Teaching and Learning

19 10 2011

Last Sunday marked the one month anniversary of my trip to London, and while I wanted to take time to reflect on that month it is rather difficult when one is as busy as I have become this past week. I began work on Monday and have also managed to make a few friends in the city, so my days of teaching are now often followed by social events in the night time. It makes for long, but very fun and interesting days.  There is a lot of information to update all of you on, so I will try and do so in the timeliest manner possible.

My venture into the world of the London educational system began with two days of observation early last week.  A friend of my father’s is a Headmaster at Queen Elizabeth Barnet School in the very North of London. This was not only my introduction to London schools, but also my introduction to the world of commuting in the London rush hour. I set off 6am Monday morning along the Piccadilly branch of the London Underground, standing up most of the ride, for a 1.5 hour commute under the city.  As I arrived at the school, a bit fatigued already from the craziness of rush hour, I came to realize this was quite a posh London secondary school and I was in for a bit of a treat.  The two days at QEB turned out to be much more than that as I was able to do some active observation and also to develop a bit of a connection with those in the History department. It really solidified my belief that down the road, secondary school is the environment in which I would like to teach.  That however, is not quite what I am currently doing!

As I mentioned previously in this blog, I was hired by a couple of teaching agencies here in London and, after completing the mountain of paperwork, I began work for one of them on Monday. Redbox is predominately a primary school agency but for now it pays the bills and will hopefully give me the experience I need in London to improve the resume and to better me as a teacher.  I didn’t find out I was working until 7:30am Monday morning when I frantically had to get up and make my way to West London to fill in for a sick teacher. As I got to the school I found out that my first teaching challenge would be Year 1 or Kindergarten as it would be known in Canada. I was a bit ambivalent as to what I might do with 25 five year olds on my hands so naturally I sent a hasty text to my Kindergarten teaching sister in New Zealand. The immediate response from Louise coupled with my experiences at the YMCA in recent months allowed me to recoup my confidence and as I regaled the class with the tales of Billy the Duck and his fear of swimming, I realized that I could do this. It definitely helped that the students were very good and seemed to really enjoy my reading (I suspect it was the accent).

The last two days have been spent in East London, an area with a worldwide reputation for being a difficult place to teach. I had been warned by person after person about some of the horror stories of East London and as I walked into the Year 2 class on Tuesday I was again a bit nervous about what I would face. It didn’t take me long to realize that at the end of the day, they are still kids. They may have trouble listening or might be a bit more rough than their Canadian counterparts, but they still enjoy having fun and still have the innocence that most kids do (with some unfortunate exceptions of course).   Don’t get me wrong, it is a tough teaching environment and classroom management is a must, but it IS achievable, and down the road this will make me a far better teacher.

With the exception of flathunting, the London experience is going relatively smoothly. The lack of a flat is actually not much of an inconvenience anymore as I am rarely at the hostel except to sleep and am up early enough where I am not competing for a shower, but it would be nice to get settled and to finally set myself up in a bit of a community. The goal is to join a rugby club after Christmas and to really set roots somewhere so I can begin living a bit more like a local and a bit less like a tourist.  I have spent a few nights in the last couple weeks looking at places, but nothing has been right for us as of yet. Fortunately the hostel I’m staying in has been very accommodating and the staff members have actually become quite good friends.

I consider myself quite fortunate that I came to London during as big an International event as the Rugby World Cup.  Not only does it happen to be one of my favourite sporting events in the world, but it has also allowed me to develop a connection with people that I otherwise may not have. Rugby is always a good starting point in a conversation these days, and as the games have become more and more significant I have manage to immerse myself in the rugby world. As I discussed previously there are a ton of New Zealanders in London, and being part Kiwi myself they are the crowd I have befriended every Saturday and Sunday morning as the knockout stages progress. I have gotten to know quite a few on a personal level and am hoping that these international bonds can continue after the tournament draws to a close. The rugby itself is also worthy of a blog, and maybe if I get the energy I will write about it next week, but as for now I will stick to the London experience.

London life is for the most part going positively, but every now and then something happens just to make me realize that I still am relatively new to this city and still have a lot to learn and experience. The best example of this took place last night as I was on route from East London to West London with a quick pit stop in Central London in between.  To put it bluntly, I got lost.  I didn’t just get a little lost, I got very lost.   Ordinarily this wouldn’t have been so tough (albeit a lengthy commute) but the issue began because the destination I was trying to get to was Queens Road in London.  Now there is a Queens Road in just about every city I have ever visited and naturally London is no different. The problem arose from the fact there is a Queens Road in just about every borough of London! This not only confused me, but also confused my Blackberry GPS which ended up sending me all over the city on national rail trains I’d never seen and into districts I had barely heard of. The icing on the cake to all of this was that I was heading to West London to have dinner with a former GEOGRAPHY student of my father’s from St. John’s College, Oxford. Needless to say there was a bit of ridicule from both him and my father! Fortunately the experience was followed up by a wonderful dinner and a
much easier journey back to Hammersmith that night.

While I feel as though there is endless amounts I could write about I should stop this blog entry here in the interest of the sanity of the reader! I have been absolutely awful at taking pictures but will try and make more of an effort as I approach Half term. I hope that you are all well and think of you all quite often. I am very excited to see what the next month in London holds as I become much more settled and the money from teaching provides me with more opportunities.

Keep in touch!


Slowly Settling in

3 10 2011

My first two weeks of life in London have been something else!  There have been some ups and downs as I try to establish myself, but for the most part I am truly loving the big city. There are always things going on, whatever your interest, and the atmosphere of London is unlike anywhere I have ever been. Whether I am just walking into Hammersmith for a coffee or heading into Central London to check out the sights, there is always a great vibe and a lot to see!

The two major goals I had when moving to London were to sort out my living situation and to secure a job. Both of these tasks have proven to be slightly more arduous than I anticipated, but things are slowly falling into place.  Flat (apartment) hunting in particular has led to an incredible amount of frustration. There are endless flats available in London but as it turns out, there are also endless people looking for flats. In the last week I spent every night viewing two or three flats a night, in different areas of the city. The silver lining to this process was that I did get to see certain areas of London that I otherwise likely would have not seen. This was particularly interesting as I viewed a flat in Brixton and then made my way up to Peckham.  These two districts were particularly rough and had a bit of an interesting vibe about them.  I made a point of getting to each of these flats early so I could have a look around the neighbourhood prior to meeting the potential flatmates. In Peckham I went into a local pub for a quick pint and was quite shocked by the atmosphere. Definitely not the place for me. As the past week progressed and my confidence and hope that I would find a flat began to dwindle, I received a text from my friend Guy, who lives up in Oxford. His plan is to move to London in the next few weeks with a colleague, so we have decided to get a place together.  So for now I remain a bit in limbo, but with an end in sight. The best part is that I no longer have to try and impress other flatmates every night!

The work portion of my goals is falling into place slowly as well, but hopefully everything will be finalized in the next day or so and I will be in the classroom by weeks end! I have been taken on by two agencies so far, Redbox and Academics LTD. They will supply me with work and I will spend my initial days relief teaching with the intention of landing a full time job at one of the local schools. As it looks currently I will be teaching both Primary and Secondary school as there is no specification in England, so my years of daycamp experience at both Marpole and the YMCA will come in handy!  I am very excited to get back in the classroom and start my professional career in the United Kingdom.  I’m sure there will be a tale or two to tell as I begin. The schools in London dont have the greatest reputation to say the least!

While working on employment and accomodation has filled up the majority of my week days in London, I have made a point of making the most of my weekends.  Since my last entry I have managed to see a lot of London I previously had not, despite being here many times before.  Many of the tourist attractions are  “summer season” only so I had to make sure I saw them before they shut down for the winter. This began with a night last week at Somerset House and the Terrace Bar that accompanies it. An old friend of mine from Guelph, Jen, used to work there and has become my tour guide for the last couple weeks. The Terrace Bar is at an amazing location on the River Thames and it happened to be London fashion week at Somerset house, so needless to say there was quite the atmosphere as the night progressed.

This past weekend’s tourist activity was also with Jen. We first toured the Parliament buildings of Westminster, something I absolutely loved as a History teacher. The buildings themselves are incredible, but what I particularly liked was just as we walked in I spotted a statue of Lord John Somers. Now this would not mean much to most of you, but Lord Somers is an ancestor of mine (hence my middle name) on my mothers side, so it was quite fascinating to see a part of my family history in arguably the most famous political buildings in the world!  The entire tour was just an amazing walk through the history of Britain, from the days of William the Conquerer to the present David Cameron era, there was a lot to see!   The next day led to another tour through British History, this one slightly different however. Buckingham Palace truly is a Palace! I had only seen the palace from the front previously and this does not do it justice.  The art work and the state rooms were incredible and the ballroom that held Kate Middleton’s wedding dress was certainly the focal point of the tour.  Of course, being the son of a keen botanist, I’d be remiss not to mention the Buckingham Palace gardens! I have to think calling the Princes in for dinner must have been tough when they were younger, as the property leaves a lot of room to roam! It was a beautiful day in London and the gardens were just pristine.

One of the best things about London I have discovered so far is that every foreigner here has been through what I am currently going through and are more than willing to meet up and help in any way they can. It is a cool little culture within a culture that allows people relocating to adjust much easier than they otherwise would.  Last Sunday was a great example of this as I met up with Pat, the half brother of a family friend. This is someone I had never met before, but he was very welcoming and showed me around Camden Town, a part of London I had never seen. It was quite different, but very nice sitting on the canal, watching the canal boats go by as we drowned a pint (or two).  A second example was this past weekend when I was invited to an “Oktoberfest comes to Clapham” party by Laura, a friend from New Zealand. I spent a year in New Zealand and I met several Canadians when I was down there. When I came back to Canada my Mum and Dad told me I should have met more kiwis. It turns out, the place to go to meet kiwis is not New Zealand, but London. Laura’s party was filled with Kiwi’s and they were all up for a chat. This happened to be the night that New Zealand was playing Canada at the rugby world cup so there was a lot of banter going back and forth about what the score would be.  I managed to save face in their eyes by telling them I had a kiwi mother, however I avoided telling them all I had a South African father! I don’t know how welcome I would have been after that!

As I begin to settle into life in London I have very few doubts that I will continue to thoroughly enjoy my time here. I am excited to see more of my father’s side of the family (I had a fantastic lunch with my cousin Ben last week) and to do a bit of traveling. Once I get into my own place and begin working everyday I will start to feel much more like a local, and will also have many more exciting stories to tell you all.   The first 2 and a half weeks here have been amazing  (helped immensely by the late summer we have experienced over here) and I only see things getting more exciting. Please do keep in touch with me as I do miss those back in Vancouver and all around the world. My mobile number here is 07857 591 576 and you can also find me on twitter @JonWynn.  I will try to update this as frequently as I can!

I will post some pictures very soon!

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