve mentioned before how teaching goes beyond 9-3 and the classroom walls. Your school has a plethora of clubs, sports, and extra-curricular activities happening at any given moment. Take the time to learn a little bit about them all. Choose one or two activities that peak your interest and offer your help coaching, supervising or simply ask to tag along so that you can learn more about it. This will serve as a great way to meet students beyond those that you teach, to really get a feel for the school culture, and of course looks great on a r√©sum√© down the line.

Get involved in extra-curriculars at your school!


12. Thank-you’s:
Saying thank-you is important because the final impression you make is just as important, if not more so, as that first impression. Have a thank-you card written up to present to your AT on the last day of practicum. Many student teachers will have a gift for their AT as well in recognition of the time and support they’ve dedicated to you over the last month.
A thank-you card to the admin team (principal & VPs) as well the office administrators is always welcome too.

13. Recommendations
Now is the time to ask your AT for a letter of recommendation that you can keep in your portfolio. Ask them also if you may use them as a reference when applying for jobs in the future. If you have had a positive practicum experience this should not be a problem. If your practicum was not so successful your AT may decline, in which case it’s not a recommendation that would have helped you anyway.

14. Stay in school!
I know you’re headed back to classes at the university now. I know you have assignments to do. But consider coming back to our school when you’re not in your own classes! Offer to continue volunteering in your AT’s classroom. Volunteer in other classrooms with other teachers. Come back to help coach a sport or run a club.

Your student-teaching practicum is a time to watch expert teachers, learn as much as you can, try new things, experiment with your teaching style, and network for the future job search. It’ll be tough and tiring but hopefully also very rewarding!

Welcome to the teaching profession!
_ _ _ _ _ _

Do you have any DOs and DON’Ts for student-teachers? Let me know in the comments below!

Check out what these teachers on Twitter had to say (see why a Twitter PLN is so useful?):

And from Facebook:



– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Dear Substitute Teacher,

I have had some great supply teachers and some that were not so great over the years. The great supplies arrived early, engaged my students, left me a note about what they were able to cover, and got called on again for work. The supplies that arrived late, read a book or surfed the web while ignoring my students, or didn’t leave me any comment on how the day went, lost my confidence, and were not asked to return. Whether you are just starting out as a supply teacher straight out of teacher’s college or whether you are a retired teacher making a little extra pocket money, there are some things that you can do to get a leg up on the competition.

Substitute Teacher.PNG

Supply teaching IS a competition; you are competing against the other teachers on the supply list to get booked. If you are looking for LTOs or contracts then you are competing against other supply teachers for interviews.

My advice? Treat every moment you are in a school as a job interview. The administration, the secretaries, the teachers and the students are forming their opinions about your capabilities as a teacher every second that you are in the building. And if you don’t make a positive impression, you won’t be called back in as a supply nor are you likely to be invited in to interview for more permanent positions.

Your day as a supply teacher boils down to three things: making a great first impression, engaging with the students, and leaving a positive lasting impression:

First Impressions

Dress well – like it’s a job interview; no jeans, no miniskirts, no revealing clothing. If you have to ask whether or not your outfit is appropriate, err on the side of caution and don’t wear it. Have a simple, professional briefcase or book bag to store any materials – avoid carrying things loose in your hands. You should look professional and put together.

Arrive at least 20 minutes early so that you can find the main office, sign in, find your classroom and the work left for you, and get a nearby teacher to unlock the classroom door for you.

Smile and say “hello” or “good morning” to people as you arrive and move about the school. The staff and students will take notice of your friendly, positive demeanour.

It’s all about the students!

You have one goal for your time in the classroom: help the students to complete as much of the assigned work left by the teacher as possible.

– take attendance and send it to the office (have the students sign a sheet of paper if no attendance list has been left for you). Note the names of those late (and # of minutes late).
– write your name on the board to help the students remember
– write a list of work to be done on the board for students to refer to
– walk around the class as students work, talk to them about what they are working on, and help them if they are having trouble to the best of your ability
– have a few activities or worksheets prepared ahead of time for various subjects in the event that the teacher does not leave any work for the students or you are unable to find the work they did leave
– follow the instructions left by the teacher as closely as possible
– collect the students’ work at the end of the period (unless the teacher tells you to assign it for homework)
– ask a nearby teacher or call the office if you are unsure of any procedures or school rules (for example, student bathroom breaks, cell phones, etc)

– read a book or newspaper, or surf the web while the students work
– let the students convince you to tell them your life story or regale them with college/university anecdotes instead of them completing their work (no joke – I have seen this happen!)
– use your cell phone to text, play games, surf the web while the students work
– change or substitute the assignment/activity left for the students, no matter how much better you think you could make it. The teacher is expecting to return and have what they left completed so that they can move on to the next lesson with the kids. (I have had substitutes leave me a note saying “the students said you didn’t teach them how to do this worksheet so I played hangman with them” – so frustrating!)

Lasting Impressions

The most important thing you can do at the end of your day as a substitute is leave a note for the teacher about how the day went. You can do this on paper and leave it with the student work to be returned to the teacher or send them an e-mail. Things to include in the note:
– what the students were able to accomplish; they don’t always finish everything and that’s OK
– names of students you had difficulties with and an explanation of what happened as well as any consequences you assigned
– “thank-you for having me in” … show your appreciation for having been booked in for the day of supply work.

You will often have a break during the day with no class (what would be the regular teacher’s prep time). You could just hang out in the staff room and read a book or catch up on e-mail, but allow me to suggest two ways to make better use of that time:
1. Ask the main office if there are any duties they need covered. They might be scrambling to cover study hall or library duty and will be immensely thankful that you’ve offered the help.
2. Volunteer in another teacher’s classroom. Most teachers welcome an extra set of eyes and hands in their room – it’s very helpful to us. You get the chance to watch an experienced teacher in the classroom which can give you some ideas of strategies or styles you want to incorporate into your own teaching.

Should the day not go well – perhaps you didn’t enjoy the other staff members, or the students were particularly badly behaved – do not badmouth the school or the teacher … to anyone or on any forum. I heard a story of a substitute teacher who posted a message on Facebook about how awful she thought the school was where she had been that day. It was posted so that only her friends could see it, but a staff member from that school had a mutual friend with the supply teacher and heard about the comment through the grape vine. That supply teacher was never asked back. And news travels, so when one school or teacher does not want to hire you back, you might find that other teachers or schools will know your reputation even if you’ve never been in their building.

The job of a substitute teacher is not easy. Teachers are always on the lookout for supplies that we can trust and have confidence in to help our students with the work we have left so that we’ll be able to pick up with the next lesson upon our return.

Do you have any DOs or DON’Ts for substitute teachers that I’ve missed? Share them in the comments below!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)