Thursday, February 26, 2009

Coffee Time with a Classroom Canada Teacher

Every few weeks, I send out one of these Coffee Time emails through our newsletters. I ask our teachers in London to answer your most common questions & offer their advice & tips about teaching in London. Since I am about to get on the ferry to Vancouver to hold our first Wine & Cheese Event for Teachers, I thought I'd post one of these Coffee Times for you here today. You can read the others on the right hand side of this page, and sign up to receive the Coffee Times by email as well.

Name: Heather McFadzean

University: OISE, University of Toronto

Subjects: Elementary Education

How long have you been teaching in London now?

6 months.

What do you teach?
I'm a PPA (planning, preparation and assessment) teacher which means that I cover the regular teachers' class when they have time out of class (aka non contact time) to plan, mark etc. Basically, I'm a permanent supply teacher. It's great, because I know the students, staff, routines in the school, but don't have to worry about planning lessons, assessment etc. Once my marking is done at the end of the day (or the set up for the next day if in nursery or kindergarten), I'm done!

Why did you choose Classroom Canada?
One of the main reasons that I chose Classroom was the extensive support I received before setting foot on U.K. soil. Things that I was unsure about how to get started like a bank account, Visa applications etc. were made much easier with Victoria's help. I had lots of questions that got answered (promptly!), and felt as though I was part of a community when I did get to London. I felt better about leaving everything familiar knowing that I was as prepared as I could be coming over.

What was the biggest adjustment for you to make in your teaching in London compared to Canada?
Like everyone else, classroom management was huge. Despite being aware of it from reading other "Coffee Times" and hearing about it from Victoria, it's really something you need to experience first hand to totally understand and grasp how different it is. I found that I had to establish myself with the students, and discuss with them about what to expect when I'm in their class. The first few times I counted down from 5 at the front of the class to get them to quiet down, half of them joined in the counting, and the other half were trying to yell over top of my voice. They now know that by the time I get to one they need to be quiet, sitting at their places, and looking at the front (or whatever we've established in that class).

Describe a typical London day in 3-4 sentences:
645-735: Wake up, get ready, walk to tube station

735-820: Travel to school (tube then bus)

900-330: Teach anything from Nursery up to Y6. Find the class I'm supposed to be covering, talk with the teacher (if they're in) and/or read over the plans left. Be sure I know what's expected from the lessons. Gather all necessary/important materials for the day.

330-415: Complete marking and/or set up for the next day

415-9:30: Leave school, and either head home for a quiet evening at home, or (more likely) meet up with some friends at a pub for a pint (or 2), or grab dinner somewhere (London has some great sushi places), or do something touristy/wander around a new part of the city.

930-1030: Depending on the events of the evening, attempt to be home around this time, so I can get ready for the next day/in bed at a reasonable hour.

What is the one piece of advice you can offer a Canadian teacher considering the move to London?

Definitely do it! Realize it's going to be tricky, and you probably will be homesick at some point, but it's totally worth it. You are so close to Europe, and the way the UK school year is set up makes is really easy to travel to many different places that just aren't as easily accessible from Canada (i.e. a weekend in Berlin is a lot trickier from Toronto than it is from London). International teaching experience looks great on a C.V. and you'll meet some great people. You don't want to be 55 and thinking "What if..."

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

It was my first day in the Year 5 class at my school. I had things under control and everyone was on task and working well. One student puts his hand up. "Miss, what football team do you support?".

Since this is still my first week in London, I'm still adjusting to some of the cultural differences between here and Canada. One thing I haven't picked up on at this particular time, is how huge football (soccer) is, and how intense fans are. Not even thinking, I reply "I'm not sure, we don't really have football in Canada. Which team should I support?"

This, of course, results in an all out riot, with the children yelling at me/to each other "Arsenal!" "Liverpool!" "Chelsea!" "Tottenham!", trying to recruit me to support 'their' team. At the time, I definitely wasn't laughing, because I had to get everyone under control again, but looking back now, it's hilarious.

Describe the worst thing:
The hardest time I've had was coming back to London after being home for Christmas. It was great to be home and see everyone again, but I didn't really prepare myself for coming back to London after that. When I got back to my flat I had a mild freak out about what I was doing back here. Jet lag and a grey, dreary city didn't make things easier, but I've adjusted now and am very happy to be back.

What made you stay with Classroom Canada, rather than with any other agency?

I was able to get work at a school that I enjoyed upon arriving in London (got to London on Friday, started teaching on Tuesday), and have been there ever since, so I really haven't had a reason to leave. I feel like the people at Classroom know who I am if I call with a question or problem.

What qualities do you have that make your stay more enjoyable?

Being flexible and positive definitely help. If you are able to adapt well to changes in your schedule (i.e. "Heather we need you in Year 2 all day today instead of Year 6. Use the long term plans on the wall to figure out the day.") it makes things easier. This comes with practice/exposure as well, but being able to roll with the punches and problem solve on your own are good. Stubbornness has also been an asset (to me anyway), because if I come across some sort of problem or difficulty in the classroom, or when lost around London, or when planning a weekend trip instead of giving up I will find a way to get around whatever the problem is.

To apply for teaching positions in London, England please send your resume & cover letter to apply at classroomcanada dot com.


  1. Victoria- As always, I read with interest the coffee time interview. I think that this is a wonderful aspect of your blog. It must be a very useful insight for teachers who are considering coming to work in London, giving them valuable information and opinions from people who have chosen to do exactly what they themselves are considering..

    And I have another idea! Like many of my ideas, it may well be discarded but I shall press on regardless: You could conduct similar interviews with non-Canadian teachers who have been working in/around London for a reasonable amount of time. This could perhaps be another source of information for prospective recruits....

  2. Love it! Will you be my first interview for the new series? You could post/link it to your blog as well. :-)

  3. Hey, in all honesty that was not what I was thinking! but it could be fun. I say Yes!!

  4. Awesome - I'll write some new questions for you this week & will email them over. Should be an interesting read anyway! Thanks for the idea & for being the guinea pig ;-)


Thanks for sharing your two pence!


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