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Teaching in London

IT may come to you on the way home from your part-time job, or in the middle of a leisurely stroll through campus on the way to your next class. Perhaps a friend suggested it countless times? Or you've known it since you were in Grade 9, sifting eagerly through the pages of Julius CaesarThe decision to become a teacher is something most of us make for one reason or another and at very specific times. Like a sudden revelation.

Once decided, we propel ourselves to panicked - at times - fulfilment of volunteering hours with students of various ages. We polish our Philosophies of Education and ultimately send our applications to a number of 'Teacher Colleges'. Learning the art of teaching itself within the walls of these colleges and universities is another topic altogether. However, the final diploma and subsequent certification to teach in whatever provinces, states or countries is the lasting achievement of all your hard work. But where to go from there?

There is no need to repeat or even mention the difficulties in securing a long-term teaching job in some parts of the western world. It is a topic and issue trodden upon far too many times. Explained, reiterated and complained about. The point is that teaching is a changed profession, in more ways than one.

Gone are the days of being offered an immediate full-time position in a school in your city of choice and preferred school board straight out of Teacher's College. Many teachers, potentially great teachers, see this as a solely negative situation. It's frustrating, especially since many educators want to be close to friends and family, or just love the city they live in back home. Many teachers start despising the profession or, worse yet, quit altogether. Yet, there are many ways to overcome this with patience, perseverance and a lot of luck. Teaching does not need to be viewed in such a limited way.

Teaching is such a versatile, challenging and rewarding career. There are so many other ways to approach it and grow professionally and personally. The truly hard part is the beginning of the journey. How do you earn those precious first years of experience that will unlock your future long-term goals? Many choose to wait at home and spend several years re-applying to bloated school boards, even just to supply teach. They end up working part-time jobs, getting by, while time passes and, with it, all the enriching experiences, knowledge and skills you learned in Teacher's College and during your memorable practicums actually working with real students. I know, I did it for almost two years.

Your teaching skills start to dull and rust, and by the time you do get an interview, your confidence and comfort in the classroom may be lost. Memories of your practicum will not help you then. The question, "What have you been doing since you graduated and finished your student teaching?" will surely come up.

Why not start doing what you spent your whole undergrad and post grad preparing for now? Think outside the boundaries and restricted box at home. Be strong, take that leap worth daring and think globally.

It doesn't have to be teaching ESL, even though that is a fantastic way to start as well. Personally, when I made the decision to teach in London, England - coming from Canada - there was no hesitancy. I wanted to teach, whether that was Grade 7 English, Grade 10 Math or Grade 12 History. I wanted to start my life now. London provided that experience without the handcuffs that public schools thrust upon you back home. Your resumes/CVs can be sent to individual schools directly. You do not need to be on "the list" just to be able to supply teach. You arrive in a great city and can be in the classroom in no time at all, teaching bright, challenging and wonderful students of all ages and levels.

The first day I supply taught, I remember sitting in the classroom, watching the students work and thinking: "How many years would it have taken for me to be in this position, standing here and discussing the impact of 'Star Wars' on tourism in Tunisia with 30 students back in Canada?" Afterwards, you can always go back home and give it another go when you feel ready. Simply don't limit yourself.

The key is to start somewhere. When someone tells you, "Oh, you have time, don't rush or worry about it," why waste that time when you can start doing what you love right now?

TEACHING WITH HIGHER STANDARDS

I REMEMBER sitting in my classroom just after school one day a few years ago, looking out the window and admiring the plethora of snow that had been descending on London since early morning. Not just any snow, rather, the United Kingdom's version of a snow storm. School had closed early that afternoon and I had just dismissed my overjoyed Year 8s barely past the stroke of noon. I could already see them hurling snowballs in the distance. Apparently there would be snow the next day as well, bringing about even more school closures. 

However, a second thought crossed my mind that day: What of their education? Our students were going to miss out on a whole afternoon of enriched and fruitful learning - to the joy of many, admittedly. But what about Macbeth, poetry, the greenhouse effect... And what of Monday's classes? Hours wasted. How could our students learn outside of the classroom?

This train of thought eventually drifted to the question: Can students learn without the complex and traditional surroundings of a school? Or teachers? At the time, I had only days before read a fascinating article by Chris Wilson, titled, "How to survive the teacher apocalypse". Although it referred specifically to ELT (English Language Teaching), I think it has great relevance in regards to teaching Primary and Secondary school subjects today. In it, Chris wrote about a teacher-less future with autonomous learning.

He asked the simple question: "If you had the option of learning on your own or learning with a teacher, which would you choose?" Seemed like a simple enough question. Why, and even how, could someone possibly replace the face-to-face interaction of a living, breathing, thinking person, filled with knowledge and experience? A person who understood emotion, could sympathise, be a role model. Technology cannot teach critical thinking, can it? However, Chris then made a great point about the quality of teachers out there. He commented on the standards and drive, creativity and effort of a successful teacher who would survive this "coming apocalypse". There is certainly no room for half hearted teachers, dictating solely from a book. The teachers that will survive in the future are the ones who will go beyond the basic duties required of them. They will give a reason why in-person, classroom learning is still the best avenue for a proper education, perhaps even supplemented by technology in its many forms.

The main idea is that teaching is not just a job. There is no room for autopilot mode, corner cutting, sub par lessons and laziness. Chris spoke of conscious diligence and the continual need for teachers to improve their lessons, their positive interactions with students and focus on professional development - because, in the end, students need to have the desire to welcome that knowledge which educators bring them, and they shape and mould themselves, unlocking their true potential. Not to mention, we as teachers are also the ones learning and growing with each day and every semester.

Teaching is a learning process in itself that doesn't end with getting a job at a school, creating habits and routines and not challenging your students or yourself. Stagnation is terrible in this profession. Take pride in what you do, respect it and make yourself and those around you better. As teachers, we have that responsibility at the very least.

BEING HONEST WITH YOUR STUDENTS

REMEMBER Teacher's College? A period of hectic chaos for many apprentices of education. The hours were long, the student teaching memorable, and the lesson plans carefully thought out and carried out, for the most part. We were assessed, scrutinised, commented on. Given advice. Most importantly, however, we learned and improved as teachers and individuals.

I broach the topic for two reasons: One, it was inspiring and a revelation to see so many NQT (newly qualified) teachers in the London schools I taught. They had fresh energy, were innovative and really wanted to teach and help their students, even when they had more harrowing, challenging days at the "office". They worked hard in their respective teacher training programs, and it was so gratifyingly obvious. Two, I came across a great post by a teacher who wrote about his freshly appointed student teacher's first day and the initial, first impression he made with his new students. It's an honest, humble message, to all new student teachers and graduates out there.

So I thought, "why not be honest with your students?" A lot of teachers like to put on a show in the classroom. The act of being serious, overbearing and in control. Yes, there has to be respect and discipline, but I believe that being honest with your students is another way of connecting with them on a more personal, truthful level. They can appreciate that, believe me. It's a fine balance that is never perfect...but what a challenge it is.

In a way, it is a performance. We not only thoroughly construct carefully thought out lesson plans that have outcomes and assessments, but we have to deliver it in front of 30+ students in an effective, engaging manner that stimulates them and their critical thinking skills. Students learn in variously different ways. The gears that their minds function on respond to so many subtleties and techniques of teaching. They want an influx of knowledge, good marks and smiley stickers, yet they also want careful, honest guidance from the teachers they look up to and want to impress occasionally.

There are so many ways to achieve this inside the classroom and around the school itself. Have one-on-one sit downs to review their work from time to time so that they feel comfortable and you can really focus on what they can improve on. Your students will soon discover that you are not just the booming voice of detention. You care for their success and well-being. Talk to your students outside your home form - greet them in the hallways, ask how they are doing when you pass the lunch room. And for goodness sake, smile. Even though your pupils seem like they are scheming all the time, disrupting class with incessant chatter, loud noise and rowdy behaviour sometimes, they are still kids. At the end of the day, your students spend most of their early lives in the classroom with YOU.

A careful, precise equilibrium of honesty and respect, engaging lessons, and proactive encouragement - among many other things - can be achieved in the classroom. For when you one day reach that proper attunement where your lessons are being digested with wide-eyed interest by a group of 12-year-olds, and their hands are flying up with each question; pens drying out with all their writing, and test scores making you nod with pride, you will know: I did it. Followed by: I love my job.

WHY ASKING STUDENTS FOR BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS IS A GOOD THING


ONE bright afternoon at school, one of my Year 7 students approached me after class to ask me one of the greatest questions anyone could ever ask an English teacher: "Sir, what books do you recommend I read?" This was followed by, shockingly, "I am reading Pride and Prejudice right now, but I also like Charles Dickens." Here was a student, in Year 7 mind you, so keen on reading and expanding her mind, whilst surrounding herself with only some of the best company of authors already.

I needed a moment to recover from her question.

I next thought, how do I answer this enquiry? So many novels, so much literature at the tip of my tongue, and my mind kept spawning more suggestions with each passing moment. However, these were books that enjoyed reading growing up. Perhaps she would not share my admiration of them in the slightest bit. What genres does she tend to favour? Maybe it's not science fiction after all, maybe it's not Tolkien. I needed time to prepare my response, so I settled for: "Come back tomorrow after class, and I will give you a list of books to consider."

That evening I thought about several things, but the one reflection that came to mind foremost was the common practice of teachers to continually select literature and materials in their lessons that they had themselves done so many times before. Content that they were so familiar with that they could arrive at school twenty minutes before class started and have a tattered copy of reading comprehension questions for a particularly well-known novel ready for the photocopier's bright lights.

Why the stagnation? Why the laziness and desire for routine? We have all been guilty of it before. I know we have our own lives to live after school, but why not take a delightful evening and read a new novel or a new poem and come up with fresh, insightful activities for our students to work on? Not only will it stimulate their minds, but ours as well. Reading something new for the betterment of our students. We get to enjoy our profession even more.

I know many have done it already, while it might not be possible for others as there are usually certain curriculums in place throughout most schools. Also it is more time consuming. Nevertheless, that is not always the case I think. We have opportunities to select some works to study. At the very least, passages to be analysed for content, themes, sentence structures, characters and so forth - making it work within the boundaries provided by the school. When you get a chance, take it.

Which brings me back to my bright student's request and another thought: Too many times we choose to have our students study literary material that we know in all their intricacies, which have stood the test of time, and that we think must be read. And that is fair enough, they are fantastic books. Yet, we should also make a better effort to discover what genres and titles our students like - no matter how silly we think they are - and incorporate them in our lessons. At least every so often.

The classics will always be there, ready to be explored when the time comes. Perhaps it is I who needs to ask someone, a student perhaps: "What new treasure do you recommend I read?"

THE JOYS OF PARENT-TEACHER NIGHTS


HAVING freshly emerged from the second of three parent-teacher evenings scheduled one spring term at my previous school in London, I noted that it was past 8 o'clock at night. My stomach demanded food, further lesson planning awaited me at home, and my arms had already started groaning in discomfort with the weight of 30 exercise books that had to be carefully marked.

Nevertheless, you will find no intended hint of sarcasm in the title of this post. Simply put, I love parent-teacher evenings. I find them stimulating, enlightening, and one of the best ways to communicate some of the most important educational information you want your students to know, along with their parents.

Parent-teacher nights were like one big comic book convention. Each teacher from every subject had their very own table in the dining hall. They encircled the middle of the hall, forming a perimeter of knowledge and experience. In the centre was a cluttered collection of chairs - some full and some empty - intended for the use of the parents to sit on for comfort as they awaited their interview time slots with various teachers. The time slots had been carefully planned out weeks before. In truth, the schedule went out the window the minute the evening began. Instead, parents lined up in anticipation at each station, report cards ready in hand, and their ears ready for every tantalising piece of information about the schoolwork and behaviour of their children.

On that particular spring night, it was parents evening for my Year 7s. They were anxious, nervous and impatient about what judgment they would be given by each teacher. They being the parents. The students, some terrified, some passive and complacent, were at their honest best. Most would sit quietly during their session, nodding their heads - not really listening at times - and would offer up some of the most sweetest, innocent smiles you would ever see. Questions abounded of the behaviour of little so and so. Glaring looks at little downcast faces when they found out how distracted their kids could get during class sometimes. And, of course, one of my favourite reactions from some parents: "Wait until you see what happens to your X-box when we get home..." During it all, though, there was always a genuine need and desire for the parents to want to see their kids succeed. They wanted to push them and ask what it was they could do to help make that happen. It was so encouraging and delightful to see just how much parents cared about their children and their education.

Naturally, there is also the pressure that parents bring to the table. Certainly, they want their children to excel at school, and it is your responsibility to make sure that happens. Your responsibility, and inevitably your fault if they fail. However, after just one of these parent-teacher evenings, one finds out just how many parents do not actually feel that way. Not one bit. They understand that their children are just as responsible for their own marks and efforts as you are.

When the times comes to meet the parents of your own students, make an effort to relax and enjoy it. Forget about the full day of classes you had just taught, or the dinner you must prepare at home in a pinch. This is a night for you to meet a unique and diverse group of people and see your students in a different light. You get a glimpse into their lives at home and have a chance to chat with your partners in ensuring that the students' education continues outside the classroom every day. Namely, through their parents. It is an opportunity for you to really establish what your students need to work on and improve, as well as talk about what they are doing exceptionally right in the classroom and how to make sure they continue doing so.

Remember, always end each talk with some positive comments. It will mean the world to both parents and children. A joyful night indeed.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SCHOOL HOLIDAYS


THE bells could be heard chiming from the Abbey nearby in the beautiful city of Bath in England. In front of me, a steady procession of locals, tourists and citizens from all walks of life wandered amongst the historic buildings, shops and cafes. Spoken Italian, French, English - among other languages - could be heard in the air, a gentle intertwining of laughter, exuberance and excited deliberation about where to eat. I spared a glance upward, noticed that the skies were clear as the birds soared past majestic spires above. The River Avon continued its gentle flow through the city centre as I took another bite of my panini. This moment best summarises my life as a teacher living in the United Kingdom.

Everyone has heard of the tidy and mouth-watering assortment of weeks off that a school teacher has in the UK. It is beyond comprehension. Words that come to mind include: dream job, amazing, unfair. What you quickly learn teaching in inner-city London is that you earn those weeks off. Every single one of those days. Particularly if you have a long-term placement in a school of certain pedigree and loaded with high expectations. You start early, you come home late. You lesson plan in the little time you have to yourself at home, and diligently mark the work of students during any remaining time. Consuming food is lost somewhere in the chaotic process.

Teaching is certainly unique and cannot be truly compared with any other job. It simply can't be. However, as most know who have been in the profession, you like doing what you do. Scraping and clawing your way to some balance, you feed off of your fellow teachers' strength in overcoming worries, and stresses, working together. Then, just when you think you are going to break - like a boxer desperately fending off a vicious attack in the latter rounds of a fight, seconds left - the stroke of term's end strikes. You close your laptop, shove the exercise books into the dusty closet and smile. Your life is yours again.

Capitalising on these breaks takes on many forms. You have the weekend enthusiasts, dashing off to Holland or Tenerife for the weekend, for instance. Then you have the hostel backpackers, their ventures a little longer and certainly eventful. The Ryan Air intrepid voyagers are my favourite lot. They are dauntless in the face of last minute bookings - no luggage - embracing the random locations and unknown airports in order to get close to the cities of their dreams at a fantastic price. You learn to grasp the bargains in London whenever you can.

There are also those, like myself, who love to explore the local cities, culture and landscapes - as everyone should. The variety in towns, villages and cities is immense. Stately mansions and woodlands pepper the landscape. Medieval architecture and ageless universities. The history beckons you at every turn. That is just one way of looking at it, though. There is so much to see and do.

I had been to Oxford earlier that day, basked in the presence of grandeur and that splendid institution of knowledge in the city centre. The nearby, picturesque Cotswolds and surrounding scenery guided the imagination and resonated with such beauty. Celtic traditions and Saxon artefacts could be found at a moment's notice. Protestant churches and burial mounds welcomed my wide eyes of inquisition. There is always something new to see, learn about, and to inspire us. What more can one ask for? Ah yes, the mysteries of Stonehenge awaited me later that day.

Teaching is a rewarding profession, in the way you help shape young minds and also personally. You teach and watch the young generation - our future - falter and flourish. You have an insight into such a variety of personalities, inspirations and hopes. If one of your students fails or gives up, it bothers and upsets you. You feel responsible, but you always try again. However, teaching is as much about you exploring your own path of further growth and discovery as it is helping your students begin their own journeys of knowledge and understanding - whether that is through reading on a daily basis. participating in extra-curricular activities that help the community, fundraising or just travelling. It is there to be done, opening our eyes and fulfilling us.

As I sat outside the cafe that day in Bath, I remember thinking back to a 1707 quote from Dr. William Oliver I read while exploring the famous Roman baths in the city: "If they can't be cured by drinking and bathing here, they will never be cured anywhere." I feel much the same about half-term breaks. If this time off - filled with travelling and self-betterment - does not cure the ailments of stress and burdens that teaching inevitably brings about, I don't know what else will.

I always smile when I recall the joyous ringing of the Abbey bells in Bath.

COVER/SUBSTITUTE TEACHING 101 IN LONDON, ENGLAND


YOU WOULD be amazed how early a person can get up in the morning when they really make an effort. We all have different internal clocks, personal time zones and habits, but when you become a teacher in London your body learns to live with the misty haze and fog of 6:30 am - every day.

This particular time in the morning becomes such a part of you that even when you do reach the weekends, your body diligently beckons you to open your eyes and rise to the same early tune. Thus, robbing you of the vital weekend sleep in. I find this useful in so many ways. Firstly, you get more out of each day, especially when you discover in one inspiring moment how much work and things you can do in a single complete morning. Secondly, and more importantly, this is the time you need to wake up in order to be a successful cover teacher.

Starting off in London as a cover teacher is no small task. Yes, responsibilities are at a minimum and there is no lesson planning involved. However, there are other aspects of this role which present certain challenges that must be embraced - the early morning being one of them. There is one way to give yourself more time to sleep: Planning and preparation the night before is essential. That involves setting clothes aside that you will wear the next day. There may be the odd exception, but for the most part the days of casual jeans and shoes with your comfy sweater are gone. You must look professional and respectable, and I wholeheartedly agree with the dress code. Not only will you look sharp and respectable every day, but you will feel more confident in your teaching, believe me.

Making yourself lunch the night before is also vital. That way you have a meal ready at the stroke of lunch and, best of all, you save time and money. The portions here in quick eateries might not be quite as generous as you would like them to be and the high costs in the inner city do not budge too much. In essence: prepare a lunch.

One last aspect of the morning that needs to be addressed is the actual phone call that you make to whatever agency you are a part of to check in and say you are available to teach that particular morning. This is a critical part that is also very important. Making this call forces you to be awake right away in order to sound decently groggy on the phone, while at the same time, lets the team know that you are ready and keen to go to work.

What makes it difficult is waiting for the call in the morning to inform you that you have work at a school for the day. Patience is key. I cannot tell you how many times I got called at the last minute for cover work. Schools sometimes get late notifications of teachers being absent. It happens. Be prepared. Remember, don't think that they won't call you just because you know it is too late for you to make it to a particular school on time for first period cover because of distance, etc. Schools need someone for the whole day, until at least 3:30 or so. It does not trouble them that much to find a teacher in the school to cover your first period. It is the rest of the day that they are most interested in.

Cover teaching is very much a routine role, at least in the mornings preparing for your work day. But when you hit the streets to reach your nearest tube station on the way to your assignment that day, it all goes out proverbial window. You quickly learn about, what I call, the pace in London. It is brisk and strikes you immediately when you leave your flat. The people have a sort of hardened, stern focus in their demeanour. Their faces are transfixed in thought as they race down the streets to the local tube station and work beyond. They are thinking about the job they must do that morning, the leisurely activities they will do after, what song to listen to on their smartphones, and the pressing of time - which coincidentally does not allow them to be tired in the mornings. Not ever. Coffee is close at hand and, if not, the pace of their walking combined with the chilling morning spurs them on to alert wakefulness. There is no droopy stroll for a Londoner in the mornings or after work, for that matter. There is simply the sound of each rhythmic footfall echoing on the unwelcoming pavement.

As a teacher, you need to enter this rhythm in order to survive each day. There is no time for fatigue or laziness. You just get on with your day. The standards are set high, the challenge great, and there is a certain grit to the people in the city, and you will see it in your students as well. Focus and determination are essential here, and although daunting it may sound, there is no better experience for a new teacher out there. The opportunities abound in London. You need to embrace it and hold firm. The students await you, as do all the great things that come with teaching in England's capital. There is still time to gather your thoughts though as the tube beckons.

One fascinating thing I found about the the London Underground was the propensity for people to be silent in the train cars. It is like an unwritten code in the tube, for the most part. Londoners love to mind their own business, generally turning to their music or, more frequently, reading the daily news via smartphones, The Evening Standard, etc. I personally enjoy reading as well, so a semi-library atmosphere in a train that is filled to the brim with people is astounding!

Once you have shaken off the cobwebs of an early morning rising - packed lunch held firmly in your hand, bag filled with your passport, CRB (police check document), favourite pen and back-up lesson plans - most cover teachers do different things while on their way to school. I always checked the address of the school I was going to and planned my exact route so I would be ready once I got out of the tube. That way you do not waste any time when you emerge from the Underground. Always have your mini A-Z (a detailed map of the city in a tiny pocket book) ready with the route to your school planned out. Google maps is great too, of course. Allow yourself plenty of time in the mornings, but remember, it's okay if you don't arrive at 8:15 or 8:30 exactly. Classes normally start around 9 am and keep in mind that they are grateful that you can come in and cover for one or more of their teachers.

Mentally preparing yourself is also important, especially when you are first starting out. You are going to a school you have never been to, going to teach students you have never met before and trying - at the same time - to navigate your way around different school policies, classrooms and systems already in place.

Take a deep breath, don't panic.

Once you reach the school, remember that Reception, Register and staff have a system in place. They have all requested cover teachers before. Reception (the office) will always ask for your work visa (passport, generally), your CRB for inspection and will casually, usually with a smile, hand you the list of rooms and subjects you will be teaching that day - accentuated with a flourishing "good luck"! You may even get a quick tour of the school if you are early enough. These greatly help!

What follows is a marathon of sorts. You speedily head over to your first class, which probably is not a subject that you specialise in. Maybe Music, or perhaps Science. Be ready for it as most of the time you will cover for multiple teachers, not just one. Being versatile is very useful.

Once you get to your first class, usually a stack of texts and exercise books will await you with a set of instructions, learning objectives and what the teacher generally wants you to accomplish that specific period. A class list is also usually provided so that you can do the register (attendance). I recommend you always wait at the door of the classroom to welcome your students. It projects a welcoming, responsible presence on your part.

The day more or less will proceed how you want it to. By that, I mean your approach. Students will give you a hard time certain days. You might not accomplish everything their regular teacher wanted you to do with them. Fortunately, most teachers recognise this and will not give the students a titanic series of tasks to finish in one single period that is usually 50 minutes long. Your pupils will be disruptive sometimes, they may take advantage of the fact that you are a cover teacher and pull out every distracting technique in the book. Think for a second when this happens. You probably invented half the tricks they are using and let's face it: We have all given supply teachers a hard time in the past when we were in school.

These are the days you just have to do your best, not take it personally, and let any negative, stressful experiences wash off your shoulders at the end of the day. They are kids after all and, believe me, you will meet plenty of bright, inspiring students willing to put in the effort and passion in their classwork that will remind you why you decided to become a teacher.

Another thing to consider: Students in the UK find North American accents fascinating. They are enamoured by North American culture and music and their initial questions, once they get over the excitement that they have a cover teacher that day, will revolve around these topics. Questions about favourite artists, cities in America or Canada you have travelled to and what celebrities you like. It's all natural, teenage questions. Don't take yourself too seriously when these inquiries come flying at you. Enjoy the moment.

When the final bell strikes to end the day's toils and you emerge from the school that had just consumed the last 7 hours of your life, you may feel exhausted, or fulfilled, or even upset. A mixture of emotions will always surface, especially at the start. Don't ever feel dejected. Your skills will improve, your confidence will grow with each passing day. Until then, you should always reflect. What did you do well? What could you improve on? Always look to be better every day. With patience, experience, and conscientious reflection, you can become an even better teacher in due time.

The tube awaits, yet again, as do the many fascinations of majestic London, waiting for you to explore.

LONG-TERM COVER TEACHING IN THE UK: A UNIQUE, REWARDING EXPERIENCE

PICTURE this: You have just arrived in London after months of planning, preparation and effort. You are seeking a new adventure, something different from the lifestyle and routine you had back home. First and foremost, however, you are hungry for an opportunity simply to be a teacher. To be given a chance to do what you feel is the best career for you. You know it will be hard, tricky at the very least. Still, you revel in the challenge; you are excited and look forward to to this new journey in your life. Having arrived, you immerse yourself in a rich culture and style of life in old, majestic and eclectic London. Routines emerge, comfort levels are reached, and you discover new and interesting things about yourself and who you are. Life is good.

Day-to-day cover teaching is usually the avenue of choice for most new teachers. It offers the prospect of learning about the British school system, standard routines you must follow and the overall feel of working in inner-city schools. You discover the true art of classroom management, gain some invaluable experience and the months slowly go by. It is a great way to start, and some choose to stay in this comfortable position of daily morning calls, working in a variety of interesting schools. Responsibilities are at a minimum and you can go home to your particular flat at the end of each day knowing the evening is yours and the weekends even more so.

After a half-term or so, some teachers in the UK begin to grow weary of the set routine of supply teaching. But this holds true for cover teaching in any school system in the world, to be honest. Waking up in the morning, not knowing whether you will be working or not that day, eventually becomes tiresome - especially mentally. If there is a single doubt in your mind about you working on a particular day, that doubt has an effect on you like no other. Your guard goes down and you relax as the minutes go by, waiting for that phone call. When it does eventually come - which could be anywhere between 7:05 and past 8 am - it is like you have to reset your mind all over again for the day ahead. You might have already put on your sleeping attire again for an early morning nap, guessing it was too late to get a call at the time. That is not to say you are lazy, unmotivated or anything of the sort. Never think that. It is natural for us to feel that way. Your mind will play tricks on you and the routine of no guarantees and inconsistency of cover work can be unhealthy and stressful. Hence the unappealing nature of day-to-day cover work for some. You just never know when you will be teaching. Many are comfortable with this. Yet, there are plenty of teachers who seek a different kind of challenge.

We have all heard about or seen the classic image of a teacher with their own classroom., students' work on display all over the room, and personal mementos aplenty - family pictures or banners of their favourite sports team hanging nearby. Maybe even movie posters and meaningful quotes on the wall behind their cluttered desk, a fresh apple placed casually in the corner. Every student knows this classic teacher, saying hi to them in the hallway, stopping him or her for a chat about their homework or discussing whether or not their projects are due that afternoon. A never ceasing wave of "Good morning, Sir!" and "Can I show you my book in class Miss?" It's lovely. This idyllic image of a school teacher's life is not far from the truth. If anything, it is quite common. 

How it is achieved is quite another thing. When living the life of a cover teacher, you simply do not have the opportunity to develop solid working relationships with the staff, or really get to know your students well and watch them progress in their education throughout the school year. You do not have the luxury of having your own classroom or time to organise it your way. You cannot truly get involved in the school's extra-curricular activities and really immerse yourself in the positive ethos and culture of the school and community. This is something that can only be achieved by becoming a long-term cover teacher and, eventually, a fully contracted teacher working at a single school on a permanent basis.

It is a tremendously exciting prospect, so unique and rewarding in many ways. You remember all those months, days and hours toiling away during Teacher's College, making lesson plans and enduring one practicum after another. Your hard work and effort finally comes to fruition when you become a long-term teacher at one school. The interesting lesson plans you remember designing all those months ago can once again be used. The creativity you once harnessed in your planning, the memorisation of different student names, developing a rapport with your very own pupils now suddenly becomes a reality.

Nevertheless, with this opportunity comes the responsibility that you take up as a long-term teacher. Your work doubles at the very least, your free evenings dwindle away and demanding deadlines suddenly arise. Days become more hectic, stress levels elevate, but one thing is certain: There is no aspect of teaching that is more fulfilling, more satisfactory than working at a single school full-time and long-term. It is in choosing this role that you can truly bloom as a teacher, growing beyond your expectations. Like most things, though, it is up to you to decide what's best for you.

THE LIFE OF A FULL-TIME TEACHER IN THE UK


TEACHING in London offers educators the opportunity to earn some invaluable experience working in challenging, rewarding schools, while also having the wonders of Europe close at hand. It is also a chance to change your surroundings, exploring a new country - not unlike your own - but a place that nevertheless brings a new perspective and way of life. And there are many others who truly look to London as a place to grow their careers, blossoming under cloudy skies and establishing themselves in a profession they have spent some time preparing for. As a full-time teacher, this goal can surely be achieved.

Being a full-time teacher brings consistency in your morning routine, as well as the obvious advantages of of being able to go to the same school on a daily basis throughout an entire school year. Unexpected issues and concerns rarely disturbed my morning preparations as I calmly had my cereal and prepared for work daily. Your mind is at ease during the walk to the local tube station, the pre-planned route becoming embedded in your mind within a few short weeks. You arrive at your school comfortably. A school's policies, procedures, curriculum and general layout of classrooms becomes second nature to you. Gone will be the days when you had to cover teach on a daily basis where confusion often reigned. Day-to-day cover is exceptional and vital when first arriving in London to teach. You discover the UK education system immediately, see the classroom management challenges first hand and start to advertise yourself to a variety of schools that may be looking to hire you long-term. When you do eventually do get to a longer placement, one thing becomes very blatantly clear:

Full-time teaching is a completely different biscuit.

When I first started working full-time in London, the first three weeks were incredibly challenging. There were so many teachers to meet - in my department as well as others, not to mention general staff members. There were also the difficulties of coming to grasp with the material you needed to teach the students - sometimes having to learn several poems or a novel within days because they had already started a particular unit previously. Deadlines being thrown at you, reports demanded. It can be quite overwhelming and certainly frustrating. However, the days go by and you survive. Taking each day at a time is essential when you are starting off. Once you actually settle down in your role, understand all the intricacies of the school and at least some semblance of the curriculum you will be teaching, things then become easier.

An increase in responsibilities brings with it other challenges. However, you need to come to terms with it and make the appropriate adjustments - whether it is in your lesson planning, efficiency at home while marking or general delivery of lessons during school hours. It can happen over a period of time or in a single moment one day as you are preparing for your afternoon lessons: Things click and start to gel.

You emerge from a cocoon of chaos and paperwork into a kind of focused zone. You get on top of your marking duties, start to lesson plan for the entire following week in one sitting. You begin to enjoy and to remember all the reasons you wanted to enter this profession. Colleagues become friends, helping you along the way, making sure you find it comfortable in your new surroundings. I have found teachers in the UK incredibly helpful, caring and diligent when it comes to assisting you with any issues you need: Locations of those hidden classrooms, student registers, pointing out which pupils to look out for, etc. The list goes on.

The most important advantage to being a full-time teacher is that you get to educate, observe and guide your students as they develop academically and personally over a span of several months. Watching students enjoy one of your lessons and produce work that is so inspiring to see is such a joy for me as a teacher. I enjoy the process of seeing my students understand the content, concepts and themes of novels and plays we are studying together. Or reading a student's carefully planned short story on a chilly Sunday afternoon in the winter when you know they spent the last two weeks writing and editing it, spelling and grammar mistakes few and far between. You build a rapport with your students and you become a part of a family, of sorts, at a single school where everyone looks out  for each other with a desire to see success at different levels.

There are several other advantages to becoming a full-time teacher, including the actual experience, job security, chances for professional development and involvement in extra-curricular activities. Still, full-time is certainly not for everyone. It takes a lot of hard work, patience and focus. Also, many schools do have difficult students that make learning and teaching a real challenge. Just remember, they too are in the same fold and you should never give up on them.

The advantages of becoming a full-time teacher are too numerous to list. Be strong. Be resilient.  Be ready for new things and the changes that come along with them. Most of all, gather all those experiences, soak them up within you and learn with each day. We can always become better teachers.

HOW TO APPROACH THE DEMO LESSON DURING A TEACHING JOB INTERVIEW

GENERALLY when you first make your way into teaching - most notably as a cover teacher - one does not cross paths with the observers of lessons. Understandably, you are at the school covering for the day, just passing by while delivering a small collection of lessons to kids in various subjects. This changes once you make the decision to go into more long-term teaching.

In the UK, for example, when you are asked to come in for an interview for a long-term cover position - or hopefully, permanent post - yes, there is an interview stage, filled with questions about your past experience, your specific schooling and the intricacies of getting to know you as an educator and a person. However, there is every so often the prospect of a demo lesson and observation to go through as a direct part of your interview process. Here, the lead teacher of the particular department you are applying for, will quite literally toss you into a classroom to teach a very short lesson - usually 20-30 minutes long - to a group of students you have never seen in your life. To many this potential ordeal may seem terrifying. It can be difficult, intimidating, and most certainly can put many out of their comfort zones.

Nevertheless, that is the challenge that makes it so interesting. Even in today's evolving education where critical thinking and student-centered learning is the way forward, teaching in front of 30 students every day is a sort of performance. You prepare, or are given a script - a lesson plan - which in turn you deliver, or perform, to the students you are teaching. Most of the time you guide students as an educator, but there is still the element of standing in front of a group of people and needing to capture their attention - to command the room. It is the ones that embrace this who can really thrive going forward.

As you conduct your impromptu - albeit short - lesson plan, you may find that the students will be very much engaged. I remember one of my experiences where the lead teacher was very accommodating and placed me in a class filled with her own Year 12 students - mature, attentive and more than willing to participate in whatever few classroom discussions or activities I had planned. Nothing to fear, on top of the fact that the lead teacher was sitting right there, making sure that any disruptions were few and far between.

The pressure can be great, especially knowing that a big part of their decision for hiring you long-term rests on the observation itself. Still, this is where the performance is most vital. More than that, however, it is confidence in your own abilities as a teacher that counts the most. The lesson plan guides you and sets the overlaying foundation of your lesson. Yet, it is faith in your skills - your delivery of the lesson, the way you interact with the students and the timing of each aspect of the lesson that is most important.

When you do succeed in securing a coveted long-term position, lesson observations come and go with the passing of the seasons and terms. Looking forward to Halloween this evening? You didn't hear? Lesson observations tomorrow afternoon. Spring break just around the corner? Check your e-mail. I think it's time to take a look at your lesson plans for the day. It is as if you are a travelling company of actors, expected to 'perform' as the drop of a hat, rain or shine, at whatever date or time of the day.

Getting used to lesson observations early on is key. It all starts with that demo lesson. Of course there will be comments, suggestions and, sometimes, objections or resistance to certain methods a teacher may have in a classroom. Things might not go as splendidly for you as originally planned, but they also can go perfectly right. Listening to observers make their comments, criticisms and suggestions is all part of the process. How you react to it is the most important thing. You can be negative, self-critical, dejected and even downright opposed to the views of the observer, whether they are objective or not. Nevertheless, being positive about any demo lesson or observation is just as critical. Learning to understand what the observer is trying to convey to you and seeing the overall picture of improvement he or she is most concerned about is what matters the most. You accept another person's view - who is in a position to comment on your teaching methods and delivery - and you apply it to your next lesson. Like our students, every educator is always in the process of learning as well.

We all have bad days at school, whether from struggling with classroom management to the timing of the lesson and things not going exactly as planned. But another day is another day and with it comes the chance to shine anew on the stage of teaching - whether during an interview or in the full-time job itself.

REMEMBERING THOSE BUSY LONDON DAYS AS A TEACHER


THE SUN's magnificent rays have just peeked over the horizon. Clouds hang scattered across the sky, intercepting the bright light intermittently. Rain will surely fall by noon. However, spring has arrived and the weather is heating up. Morning has come in London, the streets are growing louder and another exciting day of teaching beckons me.

I usually arrive at school sometime before 8:30. Many teachers choose to come to school much earlier in the mornings in order to complete any last minute marking or tweak a lesson plan here or there. I prefer to do as much as I can the previous night, enabling me to have a more relaxing commute the next morning. It really depends on the teacher's preference. Upon arriving at the school, I usually have some time to print out any necessary handouts for the day or just check my school e-mail account. At times it can be flooded in the mornings with new messages and awaiting reports that need looking at. However, that's all part of running the high school ship. All in all, mornings can be hectic if you're not prepared. Knowing exactly what you will be doing in all your lessons the previous night, or days before, is essential.

Briefing always follows right before the first bell. During a briefing session, teachers and staff are usually gathered in the staff room to listen to any significant announcements for the day. All teachers go to their home form rooms soon after the first bell sounds. Your home form for the entire school year could be a Year 7 class, maybe even Year 10, it really does vary. The home form period can be anywhere from 10 minutes up to 20. Here I take the register (attendance) for my boisterous group of Year 8s, as well as give them any important messages that their particular year group has to know about for the day.

Some days you could have free periods. I take the time during those periods to do some planning, finish up marking, or anything else that will set up my day better. You can always be assigned substitution work on those days as well, covering for another teacher in their absence. The best advice I can give about those occurrences is to simply get used to it. I cover from 2 to 3 lessons every week and many other teachers do the same.

On this particular day, I am teaching double English to my lively Year 8 students. Ironically enough, they are usually quite attentive in the mornings. Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is the focus for today's lesson as we are learning about the context and background of Caesar's Rome at the time before his assassination. Eyes follow the PowerPoint presentation keenly, and questions abound of Caesar's many exploits, his ruthlessness and why he was murdered. We will begin reading the play soon enough and it's always nice to explore drama and literature, among other things, during these spring days before exams suddenly creep up on them.

During breaks - in this case between first and second period - it's always best to have a quick, filling snack that picks up your energy. A banana or apple will suffice. In all honesty, though, it is so vital to get a good night's sleep. There is no time for fatigue when 30+ students are hanging on your every word and waiting to be shown something interesting or given instructions on what to do during a lesson - although dosing off can be common for some of them in the mornings!

Lunch is also very important. Packing your own lunch is advisable because you never know where you will be working. I believe most schools have a cafeteria where you can buy food, but many of them revolve around a card system where you have to upload money - much like an Oyster card for the transport system in London. Also, you might be in a school that is really settled into a suburban neighbourhood, a fair distance away from a convenient store or supermarket. Preparing your own food beforehand ensure that you have your lunch ready to go as soon as the bell strikes for lunch. Key point: Eat some food. You will need it in the afternoon!

The rest of the day runs just as briskly as the morning. Teaching a group of Year 11s the play, An Inspector Calls, can get dull at times, but it is our job to make it stimulating, educational, and also to convey the importance of preparing for exams properly. At the end of the day, students need to achieve good grades to get to where they want to be. A balance of seriousness and good humour is always necessary.  Good motivation is vital too. Today's class is reasonably focused and questions about revision keep sprouting up. I want my students to excel at their exams and answering a vast array of queries, while giving them a chance to work on practice questions and answers is the least I can do.

I remember when I first found a long-term placement I had to explore texts, plays and material that I had never seen before. Ever. I had to be flexible. There can be a situation when you are placed in a school fairly late in the academic year and you will have to work from Easter until the end of the year. In this case, you could be preparing GCSE students (Years 10-11) for their final exams, looking at material that they learned last autumn and are quite familiar with. It seems comical, but you have to prepare yourself first by reading all the works in detail, and then plan how you will teach them to revise it. Our experience reading rapidly and digesting information quickly and in a short amount of time gives us one solid advantage at least. Colleagues and working as a team in your department helps greatly here as well.

As my day comes to a hectic flourish, I can think of several things that embody a typical school day in London: It's incredibly fulfilling, filled with good educational discussions, firm classroom discipline at times, and plenty of good cheer and laughter. Once you get used to a school and all the student get to know you, you never feel any dread going to work, or wariness surrounding you. Days go by swiftly and you enjoy the routine. Still, it never really feels that way. Variety and diverse situations arise every day. It keeps you on your toes and your energy high.

Leaving school for the day, I can see the sun still firmly placed in the sky. birds singing happily along a line of trees and shrubs. It is a spectacularly pleasant sight. I can only imagine how nice it will be this summer term, and the positive energy that will come with a bright, sunny afternoon awaiting you after a long day in the classroom.

-Dusan Sekulic, 2013

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