Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Have made it to Amsterdam...really pretty city! We are staying in a canal house right down the street from the hemp museum- sweet! :) We also saw some prostitutes in the windows of some places and storefronts for live sex shows....eeeeeeewwwww is all I have to say about that!

It is pissing rain here and quite cold so we are intermittently breaking up being tourists with cafes (not the "coffee shop" kind), the ones that actually serve coffee and beer.

Just wanted to let everyone know that we'd made it. Having dinner with an American friend of a friend tonight and then hoofing around the city again tomorrow.

Dutch is impossible to decipher and really impossible to say. We've been cracking ourselves up all day. We are staying on Oudezijds Achterburgwal. Anyone know how to say that one?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It has seriously been a long time since I have blogged anything. Sorry. To be honest, there hasn’t been much to really say?!? I’ve been swamped with schoolwork every night with my lesson planning and then on the weekends, I have been doing a lot of chilling because my brain is quite fried from the week. But, next week is the half-term holiday and I have the week off!

My good friend, Courtney, is arriving on Saturday at noon and I cannot wait to see her! I am really excited for someone from my “real” life to come here. It is kind of weird thinking about it. Honestly, I have realized that it is the people in your life who really help you construct reality in your head and when none of them are around, life feels a bit dream-like. Plus, I’ve basically lived in Fort Collins my entire adult life, so even going back to where I went to high school feels like someone else’s life that I just happen to remember. I wonder if I will feel like this about Colorado after living here for awhile? I feel like I will feel like my life here is my “real” life when someone from home comes into it! Also, Courtney makes me laugh harder than just about anyone else I’ve ever met so I can’t wait to spend a week acting ridiculous and not planning any lessons! We are going to hang around Chesham and London for a few days and then on Wednesday, we will fly to Amsterdam and then on to Brussels!

In Amsterdam, we are staying at a canal house that was built in 1607 (which, thanks to my dad, I will NEVER forget that was the year that the Jamestown colony was founded in Virginia. He also made us memorize that thromboxane receptors “down regulate” but I have no freaking clue what that actually means!). Then, in Brussels, we’ll be staying with a friend of mine from high school, Tim, whom I haven’t seen since high school! Should be REALLY fun! I’ve never been to either of those two cities and haven’t had any European adventures for a while so I am quite excited!

School has been busy busy, but because I am spending such a long time planning everything, I feel that the quality of my lessons has improved (though my social life has taken a nose dive). I have to choose one of the two because during the week, it just doesn’t seem that I can have both. I’ve started to walk to school since my fat ass can’t seem to get to the gym and at least that gives me a giant hill to hoof up every day. It does suck when it is pissing rain, but I do have a solid REI raincoat and will be purchasing a giant golf umbrella. The only time that I can guarantee that the weather will be awful is on Fridays when I have outdoor duty three different times. Literally, EVERY Friday, it is shit weather. It could be beautiful all week and then as soon as Friday hits- crap.

I feel like I am getting to know the kids better so that is really helpful and I am, on most days, figuring out how to still be “me” in the curriculum that is full of giant amounts of memorizing! The one part that I am still having a hard time with is that there are no “grades” per se on most stuff. For example, my Year 10 and 11 kids could do jack-shit for weeks but if they do okay on the GCSE exam (externally given by an exam board at the national level) then it doesn’t matter they were a total jerk-off in class and that they never did ANY of the assigned work. There is no intermittent accountability and that is really hard to manage since there are quite a few of them who literally will not do ANYTHING because they know they don’t have to if they can still pass the exam. Don’t get me wrong, I am psyched to not have to collect and grade stuff all the time, but there has to be some accountability built-in somewhere? We are supposed to give detentions for kids who do not do their homework. This works for most kids. But, for some kids, they know that it doesn’t really matter even if they don’t show up to detentions over and over again.

I have had my first one-to-one parent meeting here and have also made quite a few parent phone calls. All of the parents to whom I’ve spoken have been quite supportive and I did see some change in the kids’ behavior. Oddly enough, I’ve had to call the most Year 11 parents. These equate to sophomores in high school and I just didn’t think that I would be calling those parents the most. Today something happened in my Year 11 class that would never have happened in a middle school though…I am sure any high school teachers reading this will have some experience with situations such as this. Apparently, yesterday after school, a bunch of them went to the park and there was some sort of sex drama that occurred. Well, both the boy and the girl came to school and obviously told everyone. They are both in my first period class, as are all of their friends. So, between the girl crying and running out (twice) and the boy’s friends making lots of rude hand gestures and then everyone else asking what was going on, there was not much learning happening until one the of the senior administrators/deans came and pulled them all from class. And, he pulled them not because I called, but because the news had already traveled so quickly around the school that there was already drama/conflict resolution going on!


I have decided to start having my groceries delivered here! It is so amazing that I can shop from my computer and then one night a week, a truck pulls up and drops them off for less than $5 delivery fee!! And, because I order them from a store called Tesco, which is kind of like Target, I can order just about any other random thing to be delivered with them. I didn’t have a soup-pot and wanted to start making soups, so one was delivered! It is just nice to not have to walk home from the store with my 24-pack of diet coke cans and a huge package of toilet paper plus a week’s worth of groceries. And, because they have recipes right online, you can click on a recipe and it adds the ingredients to your cart! I have been able to actually plan a few menus a week really easily and then have all the ingredients right there! I’ve made French Onion Soup, Chicken, Rice, and Veggie Soup, and tried to make Chicken Gumbo but couldn’t really get the right kind of ingredients, so it didn’t turn out like actual gumbo. See how non-exciting my life is? I am blogging about dinner!

Hopefully, after half term, I will have something more glamorous to report! I have had some really fun weekends just hanging around Chesham though. Last Friday, I went to a stand-up comedy show at the Chesham United Football Club and it was great! They have them every month and I have been to two now. Apparently, at some point after they’ve been at CUFC, they sometimes end up on TV here in Britain. So, I may flip on my TV one night and see someone that I’ve just seen live for only 9 pounds! It is definitely weird living and teaching in the same town. Even jetting around Loveland, I never really ran into that many students. But, Chesham is about 1/3 the size of Loveland (about 20,000 people) and there are only two secondary schools in town. So, pretty much everywhere I go, I run into to students. It is somewhat helpful for that crucial relationship-building piece, but I do feel like I need to censor some of my behavior some of the time- or at least take a different route home!

And, two weekends ago, I tried driving a car here! It is a very weird feeling to be sitting on the other side of the car. The stick for the shifter is on the left side of me but the gears are all arranged in the same place. The pedals are in exactly the same positions as on left-hand drive cars, which is good, because I am not sure I could retrain my feet to think the clutch and gas pedals are in different places! I only went about 15 mph tops and was not on the road with other cars- just drove around a green in a neighborhood but it was exciting nonetheless! The turn signal (indicator, here) are on the other side of the steering wheel. I mostly just felt like the rest of the car was still actually to my right even though the door was there. I am still planning to take a driving lesson before I truly try driving here on my own. I don’t think anyone I know here wants to just turn me loose on the roads in their cars so I’ll have to take a driving lesson.

One last and VERY exciting thing to share…I have booked a ski trip to Val d’Isere, France from December 18th to the 26th! I am going with my friend Nicola. She is a Design &Technology teacher here at my school and spent two winters living and working in Val d’Isere! We are staying at a catered chalet right on the mountain that includes food and WINE and got a GREAT deal on the whole thing, including airfare. Really, in coming to live in England, the only thing I truly wanted to do tourism-wise was to ski in the Alps- talk about a dream life! That gives me something massive to look forward to after half term when Courtney leaves and I’ll be all sad (or, they would say “well-sad” here!).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Some progress...

I have spent a lot of time really working on lessons this week that feel like me. It is super, crazily time consuming, but for this week, it felt worth it. Lessons that felt like me except in my Y10 class where I am ashamed, (VERY VERY VERY ASHAMED and I secretly hope Kendra, Natalie, and Andy Kaufman are not reading this) that I did a WORD SEARCH!!! AAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!! Oddly enough, they told me that it was the favorite thing they've done and I had more juvenile delinquents working today than I have had ANY other day since I took over that class. Granted, a few were absent and a few had to be removed at the beginning due to the fact that they refused to even sit in a chair at all. Yes, this is what I am dealing with here folks. I can't even get them to sit in a chair sometimes.

But, the lessons that I did spend a lot of time on were pretty solid and I felt like myself again in a few classes. Today, I even did a think-aloud on a science article with my Y7 kids and they were really excited about asking questions to the text. One girl even told me that she thought her text answered back because she found the answer in a another part of the reading! YAY!

This is a paper that was left in my room. We were coding for questions and connections that we could make to the text. It was a reading from the young reader's edition of Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" and it is called "A REALLY Short History of Nearly Everything." The hard part is that there is one overhead projector for the whole science dept and it is complete shit. I am thinking about just forking over my own money for a document camera to make my life a bit easier. We'll see if I can get that all sorted out or not!

Tomorrow I have an article about goats that have been genetically engineered to produce milk with spider web fibers in it (WHAT? CRAZY!) for my Y9 class. We will be discussing the ethics of genetically modifying organisms for the benefit of humans. I was able to use an exact assignment I've used at home lots of times with a clip from Jurassic Park where Jeff Goldblum says, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think whether or not they should." My Deputy Headteacher wanted to come in and watch me teach a lesson on reading in science so, Friday, last period of the day, he's coming in. I'm an idiot for inviting an observation at that time, but oh well.

Tonight, I was going to the grocery with my friend Nicola and we saw a bunch of my turd-ish Y10 boys hanging around by the store so I made an extra point to totally embarrass them by waving hugely and being like, "HEY GUYS! How ARE you? See you tomorrow! Can't wait!" in a totally not sarcastic way. It was awesome! Apparently, they were sufficiently embarrassed that they decided to leave the area by the time we came out of the store! HA!

Thank Ganesh Its Friday tomorrow is all I've got left to say. Hollah!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Another week closer to holidays! (that's Brit-speak for VACAY!!!)

Here they are! English spelling thinking strategies posters. I wouldn't say I'm doing much with them yet. But, they are there which is a good start. If for no other reason than to remind me what a crappy teacher I've become here and that I need to remember my six years of training and professional development! Starting from scratch with 9 preps is rough on a person's creativity!

We had our "open night" where perspective students from primary schools in the area come in to check out the school. The science department really wows it up with lighting kids' hands on fire. I used to do this for my 8th graders when I student taught...great for bribery (or I guess for punishment!) :)
Here was my attempt at a "chalk talk" at the end of our health unit with my Year 9s. They got a little silly with it, I definitely needed more building of expectations. But, for a first attempt, I thought it was okay. They sure like writing poo and anus on the poster, that's for sure! Gotta love middle school kids!

Sorry I've been such a sparse blogger. I’d like to say that it is because I am just so busy that I just can’t manage to fit in blogging. But, to be honest, I think it is a combination of laziness and business. Don’t get me wrong, I still spend a lot of time every single night planning lessons but I just don’t often feel like sitting in front of the computer any more after all that in order to blog.

Despite the time I am putting into planning, I am not going to lie, I feel that my lesson quality is LOW! I am allowing myself this sometimes because I just have so many different classes to keep track of that I am literally just trying to make sure on most days that I actually have a way to keep the kids occupied for the full 50 minutes. My year 7, 8, and 9 lessons are actually not too bad, not surprisingly, since I am a middle school teacher at heart and those years correspond to grades 6, 7, and 8 in the US.

I am having a hard time with the high school classes. And, truthfully, with Year 10 it is partly because the content is so ridiculously dry and boring that I just can’t even figure out ways to be creative. Not to mention, that class is mostly full of kids (I think I’ve discussed them before- or a million times) who have zero interest in school so trying to get them interested in the molecular structure of aluminum is totally a struggle. I’ve literally pulled out all of my teacher tricks and I can still barely get them to sit in an assigned seat, let alone complete any sort of assignment. Honestly, we have had to move to more severe disciplinary action because the behaviors are full-on on the ridiculous side of things. These are kids who have issues all around the building and not just in my room. They are a huge argument against ability grouping (they are the low ones if you hadn’t guessed!). We have made progress in that the belligerence level has decreased as we are getting to know each other. For example, now when I sent a kid out of class, they don’t throw stuff and knock over their chairs, just curse a lot under their breath!

The upside is that I have ceased taking it personally as a reflection of my skills as a teacher or as a new/foreign teacher. So, that said, no tears again this week. I did get yelled at by another teacher, which gave me a little lump in the throat, but he’s just a dick to most people so I’m still not taking that too personally either.

I’ve had a mellow, rain-filled weekend. Yesterday I went to see the Will Ferrell movie “The Other Guys.” It was hilarious and it was nice to be the one laughing at references nobody else got instead of the other way around as it usually is. So now, it is Sunday and I am just sitting here listening to some amazing guitar playing and trying to motivate to actually learn about the parts of a kidney since I have to do a kidney dissection tomorrow with my Year 11 students. YUCK! I am a skin-out biologist and I have ZERO interest in the icky, bloody parts of science…also, no interest in space, or products from rocks (at the molecular level.) Basically, the science I am actually interested in like earth science, is taught in geography. Fortunately, my next unit in Year 10 is evolution/natural selection! And, in Year 11 it is genetics so I will actually have some interest in what I’m teaching. I’m not sure how my acting skills are fairing here in my classroom- products from rocks just sucks all around. All of the other teachers think so too, so at least I’m not alone in that.

I will share though that my Year 7 kids are so easily bribed with a Mr. Sketch marker scented smiley face on their papers that they will do anything I say. I have also made each of them raise their hands and solemnly swear that they will be nice to me, always, even when they officially become snotty teenagers! I had to teach them how to go on amazon and find Mr. Sketch markers because you can’t buy them in Staples here and they are ape-shit crazy for them! It is pretty darn cute! They beg me for certain colors every time they see me around the building . For those who don’t know, Mr. Sketch markers are scented like fruit. I like them because they have a chisel-point and they are good for making posters.

Speaking of posters, I now have my thinking strategy posters up but as I feel even more overwhelmed than when I was a first year teacher, I am not doing a great job of thinking strategy instruction. I have done a bit with inferring and background knowledge but in my high school aged classes, I am just trying to keep it mildly under control so that nobody gets hurt!

On an unrelated note, my brother, Derek, turns 30 tomorrow! OLD MAN! Can’t believe it! He’ll never stop being that pester-y little brother to me who did things like catch a duck through the foot fishing, hide from my dad under a table at a restaurant, and bet me that I couldn’t do things like jump up and fall down on the living room floor. Happy Birthday, Little Brother! Love you!

I’ll post a link on the side to this really irritating video on youtube that the kids are obsessed with. At least 50 times a day, I get asked to say, “Hey Apple!” because of this video. They think my accent is hilarious. I still think that English ones are too, but some of my real jerky Year 10 boys are losing their charm!!