Thursday, July 31, 2008

Who Teaches in London Anyway?

So, I taught in London for three years, which is a year longer than the average Canadian teacher stays. I also recruited teachers from across Canada. (To read more about how this came about, please read this post). My job was to find the best teachers and place them into schools as supply teachers and as regular class teachers. With Classroom Canada, I am fortunate to specialize in helping Canadian teachers, and as a fellow Canuck, that just makes sense to me.

They tend to ask the same questions. Where do the Canadian teachers live? Do they go alone? What do they do on the weekends? Where do they travel to? What teaching jobs do they get? How long do they stay? What do they enjoy most? What is the worst part?

We put our heads together and realized that there must be many more Canadian teachers who want to know more about our adventurous, creative, adaptable and fantabulous teachers as well. And what better way to show them than through interviews with our teachers?

So, here is our first interview with one of our teachers. If you'd like to read more of these, please sign up for our newsletters.

Coffee Time with a Classroom Canada Teacher:

Every few weeks we will be introducing you to one of our teachers in London through these emails. So sit back, relax, grab a latte and enjoy the chat.


Jenn graduated in May and was on the plane to London a couple of days after finishing her B.Ed. She has secured a full-time teaching position with one of our schools that runs from September until July and describes her first three months in London below.

Teacher: Jenn
Bachelor Of Education - Nipissing University
Ages taught: Junior/Intermediate
Subject(s): Math

How long have you been teaching in London now?
I have been teaching in London for almost 3 months.

What do you teach?
I took on a 3 day contract as a Physical Education Secondary Teacher within two weeks of moving to London and did some general supply teaching in the Primary Schools for the other two days.

Why did you choose Classroom Canada?
I did quite a large amount of research before moving to the UK. I interviewed with Time Plan as well as Impact Teachers, but no agency was as personal and friendly as Classroom Canada. Other agencies are solely run through the UK, but with Classroom Canada you have the opportunity to interview with a fellow Canadian who has experienced many years teaching within the UK. I chose Classroom because I didn't feel like another number in a data base of international teachers in the UK. They get to know you as an individual in order to find you the position that best suits you.

What was the biggest adjustment for you to make in your teaching in London compared to Canada?
The biggest adjustment that I have had to make in my teaching is definitely classroom management. Strategies that work in Canada do not always work in the inner city schools of London and I was therefore forced to adapt to the students at hand. It is just important to realize that some of these schools see different supply teachers every day. They need time to adjust to the situation at hand. You will not gain their respect right away. These students know their rights and the meaning of mutual respect between students and teachers and each student will come around on their own time. These students each have their own unique personalities and as difficult as they may seem at the time, they will come around.

Describe a typical London day in 3-4 sentences:
6:30am - Preparation for School
730am - On route to School (usually takes an hour commute, depending on where your school is located.)
4:30pm- Arrive home, hit the gym and eat dinner
7:30pm - Site seeing, cycle around town

What is the one piece of advice you can offer a Canadian teacher considering the move to London:
I've only been here 3 months and can already say that I have learned so much. If you take a fraction of what you learn in these classrooms back to Canada it will only make you a stronger teacher in the end. The reality is, that there are very few teaching opportunities in Canada right now and what better way to start your career than in London, England? There is always something to do, regardless of your interests.
On another note: do not bring any electrical appliances (besides a computer). Everything is cheaper and better over here. Girls I am talking to you - hair straighteners, blow dryers etc. Converters DO NOT WORK. You will need an adapter for your computer, but that is all :)

Describe the funniest thing that's happened to you in your year so far:

Myself, along with my two flat mates decided to go site seeing our first week here. Very typical, obviously. So we decided we were going to Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace for the day. Hyde Park - Beautiful. We finally arrived at the Palace and we did not even realize where we were. We thought the Palace was the Parliament Buildings!? So we asked someone where the Palace was, only to get a smart answer 'ummm right behind you?' Embarrassing, yet hilarious Canadian Moment.

Describe the worst thing:
The feeling of losing control of your class. Every London teacher has and will experience at least one of these lessons throughout their time here. These students are different and each and everyone of them come with their own personal issues. You need to remember that there are support staff within the school that will help you and when all else fails, just stay calm. Shouting only makes things worse. I speak from experience when I say, just pick yourself up, and focus on a new day. Things only getting better in time. Never give up, these are the students that need you the most.

What made you stay with Classroom Canada, rather than with any other agency?
I remained with Classroom because when it came down to it, they never once disappointed me. It is the last week of school and I am still working 5 days a week. They have become my London family. They took the time to get to know me and have also created a great network of international teachers.

What qualities do you have that make your stay in London more enjoyable?
I am a very outgoing individual. Your experience will only be what you make of it and when it comes down to it, YOU ARE IN LONDON!!!!!!! The city, that I swear, never sleeps. As a teacher I also strongly believe in making a difference in childrens lives and the students over here need devoted teachers, that are willing to take the time to get to know them and understand them in order for them to fully reach their potential.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Simple Guide to Supply Teaching in London

What to take to school

The following suggested items will ensure that the day runs efficiently and smoothly.

Directions - including the address of the school, your journey, the closest tube station, the name of the your contact at the school and expected arrival time. Your supply agency should provide you with these details.

Red & black pens to mark the attendance (called "the register"). Remember, the register is a legal document and is not allowed to be marked by a student. You must mark the register yourself.

Plain paper

Stickers or rewards

Any 'emergency' learning activities you have planned to keep the children occupied. Never assume that there will be work left. It is often handy to take in a general knowledge quiz, word search or writing topics, posters for example. Ideas for lessons are available from the Classroom office.

When you arrive at the school

On your arrival at the school, you will be meeting with your contact. This is the perfect time to ask for the following items to familiarise yourself with the particular policies and procedures of that school.

School Discipline Policy

Any work left by the regular teacher. Remember, any work already left must be completed. Similarly, any work set by a supply teacher is expected to be completed and marked prior to your departure for the day.

Copy of the day's schedule (recess times, lunch breaks, home time, etc.)

Any lunch/break duty you are to do.

Map of the school including the location of the staff toilets, staff room and student toilets.

Class list/register

Keys for the rooms

Whiteboard markers (if needed) - you are very unlikely to encounter chalk boards in London schools and much more likely to use Interactive White Boards (you might know them as "smart boards") and White Boards (aka dry erase boards).

Student text - where appropriate.

Procedures for letting students out of classes (For example, hall passes/toilet passes) Remember, keep the students in your classroom unless instructed otherwise.

Before you leave the school

As a daily supply teacher, you need to ensure that the following items have been attended to before you leave for the day.

Leave a note for the regular teacher (be sure to include the names of students who were particularly helpful as well as the students who may have been difficult. Put yourself in their teacher's shoes and don't just write down the negative things. For example, as a teacher, I'd rather read "Your students were so well behaved today! Thank you for having me in your class. I particularly enjoyed the way that Abdul helped Iqbal with his writing without even being asked. Unfortunately, Shaniah needed 4 reminders to return to her silent reading and received a time out as a consequence for her behaviour." You will also need to write more specifically about what you actually taught that day, but I think it is always good practice to highlight some positives in your day.

Fill in your timesheet, get it signed and fax it to your agency. Schools should have copies of the timesheets, but it is always helpful if you bring your own just in case. If you forget to do your timesheet, you won't get paid!

Leave the room tidy and all work should be marked.

Return any borrowed equipment & keys.

For primary classes, bring the children to the outside area where their parents pick them up. If you have a Teaching Assistant, ask them to support you in making sure that the students are being picked up by the appropriate people (this is particularly important for the younger ages).

Dismiss students on the bell, not beforehand.

Enjoy your day! If you had a good day at the school, you are more likely to be asked back again. You are your best ambassador! If you enjoyed your day at the school, tell the Head Teacher, Deputy Head or Department Head. Smile. Share stories about your day.

Extra Tips for Primary Supply Teaching

Familialize yourself with the Literacy & Numeracy Strategies (taught every day in schools for one hour each). A good website is

Prepare some resources and/or have ideas for lessons (particularly for Literacy and Numeracy).

Buy a book! Buy a book that you can use for all age groups. I brought "The Little Engine that Could" from Canada with me, and read it to kids aged 3-13 while I was supply teaching. They loved it, and I could make up some great lessons on the spot with it across many areas - art, literacy, numeracy, science. I always kept this one book on me, and the more I used it, the more it worked with my teaching. The best part was that the students hadn't read it yet (it's American I believe)

Talk to other staff. Be social in the staff room. Don't just keep your head in your Lonely Planet Guide to Europe! Get out there and talk to people. They are your best resource, and will really help you to get to know the school better, which students to watch out for and what to expect in the classroom. Have fun with it!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Teaching in London: Important Words for Canadian Teachers to Learn & Use

After teaching in London for a few months, you'll quickly learn the lingo of Londoners and particularly the slang of the children.

Here's a handy little list of words you need to know to make it through your first week anyway.

British Term – Canadian Term

Alright? How are you? (note that this is a rhetorical question and you'll get strange looks if you actually start saying how you are!)
anti-social behaviour order
bird girl or chick
cash pointATM or cash machine
chavequivalent to “trailer park trash” - not PC but you're bound to hear it
cinemamovie theatre
cuppa- cup of tea
fancy dress costume party
bangs (hair)
local pub (as in “Meet me at my local”)
over the moonpleased or happy
pantsunderwear (can also be used as a negative adjective, as in “my job is really pants”)
shattered/knackered very tired
snog kissing
subway underground path (allows you to cross from one side of the road to the other)
take-awaytake-out or food to go
traffic warden meter maid/man
trainerssneakers, running shoes
trousers pants
tube subway train
rubbish bingarbage can
pavement sidewalk
vest tank top

The above list is taken from Living in London: A Survival Guide for Canadians, written by Network Canada.

Here, we've added a few more words for
Canadian teachers in London:

rubber - eraser
break recess
“cussing my____” (fill in the blank with Mum, or name, or mate...) - making fun of, putting down
innitisn't it?
taking the mick (or mickey)making fun of (teens and adults might say “taking the piss” instead)
chuffedhappy, excited
to pull or to be pulledto pick up or get picked up (at a bar/club)
corridor - hallway
Head Teacher - principal
Deputy Head Teacher - vice-principal
SENCO - Special Needs Coordinator
Key Stage (1, 2, 3, 4) - primary, junior, intermediate, senior
Early Years (Nursery & Reception) - Junior Kindergarten, Senior Kindergarten
Hall - gymnasium (usually also where the children eat lunch in primary schools)
Jumper - sweater

Can you think of any more that we've forgotten? Please add them to our comments.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

10 Myths About Teaching in London

1. It's beneficial to sign up with lots of agencies.
A common misconception with teaching in London is that signing up with a plethora of agencies will guarantee you a steady stream of work and multiple opportunities for long term placements. The reality is, supply agencies are looking for loyal and reliable teachers with whom they can form strong working relationships. The more agencies you sign up with, the more you show that you lack confidence in your teaching capability and in the agency's ability to find you a job. If you are looking to supply teach, then by all means keep yourself covered by joining two agencies, BUT don't expect either agency to bend over backwards for you, because they will have a bank of other teachers that are working exclusively with them and those teachers are seen as more dependable than you. Try to put yourself in their shoes. It's not Canada. They have a teacher shortage, not a job shortage. They call the first teacher they know is available to them and them only; the first teacher to answer the phone is the one to get the job. Just remember - it’s important not to underestimate the importance of your teacher-agency relationship – it’s a valuable commodity!

2. It's advantageous to lie to the different agencies, so you get the best deal.
Sadly, this happens all the time. Some teachers show up in London, move into the agency's accommodations, make friends with their teachers (and have an instant community) and then turn around and work through another agency. The teachers who do this just want to get as much as they can from wherever they can. Frankly, its bad form. Choose your agency carefully, and if you're not confident that they can find you a job and help you in your transition to London, then politely tell them and find another one.

I have also experienced teachers who lie about their rate of pay in order to strike the best deal for themselves. I recall an Australian teacher who was keen to register but for a rate of 145 pounds per day. When asked what experience she had, she replied "None, but I'm Australian and I know another company that will pay me 145 just for that!" To this, I secretly giggled, because that simply isn't true and it's commercially unethical to pay people more based on their nationality. So, she walked out and searched for that elusive company that would pay her more just because she's Aussie. Well good luck to her. Very simply, pay comes down to your experience and flexibility as a teacher – be suspicious of anyone that tells you otherwise!

3. The kids are horrible.
Yes, the teaching is hard. It's different than teaching in Canada. But they're still kids. And if you think that the "kids are horrible in London," then perhaps you should a) consider a career other than teaching or b) do some research on why the behaviour of the children is different than you're used to. The kids behave in ways that we're not used to, but that doesn't make them horrible. 95% of the kids I taught were not from England originally. They were from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia (particularly Bangladesh & India) and across Europe. If you think that makes for "horrible kids" then London isn't for you. Neither is Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal or Ottawa for that matter.

4. Teaching in the outskirts is better (aka easier) and you save more money than in the centre of London.
Ah this one is fun to de-bunk. There are a lot of agencies that now specialize in bringing Canadians over to the "outskirts" of London. They know that's where there is a serious shortage of teachers, so they can place Canadians into jobs fairly easily. And if you're in the outskirts, you won't know any better.

Well, where better to hear the reality than from the horse’s mouth. At the time, prior to arriving in London, my thought pattern went, "Well, I just want a job. I'll go anywhere. I don't want to go all the way to England and not have secured a long-term job. What if I don't get enough work? It's only 30 minutes into the city. It'll be fine."

Boy was I wrong. The image of the suburbs that a movie like The Holiday may portray will undoubtedly not match up to the kind of suburbs that an agency may send you to. ‘The Holiday’ is set in Surrey. - the middle-upper class outskirts that, for sure don't have a shortage of teachers. Why would they? What a pretty wonderful place to live and work. So, remove those rose-tinted specs, turn the image of the Holiday on it's head, and NOW you have the kind of outskirts towards which your agency may be enticing you. My advice? Think very carefully about where you want to be.

Having lived in the outskirts for several months and felt at times, both isolated and unsafe, I eventually made the move to London and didn’t look back. The highlight for me was being placed in the inner city schools & working with kids from around the world. I lived downtown and in North London (Islington, Finsbury Park area) and loved every minute of it. I made the same amount of money, paid the same in rent but had so many more weekend options on my plate than just visiting the local mall. Theatres, Museums, Galleries, Parks, you name it, I did it.

On the matter of money - sure I spent more living in a central location, but for me that was a compromise I was happy to make. If you’re thinking of coming to London to teach and "save money" I'd advise you re-think – if money is your goal go to Asia and teach ESL. It is worth mentioning however, that whilst living in London for those three years, I did pay off $15 000 of my student loans. Not bad considering I was out on the town every weekend, travelled various destinations across Europe and lived a darn good life by Canadian standards.

5. You should always go with the agency that pays you the most money no matter what.

Well, you can do that of course. But first, think hard about why that agency may be offering you such attractive rates? Quite often, and through experience it can be because the agency are compensating for the terrible schools they’re planning to send you to (it’s just that they don’t tell you that). It’s a good idea to talk to other teachers registered through that agency and see what they have to say. And don't just take the names & numbers of teachers the agency give you. Do some real digging & find the teachers they don't want you to talk to. They'll give you their story, and if they're making 10 pounds more per day and they're still not happy with the company, well there’s your answer. If you decide to join up with Classroom Canada, sign up to the exclusive network we offer – a great way to swap stories, experiences and general ‘London info’ with other teachers in the same boat as you.

6. All agencies claim to offer new teachers support in setting-up, but no agencies follow through.

Sadly, this is often true, but not always. Again, quiz other teachers working through particular agencies what level of support their agency provided on their arrival. If they say they helped with accommodation, does that mean providing the link to a property search website that they recommend, or actually allocating them an apartment to live in? These are two very different versions of offering ‘support’ so it's important that you clarify in advance exactly what assistance they can provide you with.

7. Agencies make a killing off your salary.

Agencies are businesses, and naturally will be making money from placing you into schools – that’s what they do. However, the following guide to approximately what rates you can expect upon registration will ensure that you have a benchmark to follow should you be offered an either unusually high or unusually low rate at any point. Rates of pay can vary from £120 per day to £150 per day dependant on experience and the nature of role that you may be applying for. The vast majority of agencies in London will pay between £120-£125 per day for an NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) and possibly more for newly qualified Secondary teachers if their subjects are in demand (Science or Technology for example). Rates can also vary between positions – generally speaking long-term roles will pay higher than day to day, and class teacher roles will yield more than floating PPA (Preparation, Planning & Assessment positions). Money aside, it’s just as crucial to focus on the service the agency provide. Are you as the teacher just another number in a database, or do the consultants make the effort to get to know you, build a strong working relationship with you, and thus be better equipped to secure the right job for you? Agencies have long-standing relationships with schools that trust their judgements on teachers, so it’s worth your while registering with a company that are ready to listen to what you actually want.

You could always try to get a job without an agency, and you might succeed. The problem is that you will then make about 5000 pounds ($10 000 Canadian) less per year because the school will have to pay you as an "Overseas Qualified Teacher".

8. Teaching in London is great because you can totally just slack off.

Thankfully, I've only heard this a few times. I won't bother explaining it, because it's obvious to a good teacher that this isn't true.

9. The British education system is horrible. Why would you want to teach there?

Unless you can understand the history and the cultural context for the teaching system the UK have in place, this is an unfair judgement to make. I have found that most foreign teachers arriving in London make a whole host of comparisons to what they know "back home", which is only natural of course. A year or so into their UK teaching career, they begin to develop an understanding for the reasons the system exists as it does because it’s better than the other options. This one is complicated, so I'll write another blog entry at a later date to explain the differences between the Canadian and the UK education system.

10. London is far too expensive to live there. You must be stupid to even consider it.

This is a comment often made by people who have travelled through London en-route to another destination. They show up with Canadian dollars and complain that a cup of coffee costs $8! Well, yes if you are using Canadian dollars. If not, it cost 4 pounds. Just like a Starbucks coffee in Canada costs $4, a Starbucks coffee in London costs 4 pounds. So earn pounds. And life is good again.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hey Teachers: Watch More TV!

Ready to teach in London? If you're like our teachers, you already have your visa, your flight, your accommodations, and you're starting to think about packing. You're likely looking for resources online and trying to prepare as best you can.

Well, here is some advice: watch more television. Watch this program. It's from Teachers TV, which is a UK channel that helps teachers from all backgrounds with all areas of teaching.

You're going to learn their accents, what low level behaviour means, how a new teacher struggles to find the "positive" and in the end, you'll see some pretty incredible teaching happen. I even got goosebumps.

Then, go through the website and watch as many videos as you can handle this summer. I'd suggest just one a day, so that you can really let it sink in and take some good reminder notes for when you're in London and forgetting everything you've learned. You can also look just at your subject area and the age group you plan or hope to teach.

Some areas that I suggest any new teacher to London focuses on are: behaviour management, IWBs (Interactive Whiteboards), Assessment for Learning and Lesson Objectives. From a Canadian viewpoint, those are the four areas that will be quite different for you.

Have fun with it! If you watch any that you think we should mention, please comment here and let us know.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Education Enrollment Down 20%, Teachers Look Abroad for Work

Applications into Teachers Colleges in Canada are down by 20% this year. According to Kristin Rushowy of, Ontario has roughly 7500 education spots in universities across the province. But of those that graduated in 2006, there were only 1000 jobs, leaving the vast majority without any hope of securing a teaching job that year. So what happens the next year to all those 6500 graduates? You got it. They get added on to the next 6500. And so on and so on. No wonder so many teachers are volunteering in schools.

Sound familiar? When I graduated from teachers college, there were more than 600 of us from my university. There are 52 universities in Canada that offer Bachelors of Education degrees. 52! So how many teachers are without work in Canada? Far too many.

Yes, enrollment is down. But I think that means more young people are realizing that if they want to become a teacher they have to really want it. It's not enough to think, "Well, why not?". Not that it ever was, but I do think that Canadians, particularly in Ontario, are starting to realize just how dire the job shortage is.

Which brings me to teaching in London. Teachers who are successful in London don't just go because they can't get a job in Canada, but that certainly helps in making their decision a bit easier. They go to experience life in England, travel around Europe and hone their teaching skills. They're adventurous, creative & adaptable. They can "go with the flow" and pick themselves up after a rough day.

In May we did our own little survey. Through Facebook, we asked 100 random people with "education" listed as their degree the following questions:

As a teacher, are you:
A) Looking for work in Canada as a Supply Teacher
B) Looking for teaching work abroad
C) Working in Canada as a supply teacher
D) Working in Canada full-time as a teacher
E) Looking for work in Canada as a teacher

Well, the results surprised us!
A) 8%
B) 46%
C) 8%
D) 26%
E) 12%

46% of the Canadians who completed this survey were looking for teaching work abroad. Wow! I assumed that the majority would fall into E: looking for work in Canada as a teacher. Now, this of course is not a particularly scientific survey (it is just Facebook afterall) but I think it shows that Canadians across the country are looking elsewhere for work.

Why sit around and wait for teachers to retire when you can go abroad and at least start your teaching career? England is the most similar to Canada in its education system, so clearly an obvious choice for many. Makes sense to us.

But how about you? I assume that if you've read this far, you're a Canadian teacher or at least know a Canadian teacher in this situation. What are your thoughts on this issue? If you're a teacher, tell us more about your experience in looking for work. Was it easy-peasy or a tough slog? Did you go abroad? England perhaps? We'd love to hear your stories too.

If you've enjoyed what you've read, then please become a fan through facebook, and check out our website too.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

It's our birthday!

Classroom Canada is a little teaching agency that could.

We have big ideas & amazing Canadian teachers. Incredibly, 100% of the teachers that go to London stay with us, working in inner city London schools and hanging out with other Canucks, Aussies, Brits, Kiwis and South African teachers in their free time. I've worked with other teaching agencies (both as a teacher and as a recruiter) where it's just expected that 50% of the teachers they recruit will walk away and join another company instead. Talk about having low expectations!

I'm a huge fan of Stuart McLean so when I thought about starting a new teaching agency with a different approach, I immediately thought of his fictional music store, The Vinyl Cafe. Above the cash register is a sign that reads, "We may not be big, but we're small". I love that idea.

I'd rather have a small group of dedicated, loyal and fabulous teachers that make me proud of what I do, than 2000 teachers that don't feel any sense of loyalty at all. I completely understand why they wouldn't feel loyal if they felt they were a number. A cash-grabbing agency that expects half their teachers to bail out is not exactly a fun place to work.

The wonderful thing about this small company is that it's fully supported by a larger company - Classroom Ltd. (in London, England). Classroom has other branches in South Africa and Australia as well. With Classroom Canada, we can remain small but know that once our teachers arrive in England they will be supported by a full staff team with a specialized knowledge of working in London. In fact, the vast majority of the recruiters in Classroom were teachers in inner city schools themselves.

So here we are. Classroom Canada's first blog entry. The idea behind this blog is not to sell you to our agency, but to help Canadian teachers who are considering moving to London know a little more what's in store. We know that once you're ready you'll apply anyway. Hey, that's how we operate.

When I graduated from Teachers College in Ontario, I was desperate to find a full-time teaching position. I applied everywhere I could, and when offered a grade 5 class outside London, I took it. I looked everywhere for more information, particularly from a Canadian viewpoint. What I learned then is that there's a whole lot of companies trying to sell the jobs to us, but not a whole lot of information about what they do, what the teaching is really like (other than that it's hard) and what struggles other teachers have faced and overcome. I did go, ended up staying for three years and used my background in International Development and community volunteer work to recruit teachers for the agency that originally brought me over. I tried to change things from within, but after a couple of years I realized that I needed to find a different agency with a different approach to teachers.

I asked another Canadian teacher who she was with & why, and I liked the sound of the company. A week later, I had applied for and accepted a position within Classroom as both a teacher & a recruiter. This meant that I was out teaching a few days a week and in the office the other days. Six months later, I moved to BC to start Classroom Canada. And here we are. It's been one full year. Since then, about 20 teachers have traveled to London with us and most are still there. A few have returned home (to get married or pursue their careers in Canada).

But this blog is not about me, nor is it about specific teachers. This blog is about what it's really like to teach in London from a Canadian perspective.

Watch this space. Also, you can check out our website, become a fan through facebook, or sign up to receive our emails.


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