My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

I teach now. Teaching is cool

I’ve had a long and interesting week, so let’s get started.

As some background, my school has two sites (North and South) as an artifact of combining two schools. North site is undergoing extensive renovation, with an entire new building being added, so South site is being phased out. I’m teaching entirely in one room on South site. Aside from having a Promethean board instead of a SMART board, I’m OK with this. Firstly, South site is a lot quieter. Secondly, it’s only five minutes (or less) from a bus stop on the route between Thetford and Bury. I have a ride, thanks to a teacher who lives literally at the end of the block, but it’s good to have a backup plan.

I was told to show up bright and early on Monday morning. Since everyone else was starting on Tuesday, I took the bus, and then took a cab to the slightly more distant North site. The other teachers with my agency arrived shortly thereafter … and no one was expecting us. No one was really there. The administrative staff put us in a room, gave us tea and coffee, and printed off our timetables. Then we left. To save on cab fare I walked back to the bus station—it’s actually not as bad a walk as Google Maps told me it would be—and was back in Bury, and back home, by noon!

Tuesday was the real first day. It and Wednesday were both professional development days. Tuesday we were at North site, and on Wednesday we were on South site, so I had a chance to see my classroom and obtain keys and an ID badge. It felt so official! Everyone, from teachers to admin staff to cleaning staff to techs, has been very helpful and supportive. One particular Canadian teacher who started there last year has gone out of her way to help us get acclimated; I swear she’s in multiple places at once. I’m also lucky enough to belong, in a sense, to two departments—math and English—so I kind of get the support of both.

The first day of school was Thursday. However, I did not teach owing to the quirks of the first day and my schedule. On Thursdays, I teach Year 9 math in the first period. Then, before lunch, I have two hours of AS Level (also called “Year 12” or “sixth form”) English Literature. My remaining periods are free or planning. On the first day, period 1 was absorbed into Tutor (more on that in a moment), and the sixth form students don’t return until Monday.

So I had the benefit of having the entire first day to organize my classroom. That was great. I love that I have my own classroom that I can decorate any way I want. It’s on the smaller side and lacks true counter/shelf space, but I’ll make it work. There are some useful things on the walls already. However, I plan to add my own touch. A few Doctor Who posters arrived from ThinkGeek today. I’ve been trying to find some good math or English educational posters, but it has been difficult. I hope to have a math board and an English board. I also shipped myself some books before I left Canada … they should arrive … eventually.

The downside of my easy first day, however, was that I became more apprehensive about teaching as the day went on. Everyone else had at least one class under their belt … and there I was, moving books and dusting shelves. So come Friday, I was pretty nervous. It didn’t help that the projector in my room wasn’t working. (Fortunately, I had met one of the technicians on Wednesday. Somehow, being nice to people—particularly technicians and admin staff—means they are willing to help you out more quickly. I couldn’t get a working projector for today, but he cobbled together another from spare parts and said he would install it over the weekend.)

Also, I spilled a glass of water all over my desk during the first period, soaking quite a few rather nifty documents I had acquired during my first few days. Oops. Having reached a rather low point before I had done much teaching, it seemed like the day could only improve. (I hate to think what would have happened if the day had gotten worse!)

Today I taught Year 9 English, Set 4; Year 11 English, Set 2; Year 11 Math, Set 5; and Year 9 Math, Set 1. I’m not going to go into the entire byzantine nature of the English education system—I don’t want to be too judgemental after only one day, but so far I can say that I find Ontario’s far preferable—but the year numbers are one ahead of ours (so Year 9s would be our Grade 8s). Sets are kind of like the academic/applied streaming of Ontario high schools, but not really like them at all. Essentially, lower-numbered sets have higher-ability students—set 1 is the “top set” and sets 5 or 6 are the “bottom sets”. As you can see from my schedule, I have a variety of sets, so I’m going to get a lot of experience this year!

This day went fine. It went about how I expected. I didn’t actually teach any math or English. I drew out the hour by explaining my classroom procedures and my expectations—and I asked each class about their expectations. I tried to establish that I could be nice, and funny, and relaxed when I chose—but I was also firm. I even gave a few detentions, here or there, to establish some boundaries as to what I would and would not tolerate.

One class was more challenging than the others in terms of behaviour, but I was not surprised by that given what some of the other teachers had told me. They are similar to a class I had during my first practicum, I think, so hopefully I can draw upon that experience. My last class of the day was almost pleasant—I made the kids laugh, and they were the only class who made me laugh. A teacher recently told me my laughter sounds like Jimmy Carr’s, and today a student also remarked upon the similarity. I wasn’t sure who that was at first, though I now know that I’ve seen him before on QI and 8 Out of 10 Cats. I see the similarity.

I’m reluctant to make too many predictions. This year will be challenging, just as I was told it would be. So far I have not gone running for the hills, and so far I don’t think I’m in the wrong profession. We’ll see if I feel the same way come Christmas!

This weekend will mostly be planning. I don’t want to plan too much every weekend, but for now I need to familiarize myself with the units I’ll be teaching this term, and build up a kind of buffer. Teaching is definitely not a 9 to 5 job, no matter where the pay grade gets frozen….

Also, I wear bow ties now. Bow ties are cool.

Me, in my new teaching kit: bow tie, sports coat, trousers, shoes.

The resemblance to the 11th Doctor’s attire is definitely there (no suspenders though). However, aside from the bow tie, it’s all what I got when I went shopping for interview-worthy clothes, which also included regular ties. Obviously Matt Smith’s wardrobe influenced my adoption of the bow tie, but if I could I wouldn’t wear anything around my neck at all. As it is, I have to wear some kind of tie—and bow ties are cool because they don’t get in the way and just dangle uselessly like regular ties. The three I have right now are all pre-tied. I aim to get a few more soon, and at some point, if I am brave enough, I’ll start practising how to tie one for real.

Some days are going to be longer than others. So far, though, the people are helpful and the students—while challenging—will occasionally be rewarding. We’ll see how next week goes.