Monday, March 15, 2010

"Different Does Not Mean Bad": Another Coffee Time Interview with a Canadian Teacher in London, England

Thanks to Aleks for completing a Coffee Time interview to help you see what it's really like to teach in London, England.  Aleks is a fabulous writer, blogger and teacher with Classroom Canada

Name: Aleksandra Sagan

University: York University
Subjects: Intermediate/Senior; English and Individual and Society
Ages You Teach: Elementary, Secondary, and Special Needs

How long have you been teaching in London?

I have been teaching in London for exactly three months.
What do you teach?
I started out in London only wanting to supply teach. I really enjoyed walking into a different classroom everyday and experiencing new students, experimenting with different classroom management techniques, seeing different parts of the London suburbs, and observing various school's policies.

Currently, I have found myself committing to a long term placement as an English as a Second Language and Booster teacher for four Year Six students. Each student has his own unique background: a Polish speaking gifted student, a Portuguese speaking student from Africa with no prior formal schooling, and two low level Numeracy and Literacy students. I spend my days jumping from teaching phonics to translating Polish and from explaining geometry to teaching counting. It started as a three week placement, but with how happy I found myself there I was eager to commit for longer.
Why did you chose to work with Classroom Canada?

I spoke with a lot of agencies before choosing and being chosen by Classroom Canada.

Other agencies always left me with unease after I spoke with them. This was not because of how impersonal their process felt, but because they seemed to aim for recruiting the largest quantity of teachers rather than quality teachers. As someone heading in to do supply work, this method worried me because I did not want to be competing for work against hundreds of teachers within an agency that did not know my name.

Classroom Canada never left me feeling uneasy. After speaking to Victoria for the first time I knew that this was my top choice agency. She aimed for quality over quantity. In fact, her interview was the only one that did not feel like a sales pitch to recruit me, but rather I had to prove my worth to the agency. By the end of the interview Victoria knew my name, shared in my love of running, and answered all of my questions. I felt like I had found a reliable service that treated me as individual and would do their best to find me work in London.
What was the biggest adjustment for you to make in your teaching in London compared to Canada?
I think that one of the biggest adjustments that I had to make was accepting that students in London have not been taught to have a lot of initiative and working at not blaming the students for this. For example, students in London will incessantly ask you if they should write the long or the short date, if they should start a fresh page for their assignment, if they should use their maths or literacy pencils, et cetera. In Canada, these are decisions that students make themselves. However, in London these types of things are much more structured and they are used to having the teacher guide them in these decisions. It has been hard not to get frustrated when twelve students ask me the same question, but I am learning to focus on giving more clear instructions that cover these points prior to them beginning their work.
Describe a typical London day in 3-4 sentences.
A London day is anything but typical, with the only predictable parts of my day being my wake up time and my workout routine, and that is what I love about it. Supply teaching and London school children keep me on my toes all day, which means that one day I might be teaching Spanish and the next day I might be reading stories out loud to Nursery students.
What is the one piece of advice you can offer a Canadian teacher considering the move to London?

Ask yourself why you are choosing to come here. Consider another route if somewhere in your answers you do not mention these key terms: to gain teaching experience, to learn more classroom management techniques, to broaden my understanding of teaching practices, and to become a better teacher.

There are lots of reasons why teachers decide to move to London. The location is fantastic, the work is steady, the opportunity to travel is unbeatable, the money is great, et cetera. These are all great reasons to come. But, realistically, you have to be prepared for London schools. They are very different from Canadian schools. Different does not mean bad.

But you have to understand that your classroom management learning curve will sky rocket the second you step into a London classroom and that, some days, your biggest success will be that no one got hurt under your watch. If you're coming for an easy ride, think again, because teaching in London is something that you will have to give your all too and if you're not prepared to do that, reconsider your choice.
Describe the funniest thing that’s happened to you in your year so far:
No matter the year, students will ask you the funniest things. Generally they automatically ask you questions about your origins when they hear your accent (because, don't forget, here it is you that has the accent). Here is a conversation that I had with a student after they heard me speak:

Student X: “Miss, are you from Australia?”

Me: “No. I am from Canada.”

Student X: “Canada?”

Me: “Yes, Canada.”
Student X: [Pause] “Okay, but can you say kangaroo?"

Describe the worst thing:
This question is tough for me because I don't think that I've had anything truly bad happen. Perhaps it's because I refuse to be pessimistic and am able to laugh at the frustrating things that happen during my teaching days, but I don't have anything that springs to mind as the worst.

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

As soon as I got to London, I was certain that I had made the right agency choice. I had accommodations, a working bank account, and a week of social activities with other teacher's planned all thanks to the agency. From the start the work was steady and in the three months that I have been here, I have only not worked for three days. Whenever I stop by the office to drop off my time sheets I am greeted by a roomful of friendly Classroom staff who all know me by name. I have never even considered signing up with a different agency because Classroom has not given me any reason to.
What qualities do you have that make your stay in London more enjoyable?
I think that there are three key things that any London supply teacher needs to make their stay enjoyable: flexibility, a sense of humour, and an adventurous spirit. A teacher needs to be flexible so that when they walk into a school on Monday morning under the impression that they are teaching Year Six, but get placed in the Nursery class instead they can still have a great day with their class.

A teacher needs to be able to laugh at the frustrating situations that they can come across during the day. I told myself that the moment I am no longer able to laugh about my day on the tube ride home I may as well pack up my bags and go home. Like we were taught in orientation week, you can't take it personally and you can't take it home. Lastly, you need a sense of adventure because otherwise, you might as well stay where you are. If you're not going to meet new people, travel Europe, and try new things then their is little reason to move.
Anything else to add?
Moving to London was one of the hardest and best decisions that I have ever made. I'm going to walk away from this experience one day after seeing so much more of the world, with amazing new friends, a more capable teacher, and having grown as a person. It is an undeniably great experience.
Thank you so much Aleks! I really enjoyed reading this interview and look forward to reading more of your stories about teaching in London and traveling aroud Europe. Your reflections are refreshing!
Any questions for Aleks or Classroom Canada?  Please share below.
Resources for Teaching in London, England

Classroom Canada website
Guide to Teaching in London: A Survival Guide for Canadians
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Canadians & Americans in the UK blog

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Thanks for sharing your two pence!


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