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.

Home via Halifax

I’m home. I’m sitting in my bedroom, in my slightly-too-short-for-this-desk rolling chair, a cup of tea in my big blue Eeyore mug to my right, and my fabulous bookshelves to my left.

Oh, and my room is a mess. My suitcases lie on the floor in front of the bookshelves and TV, bulging and gravid with my life in England. I haven’t even attempted to unpack yet. I need to tidy the room first, for it has become mired in the accumulated kipple of two years’ near-continuous absence. Snuggled between the cases and the shelf are books I didn’t succeed in getting rid of before leaving. More books that I haven’t read yet are strewn around my room: on my desk, atop my dresser, in envelopes and boxes and bubble-wrapped packages. I have a lot of work to do, and a lot of organization.

So I’m blogging instead.

My flight across the Atlantic was uneventful. It was my first transatlantic flight with Air Canada, and they were surprisingly punctual. I was a bit bored; fortunately, because I was flying to Halifax, the flight was only six and a half hours instead of the eight and a half it takes to get to Toronto.

I went to Halifax for two reasons. First, it’s where one of my friends from university, Erica, lives now, and I wanted to visit her. Second, two of the Canadian teachers—Jill and Tristan—from my school in England were getting married there. I had already been toying with the idea of visiting Erica on my back home, and then serendipitously, Jill and Tristan invited me to their wedding. So I had two reasons to stop in Halifax, plus I already had a date for the wedding. “Sorted”, as they say in England.

Looking back in my archives, I was surprised to find that I have never actually blogged properly about my second student teaching practicum and Erica. So let me take a moment to rectify this gross oversight. You can skip the story and go right to the Halifax part if you like.

In Thunder Bay, there often aren’t enough associate teachers for the number of student teachers the university likes to churn out every year, so two student teachers will be assigned to “team teach” and share an associate and their classes. This was the situation in which I found myself in April 2012, assigned to a Grade 8 teacher with Erica as my partner. I had never met Erica before. While I can be a team player when the occasion calls for it, I prefer to work independently, and naturally I was anxious about this idea of team-teaching. Erica put all those fears to rest quite quickly, and our partnership was one of the best times of my entire five years at university.

Erica is one of the most outgoing, amiable, sunny people I’ve ever met. She has no trouble slipping into unfamiliar social milieus and making new friends. She is, in other words, quite different from me—and that proved to be a great boon. We complemented each other so well. She was amazing under pressure, especially with the random Grade 2 gym class we taught. She could improvise, ice-break, and come up with cool ways to deliver tough ideas to Grade 7 and 8 students. I was very organized, could help keep an eye on the big picture, and of course, I could teach math. It’s useful to be able to teach math….

So Erica and I rocked our second practicum. And the “team-teaching” thing? We took that literally: we planned and delivered lessons together, as a team. If I was delivering a lesson on fractions to the Grade 7s, Erica would be circulating, managing behaviour, keeping students on task, and even chiming in with the occasional question to get students thinking. If Erica was trying to get students writing about a famous photo, I’d be walking around, prompting them. This was back during Occupy Wall Street, so we split them into groups and made them assume the roles of both the bankers and the occupiers so they could debate the issue.

Team-teaching is one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I would jump to do it again in a heartbeat (with the right person). It wasn’t until well-into our practicum that our associate teacher remarked that our approach was unusual. Apparently, we were the first of her pairs of student teachers to collaborate so closely, whereas in the past one would just sit in the back of the class, marking or planning, while the other was delivering a lesson. Huh. The idea of doing that never once crossed our minds: as far as Erica and I were concerned, we were a team, so we worked as one.

Here’s a dirty little secret they don’t tell you in teacher’s college: it’s very lonely in that classroom.

Oh, sure, you’ve got twenty to thirty other people in the room. But unless you have an assistant of some sort in there, you are likely the only adult in that room; you are likely around only children for the majority of the day. Having done this for two years now in a classroom of my own, I can attest to how draining this is.

Having another person to help you, another teacher, is so good. I know it’s not practical in today’s atmosphere, where it seems that governments are interested in marching as many students past a teacher as quickly as possible in some kind of factory conveyor of education. But it is really so good, both for teachers and for students.

So, I flew to Halifax from London and stayed with Erica for a couple of days. She’s working as a residence coordinator and loving it. (I think it’s so cool that I’ve got friends from university scattered across the country now. I’m almost like an adult … I’ve got connections.) She showed me around Halifax. We went to Peggy’s Cove, which is every bit as phenomenonally beautiful and picturesque as it should be, and had the “world’s best ice cream” from Cows. I’m not sure I have a sensitive enough palate to judge the ice cream, but the waffle cone? Fantastic.

When Erica wasn’t playing tour guide, we chilled out and watched Hell’s Kitchen and Masterchef. She was on vacation too. I like to think I’m a low-maintenance houseguest.

But, of course, the highlight of the trip was the wedding. It was at the White Point Beach Resort, nearly two hours out of Halifax. Erica gamely drove both ways—the drive home being at night, in heavy and very scary fog, so I commend her. I also had the chance to reunite briefly with another Canadian teacher from my school in England, Josie, who shares my birthday down to the year. So the three of us went to see Jill and Tristan get married, and then the two of them got to watch me dance. (I’m kidding: Josie and Erica danced as well. In fact, there was a lot of dancing at this wedding. People were pretty enthusiastic, and it was a very convivial atmosphere for the entire night.)

Josie, Erica, and myself posed in pirate hat and boa and tiara at the wedding.

I’m so happy for Jill and Tristan. Jill also taught math, so I worked closely with her this year. Whenever I was bored, or I needed to steal some resources, or I just needed a sympathetic ear, her classroom was only two doors down, and she was usually playing Canadian radio. Tristan, who variously taught DT and geography, depending on the whims of the school, had the first subject’s classroom right next to me. So I often stopped to say hello on my way to the photocopier, and we’d talk video games or Minecraft (which I speak but don’t play, if that makes sense).

I envied them a bit, as a couple, because they had each other for support in a very challenging environment (and unlike me, they were only in their first year of teaching). They really suit each other. They were among the teachers who went with me to Amsterdam. I’m going to miss seeing them every day, but I will stalk them on Facebook until it gets creepy, or until they Skype me. Hopefully the latter. They are off for further adventures teaching in Kuwait next year. I suspect they will take the country by storm.

I had an excellent time at the wedding: I got to see Jill and Tristan again, resplendent in their wedding gear; Josie and Erica and I had a great time; and, of course, I danced. I danced a lot, guys.

Thursday morning was recovery, with an omelette and some bacon and more Masterchef, and then it was time for me to say goodbye. My journey to Thunder Bay was probably more complicated than travelling from London to Halifax. First I flew from Halifax to Toronto, but with a stopover in Montreal. Then I took a second plane to Thunder Bay, for an overall travel time eclipsing the time it took to fly across the ocean.

But now I’m home. I’m happy to be back. I am not looking forward to dealing with the material implications of this … mostly because I’m just not sure where to start. Abandoning my room and barricading the door is still a possibility. Alas, the laws of thermodynamics say that it’s highly unlikely everything is just going to randomly reorder itself into an organized state. Oh well. I don’t have a job any more, so I have plenty of time to deal with this.

Speaking of which: job, please? holds out hand I was a good boy and bought into the myth that five-years-and-thousands-of-dollars would net me a nice, cushy career. No? Ah. Well I guess I have plenty of time to become a cynical, unemployed youth. But not a hipster. I draw the line somewhere.