Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Canadian Teacher in London Describes Her First Few Weeks

Here's a blog post from the Classroom blog in London that was written by Michelle Lawee, a McGill teacher who arrived in London just a few weeks ago.  I had the pleasure of meeting Michelle at a workshop I gave in January and she took the leap into teaching abroad with Classroom Canada.  Over to Michelle...

So, you’re thinking about making a giant leap, moving “across the pond” and teaching in London, England. Two words: DO IT. I wouldn’t call myself impulsive by nature. Sure, I do impulsive things, but I really like to think things through before committing. BUT I am big on instinct and when something feels right, I have to believe it is.

That’s what happened to me after I heard Victoria (Westcott) speak at a workshop at McGill University in November 2012 about teaching abroad and more specifically teaching abroad with Classroom. The more she went into the detail, the more my gut was saying to me “you’re doing this”. It also helped that Victoria was a real person and not just a robot recruiter like many others are. She said it like it was about living in London and teaching in London. I’m always looking for “realness” in people, and the more she spoke, the more real I found her to be. So we got in touch, we e-mailed back and forth and then I had my interview (which really wasn’t scary at all). The best part of all the correspondence was that I really felt like she was getting ME. We would be able to have a conversation about the work, but she was also interested in me (How was I, what was going on in school/life/etc.). What I also found appealing about Classroom was its small size. When I would e-mail other agencies, I always felt like I had to add a reminder of who I was before asking the questions. With Victoria and Classroom, once we were corresponding, I never had to do that. Smaller companies = more genuine connections/relationships.

So long story short, they offered me a contract, I signed it and was convinced to come down in May, right after graduating and begin my career. So far, I am thrilled with that choice (as opposed to coming in the Fall) as I will be all nice and settled by September.

Getting ready for a big move is hard and easy at the same time. It’s hard because London isn’t a drive home; it’s a flight (and an expensive one at that). It’s also hard because packing responsibly is not one of my strengths. But all in all, the getting ready was fairly simple. Victoria was always checking in, reminding me what still had to be done, reminding me to get my forms in order, and helping me stay calm when some of my forms went missing (yes, that could happen). She was an excellent support pre-move without a doubt. It was also nice to be part of the Classroom Facebook group, where all the teachers who are already in London can answer many of the questions you may have pre-departure.

Ok. So now you’re in London! AH. It’s sensory overload here, but a great kind of overload. The streets are bustling with all types of people and now you’re part of them. I met with the Classroom office my second day here to get everything set up for teaching. First, the office is wonderful. All the staff members are super friendly and I really got the sense that they wanted to do whatever they could to make the transition here easy-peasy. I met with the Primary Team, Krystian and Tee and basically told them my expectations and hopes for teaching here. I think that it’s super important to be 100% honest right off the bat about what YOU want. Don’t assume that people are mind readers, otherwise you are setting yourself up for disappointment. So far, they have totally met my expectations and I have been thrilled with all of my placements. The schools I have been at have been wonderful and I would be more than happy to return to any of them!

Naturally, there are some things that well, you just have to learn when you get here and get working. Here are some of those things:
  1. Students here are very accustomed to supply teachers because teachers here get ½ a day a week (new teachers get a whole day) to do planning. Crazy, right?
  2. Primary school teachers teach everything. There is no such thing as “spares”. EVERYTHING. That includes PE, Music, RE and anything else children learn. Yes, PE.
  3. Sometimes, PE is outside. Sometimes, outside in London isn’t so glamorous. Dress properly and bring extra layers with you every day.
  4. The students for the most part aren’t going to be overly phased by your accent. They are quite used to Canadian teachers.
  5. At home, teaching phonics is a no brainer. It’s also a no brainer here EXCEPT that in the UK the pronunciation of vowel sounds IS NOT THE SAME as at home. So, either you say it your way (the kids will say it their way) OR you put on your best fake accent.
  6. Don’t talk about pants in class. Here, pants are called trousers and the term pants refers to underpants. Kids will undoubtedly laugh.
  7. Rubbers are erasers. Kids will ask for them. That’s what they mean.
  8. Kids are kids are kids. They’re hilarious and outspoken and oftentimes too honest. But that’s why we love ‘em, right?
You’re going to be living in one of the greatest cities in the world. Take it all in and take advantage of the millions of things this city has to offer. If you end up staying home all the time, then you aren’t doing this city justice. Buy a good raincoat and a pair of wellies for the wet days and adventure. Every little borough has something new to offer, so explore.


Michelle Lawee

To join Michelle in teaching in London, simply submit your resume & cover letter to apply AT There's just enough time to prepare for jobs that start in September, so don't delay.

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Thanks for sharing your two pence!


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