Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Interview With a Canadian Teacher in London: Coffee Time with Shannon

Time for another Coffee Time Interview, where we ask a Canadian teacher in London all the questions that you wanted answered.  This time it's with Shannon Griffin, a BC teacher who worked in the government for 8 years after graduating teacher's college and then decided to follow her first love - teaching.
Name: Shannon Griffin
University: University of Victoria
Subjects: Elementary
Ages You Teach: Mostly Key Stage One (K-3)

How long have you been teaching in London?
6 months already

What do you teach? 
I teach primary and mostly stick to Key Stage One classes.

Why did you chose to work with Classroom Canada?
A friend from university had worked for Classroom Canada a few years back and had really good experiences with them. I also liked the fact that they are a smaller agency, thus a more personal connection.

What was the biggest adjustment for you to make in your teaching in London compared to Canada?
Really, it's the same that most others say and that is classroom management. The classroom dynamics and children are very different compared to Canada so that was definitely a big adjustment.

Describe a typical London day in 3-4 sentences.
Well, I am lucky enough to work regularly for a school 3 days a week doing PPAcoverage and am extra lucky that the school is about a 20 minute (brisk) walk from my flat. I am guaranteed three days a week there and manage to usually pick up at least another day at the same school so I don't have to get up at the crack of dawn to call in for work or brave the morning crush on the tubes. I get up at a decent hour, have my breakfast, grab my things and head out the door for my walk. On days when I am not working, I try to get out and explore all the amazing sites London has to offer (although it has been bitterly cold here all winter which makes it a challenge to want to leave your warm flat to go exploring). Fingers crossed spring will arrive one of these days. London is an amazing city and tons of fun.

What is the one piece of advice you can offer a Canadian teacher considering the move to London?
Just do it! I was so nervous about the move, the change, the unknown...but honestly, it has been the best decision I have made. It is a big change teaching over here, but take it one day at a time and with a grain of salt when you have those crazy days because it does get easier. I promise!

Describe the funniest thing that’s happened to you in your year so far:
The differences in the language have resulted in some "amusing" moments for sure. Of course pants here mean underwear and I am still catching myself saying things like "what's on your pants?" to a 6 year old. They think it's hilarious. They also say rubbers instead of erasers so I have found it quite funny to have a class of 26 little kids saying "Miss, I need a rubber."

Describe the worst thing:
There was one particular day where I was in a more challenging school in a year four class (which isn't my comfort zone anyway) and the kids were totally wild and uncontrollable (no exaggeration). I remember at one point, just stepping back and looking around at the mayhem thinking "Well, I give up today. I don't think I want to do this anymore." That was probably my toughest day yet, but I am glad I didn't quit and stuck with it, because my days now are tons of fun and I have lots of laughs. The kids really are pretty sweet. I actually got the most adorable card from one of my little year one girls I regularly teach that is the cutest and sweetest thing I have ever received. She made it the night before she knew I was going to be in her classroom and honestly, it's things like that, that make it all worthwhile.

What made you stay with Classroom Canada, rather than any other agency?
Krystian and Tee and the rest of the primary team have worked so hard at securing me this permanent PPA position which is awesome and are always able to get me work on the days I am not scheduled at my regular school. They are there to answer any questions and have been so incredibly helpful. I haven't felt the need to go to another agency.

What qualities do you have that make your stay more enjoyable?
I try very hard not to get myself stressed out in difficult situations which has helped tremendously. I also think you have to be very flexible and adaptable as supply work is ever changing and you have to just go with the flow so to speak :)

To apply for a teaching job in London with Classroom Canada, simply submit your resume & cover letter to apply AT classroomcanada.com.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Long Term Cover Teaching in London: A Unique, Rewarding Experience for Canadian Teachers - Part II

This is the 2nd part in Dusan Sekulic's series on long term teaching in London from a Canadian perspective.  Read Part 1 here.
By Dusan Sekulic

We all know the many different reasons why Canadianeducators come to London to teach. Among them is the desire to earn some invaluable experience teaching in challenging, rewarding schools while having the wonders of Europe close at hand. Others see at as an opportunity to change their surroundings, to explore a new country – not unlike their own – but nevertheless offering a different perspective and way of life. And there are, of course, many others who truly look to London as a place to grow their careers, to blossom under a cloudy sky and establish themselves in a profession they have spent many years preparing for. As a long-term cover teacher, this goal can surely be achieved.

In Part I of this series, I spent some time writing about the exciting prospects of being a long-term cover teacher. Behind it are several reasons. One, the opportunity for consistency in the morning routine, as well as the obvious advantages of being able to go to the same school on a daily basis for a long period of time. Unexpected issues and concerns rarely disturb my morning preparations as I calmly have my cereal and prepare for work daily. Your mind is at ease during the walk to the local tube station, the pre-planned route becoming embedded in your mind within a few short weeks. You arrive at your school, comfortable and relaxed.

Which brings me to the second advantage of being a long-term cover teacher: A school’s policies, procedures, curriculum and general layout of the classrooms become second nature to you. Gone will be the days when you had to cover teach on a daily basis, entering a new school every day where confusion reigned when it came to the overall setup of each individual school. Day to day cover teaching is exceptional and vital when you first arrive in London to teach. You get to discover the UK education system immediately, see the classroom management challenges first hand and start to advertise yourself to a variety of schools that may be looking to hire you long term. When you do eventually get to a longer placement, once thing becomes very blatantly clear during your first day:

Long-term cover teaching is a completely different biscuit.

When I first started my long-term cover position, the first three weeks were incredibly challenging. There were so many teachers to meet – in my department as well as others, and general staff members. There were also the difficulties of coming to grasp with the material you needed to teach the students – sometimes having to learn several poems or a novel within days because they had already started a particular unit. Deadlines being thrown at you, reports demanded. It can be quite overwhelming and certainly frustrating. However, the days go by and you survive. Taking each day at a time is essential when you are starting a long-term cover position. Once you actually settle down into your role, understand all the intricacies of the school and at least some semblance of the curriculum you will be teaching, things become easier.

The first few weeks can be difficult and many teachers do feel the stress and pressure of a long-term position that comes with a significant increase of responsibilities. However, you need to come to terms with it and make the appropriate adjustments – whether it is in your lesson planning, efficiency at home while marking or general delivery of lessons during school hours. It can happen over a period of time or in a single moment one day as you are preparing for your afternoon lessons: Things click and start to gel.

You emerge from a cocoon of chaos and paperwork into a kind of focused zone. You get on top of your marking duties, you start to lesson plan for the entire following week. You begin to enjoy teaching and to remember all the reasons you wanted to enter this profession. Colleagues become friends, helping you along the way, making sure you find it comfortable in your new surroundings. I have found teachers in the UK incredibly helpful, caring and diligent when it comes to assisting you with any issues you need: Locations of those hidden classrooms, student registers, pointing out which pupils to look out for, etc. The list goes on.

The third, and I believe most important, advantage to being a long-term cover teacher is that you get to educate, observe and guide your students as they develop academically and personally over a span of several months. Watching students enjoy one of your lessons and produce work that is so inspiring to see is such a joy for me as a teacher. I enjoy the process of seeing my students understand the content, concepts and themes of novels and plays we are studying together. Or reading a student’s carefully planned short story on a cool Sunday afternoon in the winter when you know they spent the last two weeks writing and editing it, spelling and grammar mistakes few and far between. You build a rapport with your students and you become a part of a family of sorts at a single school where everyone looks out for each other and want to see success at different levels.

There are several other advantages to becoming a long-term cover teacher, including the actual experience, job security, chances for professional development and involvement in extra-curricular activities – all things I have mentioned in the past. Still, long-term placements are certainly not for everyone. It takes a lot of hard work, patience and focus. Also, many schools do have difficult students that make learning and teaching difficult. Just remember, they too are in the same fold and you should never give up on them.

Nevertheless, the advantages and rewards of being a long-term cover teacher are too numerous to list.

Be strong, be resilient. Be ready for new things and the changes that come along with them. Most of all, gather all those experiences, soak them up within you and learn with each day. We can always become better teachers.

In Part III, I promise: “A day in the life of a long-term cover teacher”…
To apply for a teaching job in London with Classroom Canada, whether long term or day to day supply, simply submit your resume & cover letter to apply AT classroomcanada.com.  One of us will reply to you as soon as we are able. It's the busy season here, so please be patient with us.  Thanks & good luck!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Long-term Cover Teaching: A Unique, Rewarding Experience for Canadian Teachers in London - Part 1

By Dusan Sekulic

You have just arrived in London after months of planning, preparation and effort. You are seeking a new adventure, something different from the lifestyle and routine you had back home. First and foremost, however, you are hungry for an opportunity to be a teacher. To be given a chance to do what you feel is the best career for you. You know it will be hard, tricky at the very least. Still, you revel in the challenge; you are excited and you look forward to this new journey in your life. Having arrived, you immerse yourself in a rich culture and style of life in old, majestic London. Routines emerge, comfort levels are reached, and you discover new and interesting things about yourself and who you are. Life is good.

Day to day cover teaching is usually the avenue of choice for most new teachers. It offers the prospect of learning about the Britishschool system a little better, standard routines you must follow and the overall feel of inner city schools. You discover the true art of classroom management, you gain some invaluable experience and the months slowly go by. It is a great way to start, and some choose to stay in this comfortable position of daily morning calls, working in a variety of unique, interesting schools. Responsibilities are at a minimum and you can go home to your swanky flat at the end of each day, knowing the evenings are yours, and the weekends even more so.

After a half term or so, some teachers here begin to grow weary of the set routine. Waking up in the morning, not knowing whether you will be working or not, eventually becomes tiresome – mentally. If there is a single doubt in your mind about you working on a particular day, that doubt has an effect on you like no other. Your guard goes down and you relax as the minutes go by, waiting for that phone call. When you do eventually get that call – which could be anywhere between 7:05 and past 8 am – it is like you have to reset your mind all over again for the day ahead. You might have already put on your sleeping attire again for an early morning nap, guessing it was too late to get a call at the time. That is not to say you are lazy, unmotivated or anything of the sort. Never think that. It is natural for us to feel that way. Your mind will play tricks on you and the routine of no guarantees and inconsistency of cover work can be unhealthy and stressful. Hence the unappealing nature of day to day cover work for some. You just never know when you will be teaching. Many are comfortable with this. Yet, there are plenty of teachers who seek a different kind of challenge.

We have all heard about or seen the classic image of a teacher with their very own classroom, students’ work on display all over the room, and their personal touches evident throughout – family pictures or banners of their favourite football or baseball teams. Maybe even movie posters and meaningful quotes on the wall behind their cluttered desk, a fresh apple placed casually in the corner. Every student knows this classic teacher, saying hi to them in the hallway, stopping him or her for a chat about their homework last night or whether their projects are due that afternoon. A never ceasing wave of “Good morning Sir!” and “Can I show you my book in class Miss?” It’s quite lovely.

This idyllic image of a school teacher’s life is not far from the truth. Not at all. If anything, it is quite common. How it is achieved is quite another thing. When living the life of a cover teacher, you simply do not have the opportunity to develop solid working relationships with the staff, or really get to know your students well and watch them progress in their education throughout the school year. You do not have the luxury of having your own classroom or time to decorate it your way. You cannot truly get involved in the school’s extra-curricular activities and really immerse yourself in the positive ethos and culture of the school and community. This is something that can only be achieved by becoming a long-term cover teacher and, eventually, a fully contracted teacher, working at a single school on a permanent basis.

It is a tremendously exciting prospect, so unique and rewarding in many different ways. All those months, days and hours toiling away during Teacher’s College, making lesson plans and enduring one practicum after another. Your hard work and effort finally comes to fruition when you become a long-term teacher at one school. The interesting lesson plans you remember designing all those months ago can once again be used. The creativity you once harnessed in your planning, the memorisation of students’ names, developing a rapport with your very own classes now suddenly becomes a reality.

Nevertheless, with this opportunity comes the responsibility that you take up as a long-term teacher. Your work doubles at the very least, your free evenings dwindle away and demanding deadlines suddenly arise. Days become more hectic, stress elevates, but one thing is certain: There is no aspect of teaching that is more fulfilling, more satisfactory than working at a single school full-time and long term. It is in choosing this role that you can truly come to fruition as a teacher and as a person, growing beyond your wildest expectations.

Like most things, it is up to you to decide.

Next, Part II: A day in the life of a long-term cover teacher…

To apply to teach in London, whether as a daily supply teacher or a long term teacher, simply submit your resume & cover letter to apply AT classroomcanada.com. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Teaching Abroad & Extra-Curricular Activities: Get Involved!

Extra-curricular activities: Immerse yourself

by Dusan Sekulic

Finding yourself knee deep in marking essay papers, exercise books and general school work is something quite common in the heart of London’s educational institutions. It’s part of the “deal” when it comes to responsibilities and a teacher’s solemn duty. Albeit time consuming and tedious at times, it naturally helps a great deal in assisting you with keeping track of student performance and progress throughout the school year. You sigh at the end of the day as you trudge home with bags filled with papers upon papers, your trusty red pen – in your pocket – anxious to comment, correct and criticise. Amid all this hectic progression and time-consumption, I find myself often asking: Why not enjoy yourself at school sometimes?

Oh, there are so many opportunities, too numerous to mention in a single article. However, I can only do my best to direct you to some of the more obvious activities an often over-burdened teacher can get involved with. First and foremost, however, you must always make the effort to find out exactly what kind of extra-curricular activities exist in your school.
Sports fan? Coach!
Naturally, first there are the ever-present student related activities. These offer up a more supervisory role, but still, this can be relaxing, stimulating and exciting on so many levels. For example, coaching one of the numerous sports teams that your school has to offer is something that can be very rewarding on a personal and professional level. Not only are you helping young student athletes develop their particular talents and skills, but you are giving them an opportunity to enjoy playing the sports they love and at a competitive level. Sometimes there are not enough coaches to run an individual sports team, and the students suffer as a result. Why not jump in and volunteer your experiences and knowledge? One other gain is that you get to live your dream of being a top class “manager” with your very own team, coaches, lineups and opportunities to lead your school to championship glory every year!  You will deny this, of course, but within every teacher who is a sports fan there is a little Arsene Wenger or Jose Mourinho waiting to emerge at the slightest whim. At the end of the day, it is all in good fun. So, why not?

Besides the fun challenge of coaching a school football or basketball team, there are also the student related activities that revolve more around intellect and strategy. These can range from debate and science gatherings to chess and war game clubs. Yes, they do exist! And if they don’t, why not suggest it at the next departmental meeting?

“That’s all good and well but who will supervise this club of yours and stay after school with the students?” Why, you of course! You can help inspire a new generation of students to appreciate some of the more fascinating and interesting aspects of education – expanding their minds and helping them grow academically and personally. Best of all, they will come to these extra-curricular activities of their own free will because they want to be there participating. Again, I say why not?
Scared of a little school trip? Don't be!

School trips also offer up a plethora of opportunities for you to participate and help out. Media Studies can’t find a third teacher to accompany the Year 12 film students to their Hollywood/Universal Studios school trip to Los Angeles in February, you say? I have just the person. One of the senior teachers just pulled out of the annual ski trip to Austria because of a sudden family gathering during half-term break? May I suggest a solution, if you please?

Last but not least, I give you the teacher-related extra-curricular activities. These I savour the most. They are teacher organised and only the staff can participate. That is correct; you get to compete against your dear colleagues in a friendly gathering of good, old-fashioned fun. Whether it is five aside football (soccer) or badminton, the obvious benefit is that you get to have some form of exercise after school on a weekly basis. Improving inter-teacher relations, and having fun while doing it, is quite the bonus as well. Get your trainers and gear ready!

I inevitably come to the final point of my post: Why? Why should we spend more time at school, come home ever so late to make dinner and complete my marking? Why give more of my free time to students who at times don’t seem grateful about anything? Because we can. I believe we have a responsibility to reach out to students and offer them opportunities to further their abilities, to learn something new and to express themselves. Teaching and helping develop and mature young minds does not stop and start at the sound of the school bell.

Regrettably, I have found that a lot of teachers just simply cannot be bothered to make the leap. Some have families; others extra-curricular activities and private lives outside of school. And that’s fine. But for those teachers out there – particularly the new ones starting out – who want to get more involved with the spirit of the schools they teach in, go for it. There are so many wonderful opportunities to immerse oneself in individual schools, create bonds with teachers and students alike and, quite frankly, enjoy yourself for once. And don’t think of it solely as career progression or “looking good on a CV”. As I have said many times, teaching is not a “job”. It goes beyond that. There is a certain ethos, sense of community within a school, especially after you have been there for many years. I remember seeing it in high school as a student and I see it today as a teacher. Make the most of it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, one of my Year 8 students casually made a remark about wanting to “beat me” in a friendly match of table tennis in the school courtyard after school.

Such a challenge cannot go unanswered…

To join Dusan and teach in London with Classroom Canada, send your resume & cover letter to apply AT classroomcanada.com.  In your interview, we'll give you plenty of time to chat about your extra-curricular interests.


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