Sunday, December 16, 2012

How do you 'do'?

I had my first proper Christmas do a couple of weeks ago.  Before you ask, a 'do' is basically a party.  They have a 'hen do' or 'stag do' before someone gets married, a 'leaving do' when someone leaves a job, and a 'Christmas do' for Christmas.  I'm not entirely sure on the restrictions or qualifications for something to be a 'do,' but apparently there's no such thing as a 'birthday do.'  There are still so many intricacies of British culture that I have yet to learn.  Teaching and working here has cleared many of them up, but clearly, there are some I'll never understand.  Anyway, our 'do' was in a room at a posh hotel in the town where the school is located.  It was a Friday night and it was fancy.  No jeans and a Christmas jumper for this one.  All the women were wearing party frocks with a bit more skin showing than I'm used to seeing from my coworkers.  In the absence of a skin-baring party dress, I opted for a long-sleeved black wrap dress.  I have to admit, I looked pretty hot.  Robyn and I had been invited to a 'pre' (a pre-party party where people get ready and usually start getting drunk) at one of the other teacher's houses, but opted to just get ready at home.  I took a nap, knowing that I would need all of my energy for what was to come.  At the hotel, we had a nice Christmas dinner, which is basically Thanksgiving with the addition of roast parsnips, pigs in a blanket (mini-sausage wrapped in bacon) and Christmas pudding for dessert.  
As exciting as bacon wrapped sausages are, it was after dinner that the real excitement began.  There was a disco, by which they mean a DJ and dance floor.  I can honestly say, it was one of the weirdest experiences of my life to boogie with a bunch of tipsy teachers.  We're generally a pretty straight-laced group of people, very rule bound and professional.  Not on Christmas do night.  They were letting loose.  The Latin teacher was my favorite.  She's a pretty big nerd and had said earlier that she'd only dance if they played good music, like Michael Jackson and ABBA.  True to her word, when the first few bars of "Dancing Queen" blasted through the speakers she was on her feet and proceeded to flail about in a manner that I can only describe as 'rhythmically challenged."  It was brilliant.  By comparison, I looked amazing.  Having never been drunk, I can't speak to how uninhibited one feels when intoxicated, but having witnessed the work Christmas do, I can honestly say I'm grateful that at least when I make a fool of myself, I'm aware of it.  My housemate and I danced the night away and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  It totally blew all of my other work Christmas parties out of the water.  I think it's a tradition I'll have to bring home with me.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lest We Forget

Today was Remembrance Sunday.  Sacrament Meeting was basically a memorial service for soldiers past and present with a gospel perspective of faith and hope for the future.  They do it every year, and I love it.  The entire country observes a two-minute silence at 11:00 on the Sunday closest to the 11th of November in remembrance of the soldiers who have fought to keep England free.  Maybe it’s because I’m American and we’ve never really been that threatened by a war on our soil, but the wars have always felt very distant to me.  It’s definitely different here.  The memory of both World Wars is very real, as is the memory of those who fought and lost their lives in those wars.  There is great respect and admiration reserved for the armed forces of Great Britain.  The royals are expected to serve in the military and maybe it’s that that gives it a feeling of importance that doesn’t seem to exist in America.  Whatever the reason, there’s a sort of sacredness to it all. 

Besides the two minutes of silence, they all wear paper poppies in their buttonhole for the few weeks preceding Remembrance Sunday.  I think it’s absolutely lovely.  The British Legion heads up the poppy brigade and the money raised goes to help the veterans of Britain’s wars.  They sit outside supermarkets, train stations, and on the high street with their donation cans and boxes full of bright red poppies.  This year, I went for the fancy £2 poppy pin to keep as a memento of one of my favorite British traditions.  I’ll say one thing for the Brits; they love their traditions.  They might not be as openly patriotic as we are, but when it comes to things like this, they are all in.  Everybody buys their poppy and wears it proudly. 

The tradition extends to the schools as well, where our girls wear their poppies pinned proudly to their blue school blazers.  We also had a remembrance service on Friday where the whole school gathered to ponder the sacrifice that has been given for their freedom.  As I watched them sitting in absolute silence for two minutes, I appreciated the necessity of teaching our young people the importance of sacrifice for the greater good.  In a society where disrespect for nearly everything is rampant and often glorified, it was refreshing to be amongst young people who recognize that there are certain things that are sacred and deserve our respect.  It restored a bit of my hope for the future of our world.  

Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium
Thiepval Memorial, France

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
                                                     Laurence Binyon         

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Yep, I'm Still Alive

I’m feeling a bit sheepish that I haven’t written in such a long time.  I got an email from an old friend the other day who mentioned how much she enjoyed reading my blog and I realized it’s been ages since I’ve written anything.  I guess life in England has become so familiar that I forget just how cool it is that I live here.  Life just becomes life when you get up and go to work every day.  The same thing happened to me on my mission.  Everything was so exciting and adventurous and new, but by the end, it was just life.  I try to remember everyday that this experience will end someday and that I need to take advantage of it while I can.  It still is pretty cool that I’ve lived here for 3 years now.  I can hardly believe that it’s been so long.  I love that I’m going to have so many amazing stories to tell about this grand adventure.  I remember growing up hearing my mom’s stories about her semester abroad and wanting to have stories like that of my own.  Hopefully I’ll find people who want to hear mine. 
I’m on holiday next week and am looking forward to a few days of travel.  I promise to put pictures up as soon as I get some.  It will be nice to have some time off.  I’m loving my job and I feel like I’m getting the hang of it, but it’s much harder work than teaching in America.  I teach 13 different groups of girls and 7 different subjects.  It makes for a bit of a chicken-with-its-head-cut-off existence sometimes.  One day I went to class and wondered why the desks had been rearranged.  It wasn’t until some of the students started wondering in that I realized that I had gone to the totally wrong classroom.  I enjoy the variety, though, and it makes me wonder how I ever taught the same thing 7 times a day.  Part of me is looking forward to that again, but I guess the grass is always greener.  What I’d really love is to teach at a high school part-time doing their AP classes and then teach a few classes at a junior college or something like that.
My students are really great and as always, that’s the part of the job I like the most.  We have a really good time together and they think I’m pretty funny.  I’m such a sucker for people who think I’m funny.  I think they also like that I’m American.  They’re pretty cute.  Kids are the same everywhere and I love feeling like I’m making a difference in their lives and leaving a lasting legacy.  I also love that someday they’ll tell stories about the year they had an American teacher who couldn’t pronounce yogurt right. 
I’m going to try to start keeping track of the funny things they say and do for the book I’m going to write someday.  I should have been doing it all along, but I guess it’s better now than never.  In that spirit, here’s my first story. 
I was teaching my year 8 class (who are equivalent to 7th graders in age) about the Tudors and the religion situation.  We were discussing Mary and whether or not she deserved her nickname of ‘Bloody Mary’ for burning all the Protestants.  The girls were curious as to why someone would do that so we discussed the importance of showing power and control by ruthlessly enforcing your policies.  One of my students, who is actually one of the more clever ones, raised her hand and asked, “The Queen doesn’t still do that, does she?”  I had to try not to laugh out loud at the thought of Old Lizzie burning heretics at the stake.  Classic.  

Friday, June 15, 2012

Send Her Victorious, Happy, and Glorious!

I know I’m not technically English, but I certainly felt it during last week’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration.  In my defense, it was pretty awesome.  Also, ethnically speaking, I am mostly English.  Based on that, and the fact that I would NEVER have a chance to do it again, I decided to go to London on Monday for the festivities.  My fabulous old housemate, Kim, kindly offered the services of her couch for the night and I took her up on it.  After a delicious kebab dinner that we ate on the Tube, we arrived at Hyde Park to watch the Jubilee Concert, along with thousands of our closest friends.  There were massive screens set up all over the park and people dancing and singing. It was actually pretty great. We saw Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and even Paul McCartney!  I sang and danced and felt like a proper Englishperson.  Then Prince Charles came on stage and called the Queen “mummy,” which was by far the cutest thing ever.  Afterward, we got to sing the national anthem.  I sang it with all my heart, even though I didn’t really know the words, but luckily Kim was there to supply me with the correct order of ‘gracious’ and ‘noble.’  In that moment, surrounded by a crowd singing at the top of their voices, I felt like I was one of them.  There was a sense of unity that I haven’t felt before in all of my time here.  It was very cool.  Then, to top it all off, there were fireworks…and I got to see them!  It sort of made up for missing the New Year’s Eve ones. 

The next day, I went down to central London to watch the Queen’s procession from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace.  I met up with some people from Kim’s ward to head down to Trafalgar Square and I had my flag al ready to go.  They weren’t too bothered about actually seeing the procession, so I dumped them and made my way as close to the action as I could.  Turns out I should have just gone down there by myself waaaay earlier.  It was chock a block and the best spots were already taken.  Luckily, I wiggled my way over to the side and found a spot where I had a clear view of the road and turning toward Admiralty Arch.  After waiting for a couple of hours, the procession began making its way towards us.  I saw all the horses and heard the bands and strained to catch a glimpse of the coach carrying Her Royal Highness.  As the coach approached, I stretched and just barely spotted the Queen in her lovely hat.  Then I rushed over to Trafalgar Square to watch the rest of the procession on the screens.  It was brilliant.  I loved watching the masses move down the Mall, in perfect order, and wait patiently for their beloved Queen to appear.  When she finally stepped out, the cheer that erupted was amazing.  As I stood there, once again singing the national anthem, I heard the rumble of airplanes and looked up to see the planes flying directly overhead.  Apart from a peek of Lizzie herself, the flyover was my favorite part.  By that time, it had started to rain, as always, but I decided that I wanted to take advantage of being there and absorb as much of the atmosphere as I could.  I wandered down to the Mall with its Union Jacks flying and Buckingham Palace in all its majesty at the end.  It was pretty cool and I enjoyed just being there making a memory.  I still am amazed that I was there for such a once in a lifetime experience.  

Happy Wanderings

As I sit here watching football and feeling decidedly British in my allegiance, I decided that I should update this lovely old thing, even if there’s nobody that even reads it anymore.  Life in England is going really well, although I’m stating to wonder why I ever complained about not having work.  It’s just a darn good thing that I like my job.  We’ve got 5 weeks left and I just started teaching a new class on American history.  It’s been great fun teaching people who’ve never heard it before, though I must admit that my natural patriotism creeps in every now and then.  I figure they should get the full American treatment. 
Life apart from work has been fairly busy as well.  I had a lovely visit from good old Laura Lu during the Easter holiday that consisted of a few days in the Lake District (of William Wordsworth fame,) a few days in southern Scotland, a few days in Yorkshire, and a few days in London.  It was a fabulous trip, complete with hillsides covered with daffodils, just as I had always pictured them.  Scotland was rugged and beautiful, but not much different than the gorgeous landscape of my homeland.  I did, however, thoroughly enjoy the time spent in Yorkshire.  We went to the fascinating old ruined Fountains Abbey from the medieval times.  It was a Cistercian abbey until Henry VIII dissolved it and stole all its wealth.  It is fairly isolated and so remained untouched until a wealthy family bought the land and used the Abbey to stage parties and picnics.  I love the idea of some fancy-pants lady with a posh accent inviting her friends out to their country house for a picnic in the nave of a ruined cathedral.  I think it was made even more enjoyable by the fact that we were among the first people there and we had a lone wander for the first few hours.  It ranks on my list of favorite places I’ve visited in England.  London was great, as always, but was also greatly improved by the company.  We went to Kew Gardens to absorb all the springtime goodness, ate our way through Borough Market, and saw ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’  All in all, not a bad couple of weeks. 
Then the next month, I played host to Aaron and Camille who came to visit for a few days.  Unfortunately, I had to work, but we still got to spend a day amongst the treasures of the British Museum, the Imperial War Museum, and King’s Cross Station.  The following weekend I met up with them in Cheltenham, a lovely old spa town on the edge of the Cotswolds, where Aaron served for a time on his mission.  Saturday was spectacular and we decided to spend the bulk of it in the park with what seemed like everyone else in Cheltenham.  It was so nice to be together and have a proper chinwag.  The next day we went to church and met a few people Aaron had known when he was there.  We finished up the day with a drive through the Cotswolds and a delicious roast dinner.  I loved having them here and having them see where I live and meet my friends.  I wish they’d come back…we had the best weather we’ve had all year while they were here. 

P.S. The pictures are frustratingly out of order. Sorry about that.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Merry Old England

Turns out I’m pretty much the worst blogger ever. I did so great when I first moved here, but now I forget to share all the great stuff that happens because it’s just become my life.  Suffice it to say, I still live in England two and a half years later (yikes!) and I still love it here.  I especially love it in the spring. I don’t think there is anything as lovely as an English springtime.  I don’t feel the cold quite as much anymore, and I’m totally competent when it comes to knowing what to buy in the supermarket.  I can distinguish between different types of English cheese, as well as different types of English accents.  It weirds me out to see cars on the TV driving on the right side of the road and the rain hardly phases me.  I even walked all the way to the supermarket in the spitting rain yesterday without an umbrella.  I even say banahna like a proper Brit.  The ‘u’ has entered the spelling of many words and the ‘z’ has morphed to an ‘s’ in many others.
It’s strange, the process of acculturation.  There are things that I thought were so odd about England and the English people when I first got here that don’t even faze me anymore.  The fact that all the eggs in the shops are brown, that the postman doesn’t pick up your mail, and that the shops all close by 6 don’t bother me anymore.  I’ve just gotten used to it all.  I’ve found so many things that I love here, that I worry about how long it will take me to get used being back in America, once I finally decide to come back.  I don’t know what I’m going to do when I have to live without golden syrup, my electric kettle, and the glorious array of trees and flowers.  It might be harder coming home than it was coming here in the first place.  I can’t actually think about it.  It just makes me too sad.  

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Back in the Saddle Again

I have now successfully completed my first half-term at my new job. I’m working at a fancy-pants girls’ grammar school in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Beaconsfield is one of the poshest areas in England, so the girls tend to be pretty posh as well. Perhaps needless to say, there has been a pretty steep learning curve. The school system here is quite different. When the kids are in their last year of primary school, they can take an exam to get into grammar school. If they pass, they’re funneled into the grammar schools, which are the best schools around. The general expectation is that grammar school students will go on to the best universities in the country and excel in everything they do. It’s a slightly different system than the good, old public schools of America that I’m used to. Added to the fact that the students are super clever, grammar schools are single-sex so there aren’t any boys around to distract them or make them feel bad if they’re smart. It’s fabulous. I think I like it even more because of the lack of all the spitting and other nightmares I had to endure as a full-time supply teacher.

Anyway, I was pretty intimidated to work there, since the girls have lofty ambitions that I could possibly destroy through my lack of knowledge of the English school system along with a general rustiness of the old teaching skills. Luckily, the person I replaced spent loads of time helping me prepare and giving me resources to use. Also, it turns out teaching is like riding a bike; once you learn, you never forget. Plus the girls are marvelous, they think I’m cool because I’m American, and they’re super keen to learn. It’s by far the easiest gig I’ve ever had as far as the classroom management is concerned. Basically it consists of an occasional well-placed look of disapproval or, as a last resort, a brief “Ladies, this is not the type of behaviour I would expect from you.” (It has to be spelled with a ‘u’ because it’s at an English school.) That is quite literally all I have to do to get things under control and that doesn’t even happen on a daily basis.

While I feel that I generally have the classroom management under control, the subject matter is another story entirely. The courses are run on a fortnightly schedule so I see each class a certain number of times over the course of the two weeks. For example, I see the year 9s twice per fortnight, while I see the year 10s and 11s five times over the same two-week period. I think it’s a lame system, but it allows the students to take a wider variety of subjects. What it also means is that I’m preparing a whole load of lessons that I may only teach once. Some days I have 5 different lessons to teach, with a different 5 lessons to teach the next day. Add to that the fact that I’m teaching subjects I’ve never taught before, like Irish history and Medieval English history, and you can see that my workload is massive. Luckily, they don’t expect me to grade nearly as much as I’m used to. That being said, I was supposed to mark a truckload of papers over Easter that I didn’t do. Oh well.

I’ve enjoyed learning new material and I feel like the girls appreciate my efforts and are engaged in the lessons. They also really like it when I say words like ‘awesome’ and ‘dude’ so I throw those in there every now and then. My fail-safe method of getting their attention and adoration is to speak in my English accent, which for some reason is exceptionally posh. It never fails to produce gales of laughter. They really are wonderful girls and I’m amazingly blessed to have a job there. The staff members have made me feel welcome and have incorporated me into their world with very little difficulty for anyone. I enjoy working there so much that I’m actually kind of excited to start back tomorrow after a two week Easter holiday. Now I just need to figure out a way to convince the teacher I replaced not to come back off maternity leave…