Student Teaching in London

The First Week

Wednesday, Nov.4

This morning was my first experience of a major delay on the underground. The subway in London is old (it even has wooden escalators at Manor House station), expensive, crowded, slow, and extremely unpleasant. It's even more unpleasant when there is a delay. But it is the quickest way to get around London, and it can be tolerable. I finally did make it to Arsenal and to St. John's without being late. As if that's not bad enough, I'm still suffering from jet-lag.

This was the day I made the astonishing discovery that there aren't water fountains at St. John's! There are a couple of things like water fountains out in the schoolyard, and kids can get drinks in the bathroom, but other than that there are no water fountains in the school. As I went around London more, I began to realize that there is a general lack of water fountains throughout all of London. Water fountains are very rare there; the only place I can remember having found one was in the National Gallery.

At assembly that morning, the lesson concerned safety with fireworks. In London, unlike here in Pennsylvania, it is perfectly legal for people to have and set off their own fireworks. Guy Fawkes Day was coming up, which is the reason for the big safety campaign at this time of year.

Back in class, the day began with maths. I went around hearing children read.

That morning, there were lessons on breakfasts. My co-op read the class the history of Kellogg's, which the children had to re-write in their own words later that day. I explained to the class about American breakfasts. I remember Michelle was quite confused about what French Toast is. Afterwards, the children started making up "breakfast charts", comparing what each other eats for breakfast.

Today I learned a new word: rubber. That means eraser. That is one of the most common words, and it was good thing I learned what the word means to English kids quickly.

They have a computer that is brought into the classroom for them to work on too. It is a brand of computer I had never heard of before, a "Nimbus" computer. When they use the computer, I would call it simply playing games. American educational computer programs do perhaps get a little too dry with drill-and-practice, but the English programs were just games.

For "dinner" (lunch) there was stew, and for desert rhubarb pie with hot custard. They pour hot custard over just about anything they have for desert.

In the afternoon, they made posters. The main theme was "Don't be Flash with Fireworks." I asked the co-op what it means by "flash" but she couldn't explain it to me. They also went on with other work from the morning.

After second play, I presented a treat I had brought: Rachel's Brownies. I had wanted to bring some local food with me for the children to try. Rachel's Brownies were the most local kind of food we have where I live. I had two boxes of frozen brownies. They survived the plane ride, and then had been kept in the staff room (teachers' lounge) refrigerator since yesterday. The children had never heard of brownies before. There was enough for everybody, and they were very popular.

This afternoon, I went out by myself. I went to Westminster Cathedral. I took the subway down to Victoria station, which takes about an hour to get to, all the way on the other side of Zone One.

Westminster Cathedral is a big, beautiful church. I went to vespers, then confession, then Mass at 5:30 (I didn't know about any of that beforehand). Afterwards, I went to the rectory, and copied the addresses of some of the churches in London from the Directory, to find a church to go to on Sundays, and bought a Catholic Herald newspaper for 30p.

For dinner, I bought a Cornish Pastry (that can be eaten hot or cold) for 65p, and ate it on the way back, cold of course.

The currency in England is in "pounds" and "pence" and looks very much like American money. That made it extremely difficult to use, because the English pound is worth a lot more than a dollar! That makes it hard for me to realize how much things actually cost, because I couldn't help thinking of 65p as being 65 cents, even though it isn't. Change is pronounced 65 "P". One nice thing about English money, though, is that they almost always use coins, and the coins are much bigger and heavier than American coins. This makes them easier to use.

Thursday, Nov.5

Today (Guy Fawkes Day) was not as bad on the tube as the day before had been.

The morning started out, as usual, after assembly, with maths and hearing readers. I noticed that besides calling it "maths" there are other differences between England and America in mathematics. For one thing, the answer to any maths problem is called a "sum", whether it's addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division, unlike in America, where the word "sum" refers exclusively to an addition problem. Another difference is that the English always use the word "and" when saying large numbers, like "two hundred and fifty", which is taboo in American math classes. The different way of carrying, putting it at the bottom, is peculiar to the particular maths book the children there use, the co-op explained to me. The main maths book they use is a Scottish text book.

There is also the more obvious difference of using the metric system, though English measurements are still understood, but simply not used as often. One thing which was a surprise is that they say their own weight in "stones" (which is 14 pounds).

That day, the children had Drama. They go to the school hall for that, most of the time. They acted out, in pairs, making new friends, and how it is when a person is irritated.

They also made potatoes that day. They used a stove in class 6 to make "potatoes in jackets" (baked potatoes). They turned out pretty good.

There was a Geography lesson that day, about combines. First, the teacher read from the textbook. A list of questions was written on card which was then hung up, which the children had to answer at their seats.

This was when I noticed that one of the girls, Nicola, was having a serious problem with comprehension, as I "floated". She couldn't find the answers to the questions in the book. Even with my help, she still had a lot of trouble with it.

That day, I also was given a small group of about four children who were having trouble, to work on maths with them.

During play that day, a couple of the little kids (Christopher and Hazel) came over to talk with me again. Christopher thought my name was funny.

After school, there was a staff meeting in the staff room. A science teacher comes in and talks about science. That day it had to do with sequencing objects in a row of sealed cups.

There was also some work done on taste. Some experiments were done with tasting without smelling, and distinguishing flavors. They used different flavors of "crisps" (potato chips). England does have a wide variety of different flavors of potato chips - excuse me - crisps. (I had talked with the children about the different words for "chips" and "crisps" we have; they thought that was very strange.)

I did some shopping that day. I had some mango soda, which I never had again! Mangoes seem very popular with the English.

A group of about a half dozen of us student teachers went out to see the Guy Fawkes Day fireworks. The closest big display was at Highbury Park. We took the tube there. It was like a fair there, with rides and food being sold. We got plenty of sweets waiting for the fireworks! I bought a coke, a hot dog, and parfaits. It seemed strange to be at a fair like that in November!

For some reason, nobody else was interested in going up close to the fireworks. I went up by myself to where the fireworks were to be set off. The others missed a lot: some very nice ground displays. In general, I thought the English fireworks display was much more impressive than anything I had ever seen for our Fourth of July.

After the fireworks is the bonfire. I was not very interested in watching that. I saw it going up while I was leaving, anyway. I went home by myself. I don't know how I did it, but somehow I found the tube station, and made my way back to Kent House.

That night, we were to make our big move from the cramped room 4 on the first floor, to the big and spacious room 26 on the third floor. I really didn't want to move. It was very convenient living on the first floor: going in and out of the room, wandering by to see what's on TV in the lounge, having a kitchen available (the second floor had another kitchen, but the third floor did not), and the old room faced the back, which made the room quieter. My roommate was more used to constant traffic noise from living in Lock Haven, than I was from living in Malvern. That would make it hard to sleep for the next week or two, which was just what I needed as I still tried to get over my jet-lag. I finally gave in and agreed to the move.

Later that night, my roommate talked me into going to the pub with him. I went, for a little while. People were watching the movie there, "Murder by Death". I'm not a pub-goer like he is (with the exception of about four or five nights, he'd spend every night until very late out at a pub).

Friday, Nov.6

Friday morning began with a dense, thick fog! (Well, what'd you expect, being in England.) I got a nice early start to school that morning.

This morning started with getting the Nimbus computer out of class 3. It's kept locked in a safe, with a golden key no less. Then I'd set it up in the classroom (in class 2).

Today, my job was to be to pick a single child, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, to watch closely and record carefully whatever the person does. This has to do with the English individualization and the necessity for getting to know each child as a unique individual. I picked Nina and Nicola.

The children finished their geography work (about combines) from yesterday. They had an R.E. (Religion Education) lesson: the story of Samson. They have children's Bibles, to read the story, and then they retell it in their own words, and draw a picture. They also made up advertisements for Kellogg's.

I had picked Nicola to observe for the morning because there was a chair I was using for my seat which was right next to Nicola, so I could watch her closely and she wouldn't notice that I was observing her. Nicola sat in a desk by herself.

She came in at 9:58. She helped give out the geography books, asked what page the assignment was on, and went right to work. She had a great deal of trouble with it, remembering the lesson from yesterday, and finding answers on the page. The first question she had trouble with was about separating ears and straw; she couldn't remember, from yesterday's lecture, which part was which, but then it helped her to figure it out when I said people eat the ear and the straw is used for animals. She got one question answered before assembly.

After assembly, she went around to get her pencil sharpened, going to Juliette, then to Shuna, then to Joanne, then she looked at the corn stalk in class. Five minutes later, she finally got back to her seat and got around to getting back to work.

She had some trouble with another question, because she had no idea where Montreal is.

She took some more time out to watch Juliette and Jessica and Huseyin take the times table tests (there is a chart up on the wall, and as each person learns a times table, a star is put in that column in the chart).

On one question (which had to do with the ships coming in to the docks), she insisted that she couldn't answer it, but then I told her to answer it out loud. She did, and then I told her to write down just what she had just told me. Then she was able to answer the question!

On the next question, she didn't understand the word "port" but then when I substituted the word "city" she was able to figure out the answer.

Huseyin was doing sewing (which he always has trouble with). Nicola got up out of her seat to help him with it. Huseyin also sits in a desk by himself, near Nicola.

On the next question, she got help from Anna. Then she asked me for some more help on the next question, but then she did figure out the answer herself.

Then the next part of the geography work was making a flow chart. She needed a complete explanation of what a flow chart is. She concentrated on doing that for about 15 minutes, then went on to reading, and then back to coloring the flow chart.

Her work was frequently interrupted with getting up and doing other things or talking to people.

Eventually, at 10:19, she did finish her geography, and got on to R.E. She read it and wrote it out very fast, but accurately.

After playtime that morning, she started with her own sewing.

Then she helped give out the maths books, and got to work in that, after hunting for someone with a pencil sharpener. She forgot to put down the date, until I reminded her. She had trouble with the sums because she would forget to put down zeroes. I made her erase the first problem and spread it out, to give her more room. She works very hard, when she does work. Finally, she was quite pleased with herself that she had gotten caught up with Michelle.

In the afternoon, they were started on long multiplication, shown the steps for it. Then there was a spelling test, and swimming.

In the afternoon, while I was watching Nina, they didn't do too much to see before swimming, except for the spellings test, the part of a fantasy novel which the co-op read to the class, to develop listening skills. But the class does not seem to find that story interesting. I can't say I did either. While the co-op read them the story, Nina used a can of markers to draw pictures of curves. She often asked for help from Shelley, who sat right next to her.

For spelling, every week they are given about 16 words to study. Fridays are scheduled for spelling tests. They grade each other's afterwards. The scores are not formally recorded or averaged at the end; there is no formal evaluations of tests as in America. That's not the British way.

During most of the test, Nina had a sadly perplexed look, and she seemed very upset by it. She kept having to ask what the word was. When the time came to swap books for each other to mark, she refused to trade! Shelley and Lindsay, at her table, tried to swap with her, but she would not do it. So they swapped with each other. They marked each other's books honestly and as carefully as they could. Nina marked her own. At first she marked the word "steal" wrong, but then she fixed that. She did get all the words correct.

I paid the £5.40 for the week's "dinners", still not fully comprehending how much I was paying. That day I had had something called "egg-in-a-nest" and a cupcake (covered with hot custard, of course). The day before, the dessert had been pudding (pudding means cake) and custard.

Every Friday ends with swimming at a swimming pool in Highbury, from 2:00 to 3:30. Everybody in the class takes a bus there.

My co-op and I had a good chance to talk there. We talked mostly about the lack of curriculum guides in England. She pointed out that she thinks there would be advantages to having curriculum guides: it would help to have content in front of you to teach.

During the class that day, I had noticed two words pronounced quite differently in England: vitamin. They accent the first syllable and make all the vowels short. The other word was advertisement: they accent the second syllable and make the i short.

Saturday, Nov.7

Now came my first full week-end in London.

I slept in late, and was out the door as soon as I got up and dressed.

I went to Covent Gardens, the major shopping centre of London. It was interesting, but I was a little disappointed. There wasn't quite as much there as I was hoping to see.

It's like a mall, but more open-air. There are also concerts given there.

There was one interesting, unique store. It sells animated toys. They were very complicated, and old-fashioned-looking. There are a lot more of them inside the store, but it cost about a pound to go inside and it didn't look like it would be worth it, so I didn't.

From there, I went to Leicester Square. That's where the bookstores are, row after row of bookstores. There's one street, Charing Cross Road, which has "the greatest concentration of second-hand bookstores in the world." I liked it there.

For lunch, I had had something called "country pie", which is like shepherd's pie, in a restaurant. For dinner, I had a hamburger in a Quick restaurant, which is a very popular European chain of fast-food restaurants.

The one other thing I did that day was make my second (collect) phone-call home.

Sunday, Nov.8

This marked my first full week in England.

At 10:00, I went to Mass at St. Thomas More Church, the local parish church, which was, I suppose you could say, around the corner. However you'd describe it, it was very close. But I didn't care for that church. One thing I found interesting was that they sang the song I know as "Morning Has Broken", which I knew was a traditional Celtic tune with modern words, but they sang it with the words of St. Patrick's Breastplate. It really fit very well, and sounded much nicer. But in general I didn't like it there, and did not go to that church again.

I went out for lunch and dinner. For dinner I got a steak and kidney pie at a little food stand. I never got one of them again!

I just happened to run into a parade for Remembrance Day at Trafalgar Square. I stopped and watched that. Trafalgar Square is an interesting place: it's full of pigeons, which will land on people, and eat right out of their hands!

The Second Week

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