List O’Things

HAPPY FRIDAY!!!! 

These last few weeks have been rough with report cards being due and planning lessons and trying to get to the gym (it helps me to feel better about eating my face off all the time. I can’t help it that I require a chocolate inclusion at every meal).

You guys, I love Friday. So much. Here are some other things I love:

1. ED SHEERAN. I LOVE ED SHEERAN.

2. Being able to walk home from work.

IMG_2663I know this isn’t exactly news but Canadian winters suck so the moment there is no biting wind or snow, people rejoice. Like full on Alleluia choirs wearing shorts and holding beers.

3. This song

I don’t watch True Detective but I’m obsessed with this untitled, unreleased song by Lera Lynn. Though, I do love Rachel McAdams so I’ll probably end up watching this.

4. Panera

Turkey Avocado BLT and Chicken Soup. So good.

Turkey Avocado BLT and Chicken Soup. So good.

Panera, while it’s been around for a while in the US of A, is relatively new up here and it’s a great place to work and have something substantial to eat. I went to Starbucks yesterday and had a tall, skinny, Cinnamon Dolce latte and a bag of the nuts they sell because I was trying to make a good decision while avoiding the saucy gaze of the ginger cookie. The bill was just over $7. SEVEN DOLLARS for coffee and a handful of nuts. Moral: I should’ve had the cookie, obviously. Anyway, I like that Panera offers healthy food choices and substantial portions and free tea refills (the ginger peach black tea is yummy) and comfy seats and wifi. Suck on that, Starbucks.

5. Amy Schumer. That is all.

Just like my BFF Tina Fey, Amy doesn’t know it yet but we’re also best friends.

I leave you with those nuggets. Have a great weekend y’all!

So You Want To Teach In London?

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In June I will be embarking on a well thought-out adventure to London, England. Though the thought of just gallivanting around Europe seems like best idea ever, I’ll probably need to earn some money for things like shopping and traveling food and shelter and given that I have a degree that travels well and that I’m going to an English-speaking country, teaching is a no brainer.

I will give myself absolutely no credit for this idea though. The job landscape for teachers in Ontario has been dire since I graduated with my BEd in 2011 and many British teacher placement agencies have sniffed out the abundance on this side of the pond, recruiting Canadian educated teachers for their understaffed schools. I was getting emails for guaranteed supply teaching with the promise of long-term and even permanent jobs before I even graduated.

Many companies will even send over scouts to hire teachers en masse and are usually present at job fairs with the message usually being “come travel Europe and actually use your degree” They are well aware of the fact that many Canadian teachers go on to get jobs that have nothing to do with teaching until a job comes along (hello, two years of retail. I don’t miss you at all). So, they encourage you to spend those years gaining experience elsewhere and I mean, it’s England so it’s not exactly a hard sell. Clever. Veeery clever.

Here are the steps I took in looking for a job once I knew my trip was a done deal.

1. Finding an agency. I researched a number of agencies at Rate my Teaching Agency and I spoke to some friends that are currently teaching in London. The supply jobs are interesting in the UK as they go through agencies, so you can get called to whichever school that agency works with– private, public, primary, the whole lot. She would get last-minute calls from her agency at say, 7:30 and would have to be at the school for 8am. However the school would be across the city and she would inevitably arrive late which would reflect poorly on her. Needless to say, it wasn’t right for her but with the large number of agencies, she was able to find a better one. You don’t have to go through an agency but it makes it everything much easier and it’s free!! The schools pay for it:)

2. Picking an agency. I met with an agency called Prospero Teaching that has an office here in Toronto. It isn’t the highest rated agency but there was someone I could talk to in person and I liked that she would help me set stuff up on this end. By ‘stuff’ I mean a free Oyster travel card which is where you put your money to travel around London on the Tube, phone SIM card (apparently getting a phone plan will be hard. Credit history doesn’t transfer over. Sad trombone), a UK bank account and National Insurance number. The less bureaucratic red tape I have deal with, the better. I’ll fill you in on how it goes with the agency when I get there:)

3. Deciding when to go. The woman I met with said that some UK schools don’t finish until the second week of July and school here in Toronto finishes on the 26th of June. She said it was worth it to go over for those two weeks because schools will often offer to pay you for the month of August if you are willing to come back in September. They’re that desperate. Once I knew when my leaving date was, I applied for my visa.

4. Applying for a visa. Because I’m Canadian, the visa was super easy to get. I’m going under a Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa and the requirements are listed in the link. It’s pretty easy to follow the online application system and costs about $500 cdn.

5. Getting a police check. Prospero organized a back check for me through a website called mybackcheck.com It was easy and cheap but some organizations want a police check from the country in which you live so look into one asap– they take forever.

6. Applying for QTS. National College for Teaching and Leadership is the governing body for teachers in the UK so you need to be recognized by them before you can actually teach. If you’re from Canada you need to fill out a QTS (Qualified teacher Status) form– it’s an easy online application.

7. Sit pretty until you have to leave. Also, try not to freak out over the fact that London is the most expensive place in the world to live. Cat food for dinner err day.

When Good Teachers Teach: Grace

These will be posts where I fangirl over my colleagues and try to figure out how to be them when I grow up.

I’ve been at my current school since early February and I’m already sad about leaving in June. Sure, the kids are tough and on most days I don’t teach anything that I’ve planned but I am growing as a teacher and I am surrounded by people from whom I can truly learn.

When you witness a good teacher in action, what you are really seeing is magic and I get to see it all the time. Allow me to tell you about one of these amazing people.

Grace

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Upon graduating from teacher’s college, you are encouraged to become a less fun version of yourself. You come out with tidbits of advice like the following:

  • Don’t have a social media presence!
  • Don’t tell your students anything about you unless it’s necessary!
  • Have a ‘teacher’ persona and a ‘you’ persona
  • The less personality you have, the better! Boring is best!

Ok, I made the last one up but basically that’s the point.

My Department Head is in her mid-forties and she is the antithesis of teacher’s college in every way. She spends the budget on books that we are passionate about and doesn’t force ‘Of Mice and Men’ on anyone (for this, I love her. So much). You can hear her laughing with her students from down the hall and she talks about how she refuses to be anyone but herself inside and outside the classroom. She wears cat eye glasses and has a wardrobe of scarves and sweaters that I want to steal. She is so cool.

Nobody likes a wet blanket and why should teachers have to become one? I totally understand boundaries but I’m not a celebrity so when my students ask me about my personal life, I’ll answer (as long as it’s appropriate).

Do you have a house? Nope, I live at home.

Do you have a fancy car? If you want to call my minivan fancy, sure.

Are you married? No, but one day I’d like to be.

These are things that make us human beings and not just lesson spewing robots. It’s a lot easier to breed compassion when you know someone’s story and that goes both ways. It’s also a great way to teach a lesson on social graces.

Grace has taught me that it’s okay to be myself and how much value it holds as a teacher.

When Life Throws You Awesomeness, Go With It

So, a little while ago I met R, who is swiftly becoming my other half. We met, I heard his English accent, swooned and now I’m moving to England in July for a year. A whole bunch of stuff happened in between but that’s the gist.

His visa expires in June and instead of going through the ordeal of a long distance relationship, I’ve been granted a leave of absence for a year and am going to teach in London.

It took me two years to get the job I have now and part of me thinks I’m crazy for leaving (even with permission) and the other half is exhilarated and all ‘Eff you conventionalism, you can’t tell me what to do!’

Behold how I make decisions.

Pros:

  • I get to live with and travel around Europe with a guy I love (ya, I said it)
  • LONDON. Think of the field trip options!! MUSEUMS ARE FREEEEEEE. I can’t even deal
  • I get to be a real life version of the movie ‘About Time’ but without the time travel. Or the obsession with Kate Moss. That girl needs to eat some sandwiches. If you haven’t seen this movie, drop everything and go do that. Now. Unless you hate predictable rom coms, in which case, maybe sit this one out.

 

  • There is an abundance of teaching jobs in London and the surrounding area. Three cheers for degrees that travel! More on this in another post.
  • I GET TO HAVE MY OWN PLACE.
  • Things like polar vortexes don’t happen over there.
  • I’ll have soooo much to blog about, you guys. And by ‘you guys’ I mean my immediate family and colleagues upon which I have forced this blog.
  • I get to try my hand at a completely different curriculum and student landscape.
  • Teaching in Ontario is very precarious these days with the buzz words being ‘cuts’, ‘closures’ and ‘low enrolment’. Next year’s ripple effect could mean that I would have to go back to day-to-day supply work.
  • Depending on where I end up teaching, it is very likely that the year will count towards my years of experience when I come back.

Cons:

  • My board is very much seniority based, so a year away will probably mean that a year’s worth of people will climb above my name on The List. When I come back, long term jobs will come to me quite bit later, if at all.
  • With everything being so weird with teachers, I worry that I’m putting myself at risk of losing my job. Right now I have amazing benefits, great pay and a certain degree of stability– I’d be gutted if that all went away.
  • London is expensive. I’m a money saving ninja so the fact that I won’t really be saving any money is a hard pill to swallow. I really want to house. What is it about immigrant Italians and their kids that makes them allergic to renting?
  • I’ll really miss my family. I’ll miss my niece’s first day of school and a bunch of other milestones, I’m sure. This is #4 because my parents have travel industry benefits and it’s only a year. <– this sentence is here for my Mom. Hi Mom!
  • I’ll have to be fully independent. I should be more embarrassed to admit this but my mom is a really good cook and I’m a really good eater. Basically I’m ‘meh’ about having to cook for myself, sigh.
  • I go to an amazing and affordable Crossfit gym here in the city. I checked prices in London and they having me wondering if I’m signing up for a gym or a country club.  I’d rather spend £200 on clothes or traveling or food. Essentially what I’m raying is that I’ll probably have to pay for two seats on the flight home.

Annnnd the Pros have it! Sometimes you have to throw sensibility and caution to the wind if it feels right. All of the negatives, though sensible, are things I can look past. Would it suck if I have to start over when I come home? Yes. Will it take me that much longer to buy a house? Yes. But, opportunities like this and people like R don’t come around often and I know that if I passed this up because of money or seniority I would regret it. Also R has an English accent, so….

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Hosting Guests 101: What to Get Your Boyfriend’s Mom

Hello internet! Today I give you a Suzy Homemaker post on strong-arming your boyfriend’s mom into loving you being a good host.

My boyfriend’s mom is coming to town next week and I’m meeting her for the first time (Skype doesn’t count). I’m super excited and I’m also kind of nervous. Because I kinda really like her son and I kinda really want her to like me (sidebar: I’m an extremely likeable person. I’m also modest). She’s coming over to my family’s house for Easter dinner and the bf, we’ll call him R, said she was asking about what kinds of gifts to bring and that’s when I lost it a little. GIFTS?! I needed to step up my game.

The next problem I encountered was what what to give someone you don’t know that doesn’t seem too desperate. WELCOME TO TORONTO, I CAUGHT YOU A UNICORN! reeked of desperation (also, unicorns are on backorder) and I needed to find something that wasn’t hard to give. It’s difficult to set up gift giving for nothing without it being weird so, the ‘Boy’s Bathroom Survival Kit’ was born.

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She’s staying with R and he is male and therefore his bathroom is a scary place. I put together a canvas bag with towels, some toiletries, flip flops and a bag for all of the aforementioned toiletries. It has a purpose, it’s not over the top and it’s (in my humble opinion) thoughtful.

Here are the specs on the bag

  • Tote: $14.50 at Indigo (they’re sold out of the bag, unfortunately)
  • Towels: $5 at Wal-Mart
  • Flip-flops: $2.50 at Old Navy
  • Make-up bag: $9.90 at Forever 21
  • The toiletries were all purchased at Wal-Mart and cost me about $10

I’m hoping that the fact that I included things like deodorant and toothpaste manages to muffle the ‘SERIOUSLY THOUGH, I REALLY WANT YOU TO LIKE ME’ overtones that my body will be putting forth when I give it to her.

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Am I in the Trenches or in a Classroom? The Pros and Cons to Teaching Teens

So as you know, teaching older students is my jam however on some days I would rather be doing anything but, like scrubbing toilets or twirling a Little Caesars sign. Anything.

Here’s what I love about it:

  • They’re funny. You can joke with them and they get your jokes. Sometimes they even laugh! And sometimes they shake their heads and ask you to stop.
  • They say stupid things that you’re not supposed to laugh at. We were watching ‘Zodiac’ and one of the female character invites herself over to a male character’s house. Someone yells out “Oooooohhhhh she wants the D!!!” D in this case, dear readers, does not stand for dessert or dance. They’re so immature but so entertaining.
  • They have the basics down so you have the opportunity to look deeper into the subjects that your teaching.
  • Most days I don’t feel like anyone’s mom. I don’t have to deal with tattle tailing or urine or math.
  • The extra curriculars are memorable. What I remember most from high school is all the extra stuff I did– the skiing trips, grade 9 orientation, mock trials. It’s exciting to be able to create memories like that for my students and encourage them to establish a sense of community outside of the classroom.

The not-so-fun parts:

  • I teach in a pretty tough area (think Dangerous Minds but a little less dramatic) and the kids I teach don’t view education as something totally valuable. Most of them just want to get a job, get married have a bunch of babies and own a home. They are incredibly hard working people but not when it comes to school. It’s hard to shift such established beliefs that school is a waste of time and money.
  • It’s so much harder to get control of a class when it’s spiralled a bit too far. Teens are fickle creatures. They’re not fans of authority so a forever frowning teacher at the front of the class gets their backs up but when you’re too nice, you suddenly become a human door mat. I still haven’t found the balance.
  • Not all students are going to be the overachiever that you were. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that they’re not going to get as jazzed up about Shakespeare as you did. Sometimes you just have to be grateful that they’re coming to class and they’ve handed in (most of) their work.
  • Though I’m no longer dealing with ‘teacher-I-wet-myself’ and ‘she-said-she’s-not-my-best-friend-anymore’, I am faced with students with drug problems, mental health issues and some that are single handedly supporting their families. School work often takes a back seat to life.

I know it sounds a bit like I’m moaning but I truly could’t pick a more perfect career. I’m learning so much and go to work everyday excited and ready for the challenges of the day. Sometimes those challenges beat me a bit but such is life. I mean who doesn’t want to share a hallway with a drug dealer, right? Right…..?

Where I’ve Been Part 2: The High School Episode

After my year of day-to-day  supply teaching I was finally able to apply for long-term supply jobs. Of the 26 jobs I applied for, I was granted an interview for 1 (interviews are granted based on seniority and qualifications. Being low man on the totem pole suuucks).

The job was for co-op (test driving a career and getting credits for it) and ESL at a high school. To say that I really wanted this job would be an understatement and not just because it was the only one I could interview for. I really wanted to be given the opportunity to take a crack at HS and the principal threw me a huge bone and hired me. Please note that I had zero experience in secondary school save for the odd supply teaching day. I like to think it was a combination of my charm and my HIRE ME! crazy eyes that led her to choose me for the job. Maybe also because she told me that one of the students had been expelled from their previous school for beating someone to a pulp in class, “but not the teacher!” and I didn’t flinch (too noticeably) and told her that I like a challenge.

Getting the job brought out the Jessie Spano in me. I was so excited. And so, so scared.

My first job this year lasted from September to the end of January and I was lucky enough to get a job in another high school for the second half of the year. Now that I will have a year of working with teens under my belt I know that they’re not as scary as they seem and that they’re much more fun to teach than little ones (cute as they may be). And I do use the word ‘teach’ a bit loosely here but more on that later.

This was supposed to be me.

Where I’ve Been Part 1: The Elementary Episode

Hello internet! It’s been a while and I’m sure as much life stuff has happened to you as it has to me. I’m going to be super teacher-y and stretch where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to into a few posts, bear with me.

My last post was last April and later that month I was granted my first LTO (long term occasional) where you get to cover teachers that are pregnant, on stress leave, sick leave, etc. I was called last minute to fill in for a teacher who had died. True story. I stepped into a classroom and school community that was in shock which was an education in and of itself. It was in a grade 4/5 classroom and it was…okay. I wasn’t overwhelmed and I wasn’t underwhelmed I was, in the immortal words of Chastity, whelmed.

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You can, Chastity. You can.

It’s not that I didn’t love it– I did. I loved having my own classroom full of little people to teach and try out fun lessons with but something was missing. I felt like I wasn’t stimulated enough and having to teach math and science was painful (serious props to elementary school teachers everywhere. Teaching all subjects blows. So does pretending to love subjects you hate). I loved the community atmosphere and that all the teachers knew the students so well because they had seen them grow up. I loved having a fake store full of garage sale stuff that I picked up where kids could use the fake dollars they earned to buy said stuff. And how they totally bought into it. Pun very much intended.

What I didn’t like, aside from math and science, was that I didn’t feel fulfilled. These kids were so young and I had to teach them the basics in things like paragraph writing. This was sooo not my jam. Luckily they were such great kids that it was easy to see that the problem lay not in the students or the school or the material but in what I was looking to get out of my career.

I so wanted to be the elementary school teacher that I always envisioned myself being but those two months taught me that maybe I needed to try something a little bit different. Maybe I’ll change my mind later on in my career but I’m at a point where I want a bit more of a challenge, which is why I’m currently working at an inner city high school in Toronto.

More on that in the next post.

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Book Review: Listen to the Squawking Chicken

I was lucky enough to get a copy of this book in the ARC bin at work back in February. To say that I was excited is a totally an understatement. The book is written by Elaine Lui, author of the gossip blog Lainey Gossip, of which I am a huge fan.

I was already familiar with her mother from the blog– she calls herself the ‘Squawking Chicken’ and is totally outrageous  so I was interested to learn more about her.

This book was not at all what I expected. From the blurbs, I was expecting a humourous book about a crazy mother and while that was somewhere in there, it was so mcuh more. Listen to the Squawking Chicken is a love story between a mother and a daughter and about understanding where you came from to understand who you are.

It’s part biography, part memoir and part cultural handbook on Chinese Canadians. Lainey’s mother had to overcome a pretty shitty upbringing, sexual assault and the responsibility of looking after the parents that caused her so much strife. Not surprisingly she became a product of that upbringing and her method of dealing with things and raising her own daughter are a little…rough.

One example is of this is public shaming. Lainey would do something stupid and her mother would announce it to all of her friends, all the time, and always in front of Lainey. There was one anecdote where Lainey was so distraught over a Chinese actress that committed suicide that she threw out her retainer. She and the actress shared similar front teeth and she threw it out in solidarity, or something. Her mother learned of this and laughed for hours. At every event they went to that summer, her mother was sure to bring it up, loudly. The lesson there: don’t do something stupid and irrational if you don’t want people finding out about it because they will and they will laugh. You forget a half-hearted reprimand but you never forget the burning hot feeling of shame.

Lainey’s mother wanted to prepare her for how the outside world would treat her. She didn’t want Lainey to be a ninny without a backbone. She wanted her to have a thick enough skin to stick up to the haters.

The best part of this book is that Lainey sees her mother’s flaws and seeks to understand them. She doesn’t make excuses for her but she tries to come at her mother’s crazy from an objective perspective. She know’s her mom is boastful, a crappy friend and difficult to deal with but she’s not malicious, she’s just flawed like the rest of us. Thus, what shines through the most, however, more than the lessons, more than her eye roll’s, appeasements and trying to figure out the Squawking Chicken, is how much Lainey loves her mom. It is at the same time beautiful and heartbreaking.

This is a book for mothers, daughters, anyone who knows anyone that’s culturally Chinese, and more importantly those of us with crazy family members in our lives. Listen to the Squawking Chicken comes out today in Canada at on the 22nd in the USA.

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What In The World?

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What In The World is a publication that comes out of British Columbia from a company called LesPlan. It publishes 8 times and is filled with relevant, interesting and age appropriate articles and accompanying activities. The publications available are The Canadian Reader for grades 3-5, What In The World Level 1  for grades 5 and up and Level 2 for grades 8 and up.

I had come across articles from this publication in different classrooms around the city was intrigued. I finally got a hold of the publisher and they were kind enough to send me some copies to review.

The Specs

  • $180 per publication, per year
  • Each issue contains 4 articles based Canadian ccurrent events. The one they mailed to me included articles on Canada Post, the ice storm, Sochi and Bitcoins
  • Each article comes with a number of activities. For example, the Sochi article came with comprehension questions, a mapping assignment on Russia and its main features and discussion questions like “what is your understanding of the term terrorist?” <– kids love talking about stuff like this and it’s one of the reasons I love this magazine. It doesn’t pander to kids or contain fluff pieces. It’s filled with articles that are relevant to Canadians so when kids go home they can contribute to the discussions going on at the dinner table.
  • It’s super cross curricular– the mapping assignment fits in really well with the geography curriculum and the other articles contain an image to describe or editorial cartoon to analyze.

The fact that it’s $180 for a year may seem steep but the website states that with the purchase of a subscription you can make as many copies as you’s like as long as they are for teachers at the same school where you work. Obviously if you can get your principal to buy it for the school it would be awesome but if not, you could always go in on a subscription with fellow teachers. It really is worth it.

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This magazine is great for any junior, senior, or intermediate classroom. The articles are well written and they include well thought out, probing questions that are sure to get discussion going in your classroom. It’s also a worthy (yet expensive) investment for substitute teachers. So often I find that it’s easy to throw together a plan for the under 10 set but it’s not as easy with older students and the articles would really save you if you were in a the-teacher-didn’t-leave-a-lesson-plan bind. What In The World would also be great for people that tutor adults that don’t exactly love having to read kids books all the time.

You can view a full level 1 pdf here and check out the website here.