Monday, October 29, 2012

Going Into The Break

I am afraid that this past week does not lend itself very well to exciting blog posts. Because of the week-long school break I am currently enduring, the week before and after it are (or were, depending on which one we're talking about at this point) exempt from my GPS contract. So, like I explained in last week's post, I get paid for what I work without the safety of being guaranteed a certain salary regardless. Add to that the fact that teachers are required to supply doctor notes for absences later in the week and that a lot of schools were closed Friday and it was small wonder the GPS was put on exemption.

Monday morning I was called and asked to return to the Islamic school and the TA position I'd held for the last two weeks for Monday through Wednesday. I was so unbelievably happy that my Tuesday and Wednesday were already booked with teaching assignments; I agreed for Monday and took it at our previously agreed rate. On Tuesday and Wednesday I was at a school I'd been at before - Wembley Primary (you may remember it as the school where I got off the bus too soon and I think I may have mentioned it as having an open plan where all the classrooms opened into a center courtyard...). The last time I was there it was to cover a Year Two class while the teacher prepared for parent interviews that night; this time around had me covering for teachers who were away at courses.

Tuesday featured me in a Year One class where the students were a wonderfully delightful bunch - and, compared to some of the older grades I've had, these students were complete angels. And so adorable and eager to boot! At the end of the day they danced to the Monster Mash and were such cuties playing at being zombies and vampires. I wish I could have caught them on camera!

Wednesday I was in a Year Six class which, naturally, featured the return of Attitude. You know, it's kind of funny because in Canada I loved teaching the older grades - you got to have actual lessons, you could easily incorporate popular culture to spice things up, and the students tended to be a lot more engaged in their learning. Not that I didn't enjoy teaching the younger students as well but I definitely found the older grades more of a challenge. Over here in the UK not only do the students not have the same exposure to popular culture (e.g. when I talk TMNT Raphael, they think I mean the archangel...if I'm lucky) but their attitude and complete disrespect for adults - and namely me - is almost impossible to work with. Most challenging of all, even if you manage to work things out with students individually the minute they're back among the peers the attitude resurfaces faster than a cork in the bath tub. It's exhausting and frustrating but I manage, thank the gods. It helped that this was one of the better classes.

On Thursday and Friday I accepted teaching assistant positions at a Roman Catholic school just a single train stop away. With the GPS void, I took the days at a severe cut in pay but I figured, what with the uncertainty of work, it was better to have something guaranteed than to hold out for teaching positions that might not happen - considering two out of three of my roommates were off on Friday I was happy I did so in the end. I was in nursery in the mornings until the munchkins went home at noon then it was an hour and half lunch break (I kid you not). In the afternoons I was loaned out to other grades - Year One on Thursday where I listened to student read books of their choosing and level aloud and Reception on Friday where I supervised the kids playing outside. It was a really, really, really easy two days.

The weekend kicked off with two of my roommates heading off to Paris for a few days. I went to the shopping district of nearby Ealing Broadway and, for the first time ever, got a library card. I took out Stephen King's Christine as my very first loan. What can I say? Cujo made an impression. I also picked up some pillows and stamps. You know - the necessities.

Since then, I've pretty much just been browsing the internet, working on my writing, and doing some chores around the house. I have plans on Friday to see Skyfall with a friend but otherwise my week is pretty much going to be more writing, reading, watching and browsing. Needless to say, I cannot wait for work to start back next Monday.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Week Three and Kensington Palace

This week has been...well, I guess the best way to describe it is "lukewarm." Nothing major happened on the teaching front - I was back at the Islamic school for the week as a teacher's assistant in a Year Six class so I mostly marked, ran various errands and photocopied. Boring, but hey, I get five days of work and thus five days pay. Can't complain about that.

Speaking of pay, remember the mistakes with my paycheck I mentioned awhile back? To put it simply, my pay was short what I thought was £63. Well, it got to a fun point where I was dealing with three different consultants on the issue: Craig was out of the office and kept saying to talk to Wayne since Wayne sent me to the school, Wayne said to talk to Craig and Sean since I was originally assigned to their areas and Sean said he'd get back to me and stopped answering my calls and texts thereafter. I finally happened to catch Liam - the manager of the whole Northwest division I'm assigned to - one night when I called hunting Sean. Twenty-four hours later (Thursday night, if you want to be specific) he called back to tell me that they'd determined I was in fact owed £194 and the amount would be added to the next week's pay. Oh, and he also promised to put me back in the teaching ring so, yay, no more teaching assisting for me!

Incidentally, the coming three weeks are exempt from my GPS (Guaranteed Pay Scheme) contract because the week of the twenty-ninth is the half-term break. This means that I get paid for what I work, however many days that might be, and nothing more. This makes me nervous - I hate the uncertainty that these weeks will bring - but there's nothing to be done for it but tread carefully on the financial front. I've already been e-mailed by Liam and given work for Tuesday (as a Year One teacher) and Wednesday (as a Year Six teacher) so if I can net just two more days it will greatly abate my worries.

Today I went with a fellow Engage teacher - Nicole, who was the teaching assistant for the other Year Six class for a few days last week - to check out Kensington Palace. The palace is the current residence of Will and Kate and a couple of other members of the Royal  Family and, once upon a time, was the birth place and home of Victoria before her ascension. It had some wonderful artifacts and artwork and included several dresses actually worn by Victoria and Lady Di, among others. Victoria, as it turns out, was rather short. The palace's gardens were extensive and beautiful - but, with the chilly, rain-laced weather they were looking a more than little Autumn-ridden. The pond across the palace was filled with ducks, swans, Canadian geese, and gulls. When we first arrived around noon people were sailing miniature sail boats in its waters but they had cleared out by the time we left a few hours later.

Once again I find I'm looking forward to tomorrow, even as unknown a quantity as it is. I can't wait to receive my assignment - I'm even looking forward to the adventure that getting there will bring. Now that I've settled in, the paychecks are coming in and I have steady internet access connecting me to my friends and family I'm feeling a lot more confident and optimistic about this entire experience. Fingers crossed that tomorrow will see me working!

Kensington Palace Picture Post!

And now, for what I'm sure you've all been truly waiting for: Pictures! These are from my recent excursion to Kensington Palace - and by recent, I mean earlier today. Enjoy!

Me with the Prince Albert Memorial behind me!

A pair of Lady Di's gowns

View of the gardens from inside the palace

Me with the gardens and some of the palace behind me

Gloucester Road on the way to the palace

Kensington Palace and the Round Pond

Walk lane leading towards the palace

Lane way on the way to the palace

Me and Nicole standing in from of Kensington Palace

My back as I stand in one of the King's receiving rooms

Stairwell leading up to the King's Apartments

Swans in the Round Pond in front of the palace

The V&A Museum and Museum of Natural History on walk back to station

Sunday, October 14, 2012

London Calling Weekend!

Yesterday, hands down, was my best day since arriving here. I woke up at 9.30AM when my phone buzzed with a text message from my pen pal, Jeeves. He's been my pen pal since we were twelve years old and a mutual friend introduced us (she had met him on the NeoPets forums) and got us chatting via MSN Messenger. We'd never met before, however, on account of the ocean between us. We were supposed to meet up for the very first time yesterday at about two but the text message was to say his prior commitment had been cancelled, so we could meet even earlier. I had to do a load of laundry (stop snickering - it's true!) and I got a little bit lost on way to meet him at Tottenham Court Road but at exactly twelve o'clock noon (is that redundent?) I finally met my pen pal. I came out of the tube station to the street, turned right and there he was, reading a book.

I was worried that after all our chats and discussions online, in person we'd just be awkward and conversationally dry. Turns out it was a waste of perfectly good worry energy; it was just like one of our online chats but with talking rather than typing. I thought we got along great! We walked from the tube station to the British Museum. It had some wonderful exhibits. I got to see the Rosetta Stone, which is only one of the greatest discoveries in the whole history of archaelogy given how it pretty much singlehandedly allowed the translation of hieroglyphics. Also got to see dozens of statues, carvings and artefacts from all over the world and throughout history.  I especially loved seeing the Ancient Egyptian mummies and carvings - they even had the Book of the Dead, including the infamous judgment of the dead scene! 

Afterwards, we walked to a nearby bookstore called The Tea and Tattler that had a traditional tea room in the basement. Jeeves had tea and scones and I had a coke. You know, in Canada, scones are basically balls of dough baked with different filling or toppings - like (and usually) fruit or cheese.  Here the scone is still a baked ball of dough but the filling is now a spread - usually a thick cream and a jam or marmalade of some kind. It was a bizarre culture clash.

Next, we hopped the tube to South Kensington and checked out the Museum of Natural History. Can I just say that that museum really seemed to have a thing for dead rabbits? There were six or seven displays that featured stuffed bunny corpses for one reason or another and it got to be down right creepy. The dinosaur exhibit was something of a disappointment - they had two or three complete skeletons, a couple of robotic simulations, and a lot of bone fragments, but the bulk of their displays were photograph and graphic driven and didn't seem to have been update in awhile. The mammal exhibits, by comparison, were a lot more varied and informative. I especially like how many extinct animals were displayed either as skeletons or stuffed specimens or even replicas.

Jeeves had his father not long afterwards so I tagged a long with him to get my first glimpse of Covent Garden. It's a combination strip mall and market place that has everything from independent shops, tea and coffee imporiums and arts and crafts vendors to The Build-A-Bear Workshop, The Disney Store and The Apple Store.

We parted ways not too long afterwards and I walked up from Covent Gardens towards the Piccadilly Circus station. I stopped at a Pizza Hut on the way to grabbed a stuffed crust pepperoni and take advantage of their salad bar. Sadly, the salad bar had slim pickings but the pizza was yummy. Of course, when I left the restaurant the Piccadilly Circus entrance was gated and chained so, rather than risk getting lost looking for another entrance, I walked back to Leicester Square and caught the tube back from there.

By 8.30PM I was back at the house and calling my sister for the first time since jumping the pond. Found out my mom had seen my Facebook message about my getting hit by a car and was what you might call "a tad panicked." In my defense, she was at a wedding on Friday and I had been out and about most of the day. I had, however, called my dad on Friday and told him all about it. So, after I hung up with my sister, I called my mom (who is visiting family in Newfoundland - hence why she wasn't aware of what I'd told my dad) and let her know I was whole and happy. I tried calling my dad but got no answer - found out later when I caught my brother on Facebook that they'd gone out for Chinese. Did I get Chinese  food when my mom and brother left for a week to go to New Brunswick? Naturally, this required that I call my dad and whine about the unfairness. My brother, however, told me that my mom had called but insisted I keep trying. Finally got through, mind you, and actually got to hear my brother for the two minutes he took to yell at me for not calling more. Never mind that he does so much as e-mail me. Brothers.

Today, I've done nothing - just relaxed, watched YouTube videos, wrote blog posts, and recuperated from all of yesterday's walking. I'm looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow; I love working, especially now that my spunk is back, and I'm excited to see where I'll be going and what I'll be doing.

*sigh* I'm so easy.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Week Two - Teaching Assistant and Slough

This week I spent Monday through Thursday as a teacher's assistant. I was at an Islamic school in Tooting Broadway working in a Year 6 classroom. It was interesting to see how the school brought religion into the daily routine - the students had Islamic studies every afternoon, Arabic lessons twice a week and Salut (prayer) before each lunch. It was a pretty good couple of days - I basically supervised, marked, and ran errands. All of the staff members were friendly and helpful; a good thing since the school was a freaking maze and I ended up needing to ask for a lot of directions. The hardest part of the whole experience was probably putting up with their attitudes - those kids took disrespect to all new levels! Oh, also the photocopier in the staff room was, no question, the single most evil piece of technology I've encountered to date. Every time - each and every single time - I tried to copy anything, the darn thing would misfeed and I'd have to open it up, play with its knobs and yank out the paper jam only to try again and get another misfeed. I finally figured out that things went easier if the paper was fed from tray two instead of one but still - yuck.

Today I went  to a school in Slough. I had to pay an extra £9 for the transport fare because Slough, being outside of London, requires that you switch to the national line services and then another £5 for a taxi to the actual school. I'll be reimbursed for the taxi but still - quite the chunk of change, you know? The school was lovely - it had a quaint small-town vibe going on although, once again, had innards like a maze. I was in a Year 2 class for the morning that went pretty well - I finally got my groove back and was no longer caught up in worries or home sickness which made teaching all the easier. In the afternoon, I did an hour in a Year 4 class where the students were sketching dinosaur bones based on randomly passed out photocopied images provided by the teacher. One boy got very upset when I told him he had to do the femur bone he and his partner had been given rather the skull being shared by the two students on the opposite side - he cried and said I was being mean to him. I explained how much more of a story you can get from a femur bone - you could see the scratches made by one of the creatures that ate him, see the wear at top of the bone that denoted the age of the dinosaur. It really got him interested in the importance of the bones in telling the story of the one particular dinosaur. I ended the day in a Year 6 class who, again, had the attitude - it's really shocking just how much attitude these children have; my mother would have killed me for treating adults with such disrespect at their age...or any age, for that matter! They were working on geometric art with an emphasis on acute, obtuse and right angle.

It was a good day overall - even if I did get hit by a car on my way home. I was crossing when a car pulled up and the driver looked both ways but forgot to check in front of him. No worries though; it was basically a tap and my cane took most of the damage (a little dent, no big).

I got paid on Wednesday although, naturally, mistakes were made and I've been talking with my consultant since trying to work everything out. I can't wait (Note: Sarcasm) to fill out next week's expense claims - should be ever so much fun after last week's fiasco. The online expense claim went awry and...well, let's just say it wasn't pretty and JSA had to cancel the form and resubmit one on my behalf. Thank the gods I got to be a faceless nitwit over the internet instead of in person or over the phone. Monday, when I fill out this week's form, I'll have to call them while I do it to be sure I get it right. Gah, bureaucracy - such hassles!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

One Week Down

Today is Saturday which means that my first week teaching has come to a close. It was quite the adventure, I have to say. I worked four days - Monday through Thursday - at four different schools, the first of which you've already heard all about. After Monday, I woke every morning at 6:15AM and made my way over to the nearest Underground station to wait for my call and, when it came, off I'd go. Wednesday was the worst of these day - a drunk dum found his way over to me and started to pet me, running his hand over my hair. I moved away from him but he followed and ultimately security had to escort him out of the station. Fun times. I'll be picking up travel sized hair spray as soon as I see it.

I got lost. A lot. Most of the time this was the result of my consultant telling me to ask the bus driver who would either have no clue what I was talking about or wouldn't be able to speak to English. On Tuesday they asked me to take a taxi but neglected to tell me I'd be needing cash for said taxi (who refused to accept my consultant's credit card over the phone) so I had to make a last minute switch to a bus route instead. Needless to say I was little late that day. Wednesday's issue was the driver telling me to get off the bus way, way, way too soon but, hey, Thursday? Thursday I did not get lost. Thursday rocked.

The teaching itself has been pretty straight forward. Tuesday, I had a kindergarten class who basically played in between hearing stories and working on small assignments like explaining what made a good friend and putting the words in "I like my mum" in the correct order. On Wednesday, I was in a Year Two classroom taking over for a teacher who was preparing for parent interviews that evening.  I did a drama lesson that tied into their literacy lesson and assisted during a math lesson and a community lesson. There was also an hour  where I was rotated into a kindergarten class where we worked on counting. Thursday was a Year One classroom  where we did lots of work on writing instructions and creating patterns. It was also the first time I actually had something to mark at the end of the day. Each day was something new and different, but combined they were pretty much the same.  I enjoyed gaining the experience and having the opportunity to be a part of these schools, even for just the day.

I am very excited for Monday and what the new week will bring - hopefully it will find me working full days for the whole week.

On the home front, things are going well. There is still some tension, uncertainty and awkwardness colouring my interactions with the roomies. It's reminding me a lot of my first day of high school. Admittedly, my social skills where my peers are concerned are not all that great to begin with so its definitely a challenge for me to do the bonding thing. Once the paychecks start and I have more funds to work with - more possibilities open to me -  hopefully I'll have better luck thawing the social scene. Or maybe I'll just release my inner Blair Whaldorf and take it from there.

Monday, October 1, 2012

First Day

I just returned from my first day out in the field, so to speak. I woke up at 6:00AM this morning (stop laughing – I really did) and then sat about waiting for 7:30 when I was supposed to call either of my consultants to be sure they knew I was most definitely in play (their suggestion – I’m not overeager…okay, I am, but not that obviously.) Sean told me to sit tight and he was sure he’d have something for me soon. Half hour later, he called back to tell me and set me off to my first job. And I only got lost twice (the first time because there weren’t any street signs and the second time because Sean’s direction stopped a turn too soon)!

Today, I was a teaching assistant in a Year 4 (…they were eight and nine years old, make of that what you will) class. Basically, I had one student as my charge and had the opportunity to watch a legitimate veteran classroom teacher and get a feel for how to go about things when my turn as the classroom teacher comes (hopefully tomorrow). There were a lot of students in the class and my charge had the attention span of a goldfish on a sugar rush. There was Literacy first thing which focused on conjunctives (called “connectives” here) and how to writing the beginning of a story. Recess was next followed by Math (they drew shapes) and Music (they learned to beat specific rhythms on drums). At lunch (which was boring) a chunk of students got hot meals as the gym was turned into something of impromptu cafeteria. The day ended with Technology (they made Power Point about the various systems in the body) and Art (they made collages of their dreams).

And, yup, that was my first day. Not much to report, really. Altogether it was something of a letdown but I think that it provided a great opportunity for observation that I’m positive will be of great benefit and advantage in days to come.

In the meanwhile, its back to anxiety and nervousness as I wait for tomorrow and (hopefully) my first turn in the driver’s seat.