The Ups and Downs of London Town

13 12 2011

“If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be” – Yogi Berra

The last few weeks in London have been nothing if not an incredible learning experience for me. The realities of moving across the world to a big city, a new culture and away from the people I care about the most have finally started to sink in. Don’t get me wrong, I am thoroughly enjoying my new life here and my new opportunity, but there are certainly ups and downs to living in London, which in many ways makes it a far better experience, and probably much more interesting for you the reader.

Supply (substitute) Teaching in the UK has both positives and negatives to the work.  The work is fantastic for a young, new arrival to London because it is relatively short hours and there is very little work outside of actually teaching. It has allowed me the time to search for a flat and to spend time seeing the sights of London.  In fact, teaching has helped me see many of the communities in the city that I might not have otherwise. Areas such as Camden, Hackney, Brixton, Mile End and West Ham are all unique and colourful neighbourhoods that I get the opportunity to visit regularly and as a teacher I actually get to interact in these areas and understand the different cultures.  Supply teaching in these communities has been great experience but as I mentioned there are some less glamorous sides to the work.

Being on day to day work is something that grows tiresome very quickly. It is frustrating never being able to plan ahead or to be unable to make a good impression by getting to school early. There are occasional days where this is possible, but generally my mornings are quite frantic. It is also rather tough to sink your teeth into the work when you are only there for a day or two at a time. Every day is a challenge, but it is the same challenge. You have to learn the names of an entirely new class every day, learn disciplinary systems of the certain schools, and just make sure that the class is kept busy throughout the day.  It is not as stimulating as a permanent job will be, so I look forward to getting into that aspect of my career soon.

Teaching has been a major adjustment for me in London. As a trained, but inexperienced secondary school teacher it has been a very strange experience for me adjusting to teaching primary school. I have had the opportunity to teach all ages so far, from reception (4 year olds) to year 6 (10 year olds) and have had to significantly adjust my demeanour and approach towards teaching.  Where a high school teacher might be able to joke around with students and talk to them on a much more personal level, the primary teacher must keep be careful, as many students are too young to understand these jokes or will be much more sensitive when challenged. I do think the primary experience will help me with teaching high school however, as I am learning how to manage a classroom for a full day, rather than 50 minutes at a time.

As inexperienced as I am the major benefit to teaching in east London is that it is essentially baptism by fire. I am in areas littered with poverty, single parent families, crime and apathy. The teaching is extremely tough to adjust to and I feel that it will set me up for any future endeavours. The importance of learning to manage a classroom is something I have had to learn rapidly – I am no longer the laid back camp counsellor that worked at Marpole Community Centre or the Langara Family YMCA but rather much more of a disciplinarian. I feel I have already begun to evolve and develop as a teacher, but have only scratched the surface as I know that I still have a lot of work to do.

While the weeks of teaching are fun in many ways, they are very draining both physically and mentally. In some ways every time I walk into a school it is a job interview so I always feel as though I need to be “on” at all times. The weekends have become my much needed time to unwind and to truly enjoy being with friends, and living in a new city. I do my best to make the most of every weekend here, trying to do as many tourist attractions as possible, but it is a seemingly never ending list! The last couple of weekends have been spent learning my new neighbourhood of Islington and getting reacquainted with the culture of English football.  It is nice to have the side of life away from work to keep me appreciative of just what an amazing city I do live in.

A pet peeve I have developed in the UK is the unbelievable number of steps you have to go through when dealing with any sort of bureaucracy.  Setting up a bank account was one of the more trivial and time consuming processes of my life and currently we are going through a similar struggle trying to set up broadband in our new place. This is an experience I have shared with many other people here who have all had similar stories to share with me. This is oddly not the case with mobile phone companies however, as they are remarkably efficient and the cost of a phone plan per month is very reasonable in comparison to the gorging that exists in Vancouver.

Making friends in London is a very cyclical process and has ups and downs on its own. This city is packed with foreigners, like me, traveling on one or two years visas. These people are generally extremely social and up for sightseeing, going to a pub or seeing a show. I have met many of these types through teaching and through other friends. The downside to this all is that they did not arrive at the same time as me, so their visas expire and they leave. I move on, make friends with their friends, but the circle of friends I have in London seems to change from week to week. Meeting locals is somewhat of a rarity as there seem to be very few people actually from London that now work in London. I’m sure they are out there, but they probably don’t spend much time at Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London or the London Eye. I have been fortunate to meet a few English people, and having a cousin so close has definitely helped me become more settled and feel much more at home.

As we move into the holiday season there are up and downs to knowing I will be away from Vancouver for a Christmas for the first time in about 15 years. As I have mentioned previously, I am very excited to head up to Yorkshire to celebrate with all of my English relatives, seeing kids eyes light up at Christmas is something I have not seen for years. I am also enjoying the lead up to Christmas in a new city. All over London there are Christmas lights up and outdoor skating rinks are in operation all over the city, and I spent last Friday at Winter Wonderland, a Christmas festival in Hyde Park. At the same time however, being away from Vancouver will be difficult. Not seeing my parents and sister on Christmas is never easy, and missing out on all the Christmas traditions such as carol singing, the Christmas classic hockey game and spending Christmas Eve with my friends will be hard, especially with lots of friends returning home for the holidays. I will do my best to be in touch on a more personal level than this blog throughout the festive season!

I write this post not to complain, but rather to show you that it isn’t all perfect in the UK. As I said before though, I think that only enhances the experience. It is the little nuances and quirks that make this such a unique adventure and whether they are positive or negative they are all involved in making up my experiences here.  I made a promise to myself that I would be as honest as I could be (restrictions of social media notwithstanding) with this blog and I think this will give you an insight into some of the adversity that I will have to come in the next few months.  Hopefully I can succeed with this and continue to really enjoy my time here!

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