Substitute Teaching: Motivation in the Classroom

Hi there! My name is Aleah Fitzwater, and I am a licensed PK-12 music teacher. I have taught in many different classrooms since I received my teaching license. I can tell you that motivation is the common denominator throughout all classrooms.


Let’s take a moment to define the word. 

Motivation: The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving a particular way

In an ideal world, all of our students enter the classwork with this internal motivation: A desire to learn. But sometimes, we aren’t so lucky. Especially in the world of substitute teaching.  

My Experience with Rewards and Substitute Teaching

A large portion of my time as an educator was spent substitute teaching. When you have a classroom of your own, it is much easier to encourage internal motivation. But the thing about internal motivation is this: It takes time. 

When I think of substitute teaching and motivation, two anecdotes come to mind. 

The Second Grade Assembly

I had taken a half-day position at a second grade classroom. One girl in the class was particularly attached to her teacher. When I traded places with the classroom instructor, there was quite a stir.

The upset student threw a large medicine ball across a sea of Chrome books. Then, she ran out of the classroom. After some discussion about how her teacher would be back very soon, she calmed down.

While the student was now calm, the others had begun to act out. I watched games like tic tac toe pop up on their screens. The teacher had left no motivational rewards- Just computer work

I monitored the classroom and offered stern reminders of what they were supposed to be doing, but the games persisted. They had no reason not to, perhaps, besides a note left for the teacher (And that would be tomorrow. We all know kids live for today. )

Things were okay with the one student….Until the announcements stated that there would be an assembly on fire safety. The student ran into her locker, where she promptly got her top-knot stuck on one of the locker hooks. She began screaming and crying simultaneously.

Looking back now, I have to chuckle a little. If I had had an electronic reward for that classroom, many of those issues could have been resolved in a matter of minutes. 

Chaotic Kindergarten 

It was the first month of the school year, and I had just taken on a one-day Kindergarten position at a local elementary school. But when I came into the classroom, I was more than shocked to say the least. 

The teacher who I was filling in for was a first-year. She hadn’t expected to be gone so soon. The schedule and lesson plans were missing in action, and all of the students came in chaotically. Some pupils slung their backpacks in the middle of the floor, while others argued about lunch money. 

I quickly sent an assistant to make 25 copies of some coloring sheets. I had plenty of worksheets in my trick bag, I didn’t have an easy way to motivate and reward students. 

 I asked children to kindly turn their work in the bin, and was met with a handful of screaming, crayon-throwing tantrums. I was fresh out of college, and didn’t have a dime to spend on rewards like Starbrusts. I looked into my work bag, dismayed.

I needed a type of positive reinforcement… Economical positive reinforcement. And that’s where EZ StickerBook comes in. The first sticker pack is free for everyone. And since it’s an online resource, I don’t have to worry about forgetting to put candy and physical stickers in my bag anymore.

Aleah Fitzwater

Aleah Fitzwater

Aleah is a PK-12 licensed music teacher, writer, and freelancer. She has taught everything from elementary music to high school history. In her spare time, she enjoys photography and cooking French Cuisine.

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