Saturday, 25 June 2011

Add that to the resume!

Interesting week! Monday I was at my regular school and continued on my 'Biscuits' unit for Design and Technology. This means I get to bake cookies every week :)  My TA, Claire, and I decided we deserve some too, so we always make our own batch (watching the kids, we know we don't want to risk ingesting theirs!)
Tuesday I did not get called in, but was not all that heart broken as it was a nice day and I wanted to go into the city, plus I already had bookings for Wednesday and Friday. I went to the Winston Churchill War Rooms first. A very interesting exhibition. I still find it hard to believe that I walk around all the time in places where bombs actually fell during WWII. So crazy.
After, as I was walking down the sidewalk past St James' Park, I pass a family of tourists with 2 small kids.  They are most likely from the States, as the father says to one son, "That is another thing that is different between England and the US, hardly anyone here carries a gun!" I tried my best not to laugh. He was saying this because they had just walked past the armed guards at Downing Street.
Then, just as I was about to cross Downing Street this fancy Land Rover comes speeding up and turns in. The armed guards rush to swing open the gates and I stand on the corner glad I didn't get creamed.  But I did get a glimpse inside and I am pretty sure it was the PM! Cool! I also have a suspicion that it was him because the last time I walked past this gate a delivery van drove up and the guards pointed their guns at the poor driver until be showed them the electronic delivery thing that said what he was dropping off. So the guy that got let straight in had to be someone pretty important.
Then as I made my way towards Oxford Street I got stuck in the crowd of the changing of the guards.. oh London, you never know what you will run into!

Wednesday I got a message from David Swiss' brother Pascal saying that he and his girlfriend were in London to see Kings of Leon in Hyde Park on Thursday. I thought, why not? On Thursday when my phone rang for work, I told them I was unavailable, and felt a small pang of guilt, but shrugged it off knowing I was already booked for work Friday. Well, karma has a way of instantly levelling for me, so it was only a few hours later that I got a message saying that my Friday booking had been cancelled but if I was 'feeling better' they would try to find me something else - damn. Ah well, I was going to see Kings of Leon!!
A little rain won`t stop us!
The concert was great, though a little rowdy. They had a bunch of great opening acts and we only got rained on once for about 10 minutes. I got home not too late, so that I could be ready to be on call in the morning.
Kings of Leon!!!

Friday morning, just when I was giving up hope for work that day, my phone rings. A new girl at the agency says "I have a bit of a strange booking for you today" ok? "Can you cover a reception?" Now I am confused. Over here they call kindergarten reception, and I have done this before. So I am telling her, sure I can do that, when she says, "Ok cool. Yeah so you`ll just be like answering phones and transferring calls" Um, pardon? I'm going to be a receptionist?? Alright, this could be interesting. And at least it means that I won't have a class of 30 kids asking why my eyes look bloodshot from being so tired.

I spend the day at a huge academy school answering phones, transferring the calls and typing up kids' files into an excel spreadsheet. But mostly I chat with another girl from Canada who is also covering and is being given no extra work despite them having called me in, so neither of us can really figure out why I am there. But they day was quite enjoyable and I now know what I can do if I ever become too cranky to teach.

Me & Christine - Cotton Eye Joe
Claire & Pina
On the way home, I grab some wine and veg & hummus - my contribution to Just Dance Wii night!! We have a few young teachers and TAs at my regular school, so we all decided it was high time we got together on a weekend. Georgie invited us all over to play the most amazing game ever invented, Just Dance. We had so much fun dancing up a sweat and laughing our faces off. I will miss these girls!
Me & Georgie
The Girls :)

Me & Maverick!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Do What You LOVE

Aug: London
As the end of my year in London quickly approaches I've found that I have become very reflective recently. Thinking back to all of the amazing things I have done and all of the places that I have been and just all of the experiences I have jammed into one year is enough to make my head spin. The one thing that I did not expect, coming over here, is how much my attitude towards my work would change. For the first time in my life, I have found myself often waking up and not wanting to go to work - at all. I realize some of you are thinking, "What?! You've never not wanted to go to work?" Of course I've had my days where I've felt under the weather, or tired or just plain lazy, but I've never had the feeling of not wanting to go to work because I just plain didn't like my job. I've had all different kinds of jobs: babysitting, tutoring, working at A&W, working for the government, teaching French Immersion; and all of them I have loved some aspect of them that kept me coming back each day.

Sept: Oxford
Over here, something has changed.  It's not just the kids - who everyone tried to warn me about before I came. Sure, the kids over here can be a lot tougher to handle. But it is the whole system that I find almost depressing. It is a system where the respect between student and teacher is very different, and sometimes non-existent. A system based on tests and results and standardized lessons that lead to less than inspiring lessons given by less than inspired teachers to practically non-inspired children.  It is the spoon-feeding of facts to be spewed out on tests. It is the separation of children from the age of 4 by ability, so starting in grade 1 they know whether they are in
the 'smart' group or the 'dumb' group, and chances are that is where they will remain for their school career.
Oct: Glasgow, Scotland

Oct: Stonehenge, England

Oct: Bath, England
Oct: Paris, France
Oct: Dublin, Ireland

This is not to say that every day is bad. There are days that I go in to a class full of wonderful kids who are excited to be there and hear what I have to say to them. But these days are all too rare. This does not make me want to give up teaching - though for an instant the thought did run through my mind after a couple of
Dec: Geneva, Switzerland
particularly tough weeks - if anything, this experience makes me want to go home and be a better teacher. To give the kids back home, who want to be there and who are excited to learn, the truly inspiring moments that they deserve to have at school.  To be the teacher that they remember when they grow up as one of the ones that really cared and really wanted to be there each and every day.

And this is what I have come to realize - life is too short to hate your job!

We can get caught up in the daily annoyances and complain about the little
Feb: Paris, France
things, but at the end of the day you need to LOVE YOUR JOB. If not love it (maybe that is my youthful idealism) then at least enjoy going to it.  This is where we spend most of our waking hours, so make it something you love. Bring a positive attitude with you to work and to those that you work with. Wake up in the morning and be happy to start your day.
I might be punching in the hours over here until I can get home. But let me tell you, I have already started planning for next year and looking over the subjects I will get to teach to my new class at my new school, and I cannot wait! I love being a teacher, I love telling people that I am a teacher and I want to be a teacher that my students
Feb: Rome, Italy
love coming to because, at the end of the day, their job is being a student and I hope that I can make it so that they love their job too.

Mar: Cardiff, Wales

Apr: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Apr: Edinburgh, Scotland

Apr: Prague, Czech Republic

May: Krakow, Poland

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Just a Good Day

Yup, that's it, just a plain old good day. Nothing exciting here.

Woke up this morning not really feeling the whole 'work' thing. So I ate my cereal and started to get some things checked off my to-do list. It was after 7:00 and I hadn't heard from my agency, but I hadn't actively called in either. About twenty after my phone rang. It was them. Asking if I was available. I was.
They thought they had a day for me so I was not to go back to bed. Which I took as my cue to actually get out of bed and somewhat in my 'ready-to-go' state that I claim to be in every morning when I call in for work.  Ten minutes later I was out the door on my way to teach in year 3 for the day (you may remember this class from an earlier post - the ruler-wielding child).

On my bus ride to the school my phone rang again. The agency had switched me to year 1 as they now needed a supply too and the next person their list was more suited to year 3 than 1, and since I can do anything (not my words..) I got the year 1. Sounds good to me! I know that those who know me back home would think - Michelle, preferring kindergarten?? Yes, that's right. Why? Because they are inherently sweeter, they have had less time to be corrupted.

The kids start to arrive in the class and most are asking me my name. This might not seem important, but when supplying I have learnt that this is always a good sign. If they are investing the energy into knowing your name, things are looking up. One little boy took it upon himself to tour me around the class and show me all the rules - how to reward and punish them if they were good / bad.
Then a little girl comes up to me and says, "Do you know what happened the weekend before last weekend?"
"No, what happened?"
"The weekend before last weekend, on Sunday, it was my mum's birthday". This is cute. Every once in awhile I can see why people have little people.

The day went really well. The kids were sweet and well behaved, and the tattle-tale count was kept to a bearable level.
The sunshine was also out today. I took a long walk home, then got changed and went for another walk around Wimbledon. On my way home I stopped to get some groceries and as I was looking for a basket I hear, "Hey Vancouver! How are we doing?" A fellow Canadian had spotted my Canucks t-shirt (thank you Chris!) and came up to ask what was happening and when the next game was on so she could watch - that would be 1:00am our time tomorrow... I am seriously considering taking Thursday off to I can stay up Wednesday night and watch.

And there you have it. Just a simple good day. Gotta love them when they come.

Monday, 6 June 2011

I GOT HIRED!!!!!!!!!

My very first skype interview today, I was a little nervous.  I don't mind interviews much and usually do okay, but this one was getting postponed, and I was sitting in my interview make up, blouse, sweater and sweatpants, patiently waiting for my skype to ring.
Finally it did. I answered and there sat my two interviewers. One to ask questions in English and the other in French. The first thing they say to me is "Just to let you know, we shaved our heads last week for charity, Jump Rope for Heart. We're not running a skinhead school over here!". And just like that I thought - I'm gonna like these guys! The interview was super relaxed, well as much as interviews can be. Everything went fairly smoothly and they seemed to like me. I then had to answer a question via email in French just to be sure I wasn't bluffing my abilities. I sent it in and they told me that they had already done a few interviews and would hopefully get back to me soon. As in later that day!
So I had my dinner, watched a movie, and finally it was after 10 so I brushed my teeth, washed my face and jumped in to bed. Was just about to turn off my lamp and turn my phone to sleep mode when I hear an email come in. "Hi Michelle, are you still by your computer, I have one more question for you."
"Umm.. yes, I'm just getting my things sorted for work"
"Can you come on skype again?"
I put on a bra, settle for my Canucks shirt (nothing to lose now!) and swab on a little mascara in an attempt to not look totally scary.  He asks me to pay up my BC College of Teachers - which I did 2 weeks ago! - because he wants to offer me a full time job!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WOOOHOOOOO!!
He says "So tell your Mom you're coming home!"
Needless to say, I doubt I will be getting much sleep tonight, but I am one happy camper!  :)

And PS: he liked the shirt!

Return of the Rains

The last few days of break I tried to fit in as much down time as possible.  On Thursday we had our weekly `dinner`, though this time it was more of a late lunch.  I had to head in to the city in the morning to apply for my visa for India, then we had our picnic theme lunch. Spinach dip, frittata, fresh strawberries, another culinary success!

Friday Josephine and I met up at a nearby mall and went to see the Hangover Part II. Enjoyed a good laugh!! Late that evening I was thinking how I wanted to spend my last weekend of break. I was also looking at how few weekends I have left in England. They are quickly being filled with my final trips and training for my India trip and everything else that seems to take up weekends and make them pass by all too quickly.  I looked at the weather forecast and saw that the sun was going to be shining on Saturday, but that the weather was supposed to change for Sunday. So I thought a day at the beach for some me time was in order. I found some great discounted tickets to Brighton where I could really enjoy the sunshine. I got up early Saturday morning and went for a quick run before heading to the train station. I was in Brighton by 10:30. The day was phenomenal. The sun was shining, there was a nice breeze and the beach was full of happy people enjoying everything the beach has to offer.
Brighton Pier
I have really started to believe that where you grow up is forever imprinted on your soul. I love London, and all that it has to offer as a place to live, but I feel like a part of me is missing when I am away from the sea. I felt so at peace just me, the sea, and my book. It was just what I needed to feel refuelled to make it through another 4 weeks of work. It also helped that I had received some good news that morning, I have a job interview for a posting in Comox! Even if I don`t get this job, it is always good to have interviews and know that my resume is being looked over and considered. That being said, I will still cross my fingers (and hope you will too) that I get a job and can stop being broke sometime soon!
Now break is over, the rain is coming down outside - another part of home I miss, especially after the record-breaking dry months we`ve been having over here - and it looks like I have the day to myself to prepare for my interview this evening. Then I am booked to work the rest of the week as the countdown is on until our trip to Spain in 4 weeks.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Comfort Food

After a rather depressing start to the day, we arrived back in Krakow just after lunch and decided some good comfort food was in order. What could be better than some authentic perogies?! We walked over to a local perogie place that was recommended to us called Zapiecek. We each ordered a plate of the delicious dumplings and were not disappointed!
Sunshine + patio = :)
creepy bunny!

After our meal we went over to the mall for a little retail therapy to really heal from our sombre morning. Ice cream is sold all over town, so a little of that helped lighten the mood too. Our hostel serves free dinner at 7, but we still had a little time before it was ready and decided to hit up the main square once more for a patio drink. We enjoyed the sunshine and a round of beverages before returning to the hostel for some burgers! (The first night they made us pasta.)

After dinner Christine and Eric were planning on doing a pub crawl, so Josephine and I went in search of a delicious dessert place. We walked through the old city, down to Wawel castle. It was fun looking in all the windows and jumping out of the narrow streets as horse-drawn carriages pulled up behind us. We finally settled on a little place I had read about in my travel book called Camelot Cafe. We enjoyed our dessert by candlelight on the patio, along with a glass of wine. When we got back to the hostel, Christine and Eric were there watching a movie. Turns out the pub crawl was cancelled and Josephine and I were the rowdy ones out late - go figure!
Horse carriages all lined up

Wawel Castle

Tuesday morning Josephine and I headed back in to the city, while Christine and Eric had paid for an excursion to go shoot some guns.. to each their own.
We did another walking tour of the Old City and learned a bit about the history of Krakow and the legend of the dragon.
According to legend, Krakow was founded by and named after the mythical ruler Krak, who built the town above a cave occupied by a ravenous dragon.
Up at Wawel Castle

Mmmm Zapiekanki

After the walking tour we went back in to the old Jewish quarter to Kazimierz for lunch - zapiekanki. Basically a long piece of fresh bread with whatever topping you want. A scrumptious Polish twist on pizza. Then we braved the 30 degree heat and marched back up toward the castle for some more pictures. Finally going back to the Old City.
Inside Cloth Hall

By this time Josephine was tuckered out so she went back to the hostel while I checked out the Old City Square and the Cloth Hall some more for souvenirs and such. By the time I got back to the hostel everyone was there. We rested for a bit, then went out to sit on a nice park bench and relax before dinner. On the menu tonight was 'authentic Polish' - more sausages and potatoes. They do a good hearty meal in this country!

The Gang!

After dinner we all went out and found a nice patio for the worst customer service but the best cake ever! Then it was back to the hostel for a quiet night. We were all pretty beat from a long day in the heat. Wednesday morning we were up early for breaky and off to the airport for an uneventful (thankfully) trip back to London. A few more days off before it will be back to reality.... for four weeks, then off to Spain :)

Extermination Camps

Auschwitz I - main registration building
Day 2 in Krakow:
Up early we had our delicious free breakfast and went to meet up with the tour group heading to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II - Birkenau. It is hard to know what to say of this tour other than this is something everyone should see. If you cannot see it then read about it and educate yourself. What happened in this part of the world during WWII is uncomprehendable.  Novels like Schindler's Ark may make people out to be heroes when there is always another side, but they also give insight into details that will leave you speechless, and sometimes a little nauseous too. I read Schindler's Ark shortly before this trip and am still trying to make my brain understand some of the things that I learned. I don't want to go into too much detail, I think everyone should find their own way to absorb history but here some things that really stood out for me personally.

Main Gate: Work Brings Freedom
Nazi Germans started their 'purification' on fellow Germans, mostly mentally and physically impaired people. Auschwitz I, where most of the medical experiments were done, housed up to 20, 000 prisoners (about half of my home town's population). When Auschwitz I was liberated they uncovered huge amounts of goods that were taken from the prisoners and stored in warehouses that were often referred to by prisoners as "Canada" because they associated it with a place of plenty (brings tears to my eyes). Among the things that they found removed from prisoners was about 7 tonnes of human hair. They have about 2 tonnes displayed in a room, and this was the one room where I actually gasped and took a step back. I cannot even explain the sensation of seeing this. This amount came from about 30 000 people. Along the walls of the barracks are photos of the prisoners that were registered at the camp. Most have only a number rather than names. With this is their date of arrival and date of death. It was rare to last more than a few months, this was the average for men - women didn't last as long. The longest I saw was just over a year. The shortest was 2 days. The camp commandant actually lived on site with his family. His house can be seen from the building that housed the gas chambers and crematoria.

Auschwitz II - Birkenau was the death camp. When Auschwitz I was deemed not to be efficient enough for extermination, it was expanded here. Birkenau had a capacity of up to 200 000 people.  Most of the barracks here used for prisoners were prefabricated horse stables. These were meant to house 52 horses during war times for armies. Instead they were used to house on average 450 prisoners. Sometimes up to 700. The gas chambers and crematoria at this camp were run by 'special' groups of prisoners. These groups were exterminated every few months and replaced by new prisoners. Probably once they were deemed to know too much.
Auschwitz II - Birkenau
Prisoners were also used to keep watch and run the barracks, they were given special sleeping quarters at the front with more room, rather than sharing a bunk with up to 10 other prisoners. Shortly before the camp was liberated, the Nazis tried to burn and dismantle many buildings, including the crematoria and gas chambers. Apparently they thought that maybe no one would find out what they had been up to. Roll call for prisoners was performed twice a day. Prisoners had to stand until everyone was accounted for. Guards had huts to stand in in case of inclement weather. Prisoners who had tried to escape or shown uprising tendencies were brought to roll call and hanged in front of the others. The longest roll call lasted 20 hours.

Birkenau - Over 175 acres
There is so much more that happened to these innocent people, all of it equally horrifying. As I type, more and more gruesome details are coming to mind. As I said, I truly believe that everyone should educate themselves on this not-so distant history in the hopes that it will never be repeated.