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.

You can go home again

I’ve spent the past eleven days back home in Thunder Bay, enjoying my break and catching up with friends and family. It has been good. I have reconnected with our cats, who began merrily disassembling the Christmas tree one ornament at a time approximately an hour after we put it up. I saw my 3.5-year-old nephew and gave him some gifts courtesy Scotland. I hung out with my mom, watching movies and drinking tea and baking cinnamon buns. And I did much the same with my dad, minus the cinnamon bun part (he did bake two pumpkin pies, though, while I happened to be in the house—does that count?). I saw a few groups of friends, learned how to play Cards Against Humanity, Munchkin, and a few other fun games. Good times.

Now they are over, and I fly back to Toronto in slightly more than four hours. From there, I take an 8 pm flight back to England and a four hour coach trip up to Bury. Perhaps my least favourite part of travelling (aside from the travelling) is how much time it consumes! However, there is nothing I can do about that. I can only make sure I have a good book or two, some movies and games, and my earbuds, and try to enjoy myself.

That has been a familiar mantra for a while now. Teaching makes it hard to switch off. There is always something to do, something to mark or plan or ever so slightly tweak so that it is ready for the next lesson, next day, next week. Plus, I find it so easy to procrastinate. It didn’t help that I had two somewhat contradictory goals going into this holiday: to relax as much as possible, and to get a good grip on my plans for the next half-term. I think I erred on the relaxing side, and that was the right call. I did plan a little, and I am going to get better at this as I go along. (Right?)

Coming home was an excellent tonic for the stress and homesickness that had started to accumulate like a toxin in my bloodstream. I wouldn’t say I was terribly homesick, but I did miss home more than I thought I would. Aside from the usual attractions, such as friends and family, I miss the familiarity of Thunder Bay. I miss being able to set out in any direction and walk around with a confident knowledge of the town. In Bury, I know the route to and from the Town Centre or ASDA, and that’s about it. I haven’t had the time or inclination to explore further—and while that’s my doing, it still speaks to how little of a connection I have there so far. I’ve settled well into where I live, and I like my roommate, and the market, but it still isn’t home.

Being home has also emphasized how much I want to end up teaching in or near Thunder Bay. That had always been the plan, but there was of course that little seed of doubt in my mind, planted there by the knowing smiles of others who seemed convinced that, once I experienced the wider world, I wouldn’t look back. But this is where I want to live, and the Ontario curriculum is what I want to teach. It’s probably going to be a few more years before that becomes possible, but I’m more fixated on this goal than ever.

As for teaching in England, it continues to be a mixture of challenge and reward. I try to dichotomize the challenges into what I can control and what I can’t—and most of them are on the can’t side, at least for now. Perhaps my major challenge is simply my newness—to the school, the students, and to teaching. I don’t have the toolkit of experience other teachers necessarily have, so when I reach into that kit, I often scrape the bottom quite quickly. This amplifies other challenges that might not otherwise be as daunting.

There are rewards though, and it’s important not to lose sight of that. From the smiles that students give me to all of the new things I’ve learned since September, there is a huge set of positives to this experience. The last week of the last term was difficult for staff and students: schedules were mixed up because of ongoing revision, and everyone was ready to go home for the holidays. But that last hour, when the entire school squeezed into the hall to listen to some students perform, that was good. There was a sense of community that needs to be there more often.

What am I looking forward to this term? In Year 11 English, we will finally be done with the English Language exam revision that has essentially been our material for the past four months. We get to move on to English Literature, which means studying A Christmas Carol first!

If you had told me a year ago that I would be living in a foreign country and coming home for the holidays, I would have laughed in your face. I was so determined to stay home—and then almost a year ago, I went to a career fair, and the idea of teaching in England was planted in my mind. It still seemed like a longshot … but here I am. And I’m staying, at least until the end of this school year—July!—and probably next year as well.

I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions. I enjoyed Meekakitty’s video on the subject, and I definitely resolve to “be happy” and not stress about what I can’t change. I can’t change the fact that I’m living and working in England, so I’m going to try to enjoy it as much as possible. More trips, funky photos, and hopefully, lots of enjoyable books await me in 2013. Until then … well, I have two plane rides, The Princess Bride, and Neil Turok’s CBC Massey Lectures in literary form to keep me company.