Life outside of work

13 11 2011

It is amazing to think that I have been in London for nearly two months now. In many ways it still feels like I am still getting settled and am not even close to set up here.  There is so much I want to see and do still that I am already thinking two years might not be long enough to have the full experience.

The more I get used to London the more I love it. As I explained in my previous blog post it certainly isn’t all a bunch of roses, but in many ways, that makes it a better experience.  When I came here I had the goals of finding work and a place to live as quickly as possible and, while it has taken a little while, I feel like I am finally realizing those goals. I am working pretty much every day as a supply (substitute) teacher and recently  managed to find a beautiful apartment in Islington. I will be moving in on Wednesday with my friend from Vancouver, Guy, and his friend, Will, and finally I will have the chance to really settle into my life here.

I can’t stress enough just how happy I am to have family here in England. It was a bit intimidating moving to a big city on my own, but to have cousins so close makes the adjustment that much easier. The absolute highlight of my time here so far was around Halloween when I got the chance to go and stay in St Albans with my cousin Ben and his family.  Ben and his wife Louise have two adorable kids, Hollie (5) and Nathan (3) who were very excited to meet their “Uncle Jono” and to do some pumpkin carving.  I am heading up to Yorkshire for the Christmas season where it will be a true family Christmas with 7 kids and lots of extended family. I am truly excited for this Christmas and it’s nice that I can feel that excitement nearly 5000 miles from home! Prior to heading up to Yorkshire, I am going to teach Hollie and Nathan (and probably
Ben and Louise) to ice skate at Somerset House on the outdoor rink just before Christmas. It will be so nice to do something Christmassy with them in London and it gives me something to really look forward to!

Nathan and Hollie with the pumpkins we carved on Halloween

My philosophy in London has been to try anything and everything, and so far it is really paying off. I am meeting people I probably wouldn’t have otherwise and having experiences I never thought I would. I spent a day wandering the streets of London dressed as a zombie for world zombie day, and within the next couple of weeks the plan is to go and see Wicked, the Andrew Lloyd Weber production. Add this to experiences such as dining at Jamie’s Italian and heading to Wembley stadium to watch rugby league and my time here has been incredibly diverse and fun. Even when I have nothing planned I try to make sure I do something as there is so much to see and do here. I spent a full day at the Tate Modern during the half term break looking at an exhibit by German artist Gerhard Richter, and went by St. Paul’s Cathedral (though it is a bit blocked off by the Occupy London protests).  The architecture in London is worthy of spending a day looking at on its own, particularly all of the Christopher Wren designed buildings that dominate the city.

The beautiful Christopher Wren designed Cathedral near the River Thames

Wembley Stadium from the Outside

As much as there still is to see in London I am also getting a strong urge to start traveling on the weekends and the holidays. Trips here are not all that expensive and there are so many wonderful places that are very accessible. Next weekend I will be leaving London for the first time since I arrived and heading to the beautiful city of Bath. I am lucky enough to have a friend, Ron, teaching there and a visit to see him is long overdue.  Ron is a very keen traveler himself and has thrown out all sorts of ideas for trips in the upcoming months, so the tales and blog posts will hopefully only get better! I believe there is talk of Edinburgh for New Years Eve, a February ski trip to Andorra and a potential trip to Greece in June. I have to take advantages of all the holidays I get as a teacher!

As the Christmas season approaches I have come to realize a few things about London. In particular, it is amazing the turnover of people that come through here. While I have already set up a good network of friends, as the holidays approach many of them are heading home.  I feel this will be a bit of an ongoing theme while living here, but it is a positive thing. It forces me to always meet new people, to try new things and to make new friends rather than having things get stale or becoming set in my ways. The Christmas season will be a truly unique one for me this year, but I feel as though it could be incredible. I started my shopping yesterday by going to Harrods and will no doubt have to check out other shopping districts in London such as Regent Street, Sloane Square, Oxford Street, and the Camden markets.  The lights have already been switched on (primarily by Justin Bieber) throughout the city, and as I head home from work every day the city looks incredible all lit up. I think this will only continue as we move into December.

Somerset House - Where I will be skating over Christmas

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, I feel that my honeymoon period in London is now over and every day I begin to feel more and more like a local. The interesting part about living here has been getting to see the areas of the city that are not the major tourist attractions. The area I am moving into, Islington, is a very trendy neighbourhood with a good social scene and is not far from other nice areas such as Camden, Stratford, Shoreditch, and Brick Lane, so I am very excited to finally be moving into a new area of London. I am glad that I was able to spend 2 months in the Hammersmith and Kensington areas, but I feel as though the move to the northeast will better suit my lifestyle and will also put me much closer to most of the schools I teach at.  It also allows me to be on a main tube line to Clapham, another amazing area of London where a lot of my friends live.

London continues to amaze me every day, I could write an entire post (and I probably will) on the culture and the personalities of London and the UK in general. I have thoroughly enjoyed my two months over here so far and hope that my blog might even encourage some of you to come over for a visit!

Hope that you are all doing well, I love the comments on my previous posts, thanks for all the support!


Wembley from the inside. Kangaroos v England and Kiwis v Wales in Rugby League action.


True London

12 11 2011

As I approach two months here in London I am starting to realize that I have become a bit slack in updating my blog, so I have devoted much of this weekend to catching up on it. There is a lot to discuss, and for the sake of your sanity I think breaking the topics up into different posts is probably the best idea, thus allowing you to read about what interests you.

The first entry I write today will focus on my life as a supply (substitute or reliever for those around the globe) teacher in the various communities in East London.  I will do my best to bring some levity to this blog post, but unfortunately it is not the most enjoyable topic to discuss.  I feel, however, that I do need to talk about these aspects of London and my experiences, in order for you to truly understand how my time is going here and just how much I am learning.

As I mentioned in the previous blog entry, I am working primarily in East London with my agency. I am currently still doing day to day supply but have frequently been asked back to two communities in particular, Hackney and Brixton. These are two of the notoriously rough suburbs of London, but in many ways I have grown to really enjoy working in these environments. The kids are so full of personality, they learn things so quickly, and the classroom is an incredibly diverse place. I have learned an amazing amount working in these schools already, and if I can get the opportunity to work their full time I would jump at the chance.  That being said, there are some incredibly trying aspects to the job.

This week in particular was a very trying one for me, and it had very little to do with my teaching skills. Much of the adjustment to this job is adjusting the environment in which you work and this week has been something that was a necessary step for me in doing just that. I spent the first two days of the week teaching reception (preschool) this week.  The kids at that age are so fun and so eager to learn. I was very reluctant to teach reception but I was glad I got the experience to sing the songs and teach the phonics the kids learn at that age. The biggest dose of reality I got during those two days however was when a few of the kids in the class came up to me near the end of the day, gave me a big hug and said “daddy?”  It was something that was a dose of reality for me, because as they looked up at me with big grins and hope in their eyes I had to tell them I wasn’t their dad and that I wouldn’t be back there tomorrow.  I got a chance to talk to the Teaching Assistant about it near the end of the day and she explained, just as I had feared, that those kids didn’t have dads, or any male influence in their lives, and they had grown attached to me in that short time.

The next few days were spent teaching a year 5 class and the situation was not that much different to the one I had faced earlier in the week.  As I was making my way through an English lesson, trying to encourage the students to work I came across this one boy who was just sitting there, not working at all. As I went over to him I could see that there was something wrong and crouched down to ask him the problem. It turned out the boy had not only failed to eat breakfast; he also had not eaten dinner the previous night and was basically too weak to do any work.  At lunch time I thought I should talk to someone about this and went to another teacher in the school, who had previously taught the boy in year 4. She explained to me that the boy was from a single parent home, but his mother (the single parent) was severely disabled, so he was essentially raised by his grandparents who were struggling to support even themselves. While the family did have some food, the boy often gave up his meals so his brothers could have more food, as he felt it was more important.

Through further discussions with teachers and other staff I have come to realize that this is quite normal in communities such as this. Many of these children have never met their fathers and live in a home with no structure or discipline. Some have mothers who are either into alcohol or drugs, while some others have mothers who are working 15 or 16 hours a day just to provide their children with a slightly better life.  After hearing these stories, I felt horrible being the teacher that was telling these students to do their work, or to lineup properly, or to stop talking, but as I thought about it more, I realized it is exactly what the kids need. They need an environment where they have to listen to an authority figure; they need an environment where they can learn respect, structure and discipline. This is much more about what teaching is in these communities.  While Math, English, Science and all the other subjects are taught, the focus on discipline rather than academic achievement is what is stressed in these schools.

Despite the poverty and the lack of discipline in these communities, the kids are a breath of fresh air. In many ways they are very challenging to control, but when you do give them an activity they enjoy they are very creative and very engaged. They also are not shy in challenging the supply teacher by any means. In Brixton this week, as soon as I opened my mouth to introduce myself one kids arm went up…”are you Mr. Bieber” he asked, having obviously heard my accent. This naturally got a rise out of the entire class, and even a smile out of me. There truly never is a dull moment in my job, and always something to think about.

I am also learning an incredible amount about different religions and cultures. Many of the schools were closed last week for the Islamic holiday Eid, and many of the classes I taught were based around Eid and the culture. I think I was learning much more than the students! The interesting aspect to day to day supply teaching is that every day you have to learn a new disciplinary system (school policies) and you have to learn a whole new routine. It is a great way for me, as a relatively experienced teacher, to learn what works and what doesn’t in these systems and what routines and systems I would like to employ once I do get my own classroom. The negative part of supply teaching however outweighs that immensely. As I described earlier, it’s hard leaving some kids after only one day, especially when I feel like I could get through to them or be a positive influence in their lives.

I feel as though my “honeymoon” period in London is coming to an end, as I get more involved in the school system and hopefully find a permanent job, my perspective on things will certainly change. This week has already shown that. Anytime this week that I’ve missed a tube or had something not go my way I really just can’t help but stop and think about how lucky I am to be here at all. How lucky I am, and all of you reading this, to have had all the opportunities we have had in our lives. Long term I think this is going to be a tremendous experience for me and will only benefit me down the road as I move into different aspects of the educational sector.  I feel as though things will get easier for me as a long term teacher in these communities so I hope that I can be lucky enough to get an opportunity. If not, I have already learned a lot and the experience has been worth it even if I were to return home now.  While the honeymoon may be over, I think the best times are still ahead here in London, and as I begin to feel more like a local I am starting to enjoy this city more than I ever thought possible. You will see evidence of that in the next couple of entries I write!

As for now, this also being the day after Remembrance Day, I think everyone should just take a brief moment and think about how lucky they are to have had the chances they have in their lives. I know I have been thinking about that a lot this week!

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