Monday, 28 June 2010

Border Town

So I have spent my week in sunny Windsor, the place with the strongest UV rays in Canada I’m told. Is that because its so near the US? Anyway what it means is that I have a nice tan coming along. I would say that this has been my ‘vacation’ part of my Canada trip and after all that sightseeing in Montreal and Ottawa I have enjoyed nothing more than lounging by the pool and reading this week.

Apart from a from a few scattered French emersion schools and once person I met at a house party who was bilingual I feel a million miles away from the French influence here in Southern Ontario, gone are the bilingual street signs of Ottawa (or entirely French ones of Montreal). Here ’down South’ people’s Canadian accents are twinged with a more American accent and they talk about ’going to the States’ as if it’s the same as going down the road. I’m informed that one takes a trip either grocery shopping or clothes shopping to Detroit ‘because there’s more choice in the States’. Having said that, Windsor is, of course, still in Canada and therefore people are still therefore fiercely Canadian. They certainly smoke pot like they’re Canadian.

Not wanting to be crude or anything but I have extended my Canadian vocabulary: they use ’bang’ as frequently as we may use ’shag’ and they refer to their ’box’ (front bottom.) I have also been introduced to some Canadian music as I went to a gig last night (the bands were great but I was too hung over to fully appreciate it.)

Ah, yes, the joys of downtown Windsor! The University of Windsor I’m informed is a big university and although ’school is on summer break’ right now many of the students seemed to have stayed for the summer in their quite frankly palatial student homes compared to our digs in East London. I very much enjoyed myself and we went to a medium sized club (by London standards) and the drinks were cheap (I’m informed I shouldn’t get used to this, its just Windsor that’s cheap for alcohol not Canada). One thing I did notice is the way they (the girls) dress to go downtown. A pretty top, shorts or a denim skirt and flipflops, more fancy beach wear as opposed to clubbing wear to me, but I supposed it’s hot in the summer and its certainly more modest than what some people wear in Bristol on a Saturday night (and its cold in England!)

And so after a very enjoyable week in Windsor I am off to Toronto (2 days after all the G20 chaos) and then on Canada Day (July 1st) I fly to Vancouver! I wonder what my Canada Day will be like as I will spend the morning in Toronto and the evening in Vancouver. But as far as I can tell Canada Day is a holiday something to do with the independence of Canada but no one really cares, all they care about is getting drunk/high/both or working and earning double pay because it’s a National holiday.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Plan du metro de Montreal

Ok, everyone, so to update you...I left the countryside on Sunday and I am now staying with a friend of a friends in the prestigious Plateau Mont-Royal area in a lovely flat at the foot of the ‘mountain’ (that being a very large hill on the top of the Parc Mont-Royal) I have done an enormous amount of sightseeing and seen Old Montreal and the Old Port, been to the Science Museum and the Museum of the History of Montreal and been on a boat tour in the St Laurence river and seen the Olympic Park and been up the Tower plus also had long walks in the Botanical Gardens and in the Mont-Royal park which also doing a bit of window shopping and catching a film on St Catherine’s street. I have also enjoyed 2 nights out, one for my host’s girlfriend’s birthday and once to go to Les FrancoFolies which is a French music festival.

The title of this blog is ‘plan du metro du Montreal’ because I would like to share with you the differences between Montreal’s metro system and London’s underground. First of all as you will see its far less extensive, with fewer stops, fewer lines and fewer interchanges than our underground system. And the lines only have colours, not names. But the differences that bring me most entertainment/pleasure are that the lines never seem to be down, no ‘TFL investment works’ and every train goes the full length of the line! So no worrying about which train to get on! There are no screens anyway telling you when the next train is coming, they just come around every 4 minutes. And how do you work out which direction they’re going? It will tell you the name of the station at the end of the line as opposed to telling you if its going north/south or east/west as in London. And finally the difference that I still haven’t got used to is that they do have an Oyster equivalent (that you can only put travel cards on as opposed to the pay-as-you-go option in London) but you tap in and not out! So as I get off the train and hurriedly try and find my card to tap out I realise that you can just walk straight through the barriers as you exit! Therefore I can only deduce that there’s a flat rate which would make sense as they don’t have zones anyway! The other thing that makes me laugh is the way the seats are arranged, like a proper train, no side ways on London tubes, this would be a problem coz it would stop people standing up if the metro trains were actually busy but they’re just not compared to London tubes!

Ok, enough of that rant! On to my next one…crossing the road! I’m really not sure what the etiquette of crossing the road is in Canada. Zebra crossing are few and far between. They do have crossings like we do. But there’s no button to press and no beeping. It’s a white man meaning ‘walk’ and a red hand meaning ‘don’t walk’. Also the equivalent of our green man flashing is the red hand with a 15/30 second count down. The only problem is that at think point the traffic lights turn green not flashing amber like ours so sometimes the cars move when people are still walking. And when there isn’t a crossing it’s a matter of working out the safest time to cross based on the traffic lights. I haven’t yet worked out how blind people cross the road safely without the beeping and twiddley things!

Ottawa’s my next stop, let’s see what delights that city brings :)

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Welcome back!

15th June 2010

You know you're in Montreal when...the only place open at 6am on a Sunday is Tim Hortons.

Yesterday I woke up at 5am in order to catch the coach to Montebello. It would appear that my hotel didn't have a 24h reception so I couldn't check out, so I left my room keys in my room with a note. Then after a breakfast of doughnuts and orange juice at Tim Hortons - a Canadian institution. I then took the two and a half hour coach journey to Montebello followed by a taxi up to the school. As soon as I stepped out of the taxi I was greeted by the headmaster's wife and their dog with the 'hello/long time no see/what are you doing here?/nice to see you' greeting I was to get used to. Their dog (who was a puppy when I worked at the school 2 years ago) came bounding up to me: Is it possible for dogs to have 2 years memory?

Every student and teacher that had been there 2 years ago greeted me with pretty much the same response - pleasantly but also with some confusion. It was great to see familar faces and to hear of people's current life plans. One teacher is coming to do a Masters at the Insitute of Education, University of London and having just completed the SAS at the IOE I was able to give him a bit of an insight. I also had a really good chat with a student who has been a slightly annoying grade 9 two years ago and now is a strapping young man of a grade 9 and was delightful and charming and had a clear focus on how to obtain his dreams in life. It was so rewarding to see the progress some of the students had made. One of my biggest achivements while at the school was a (then) grade 8 student whose classI took for maths and also priavtely tutored him. Throughout the year I wourked relentlessly with this student to help him understand the maths and to raise his average and pass the end of year exam. Up until now the biggest reward has been as I circled the exam hall and saw what he wrote on his exam paper and saw that he had infact taken in everything I had taught him because he passed his exam and was able to progress to the next year - something that looked doubtful at the begining of the year. But going back I got another reward, this student came up to me and said 'Katie, I get really good grades in math now, 80s and 90s, so thank you'. I smiled and said 'you're welcome, it wasn't all down to me, it was down to your hard work, well done, that's fantastic new' but inside I was doing a little dance!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Bienvenue à Montréal

June 12th 2010

So after an adventurous tube journey from the East End to way out West London, me and my friend who was acting as my ‘mule’ (thank you Cat) made it to Heathrow in plenty of time (before my parents) so enjoyed coffee and cake. Once my parents got to the airport I got a bit carried away with chatting (no surprise there) and so despite being one of the first to check in, I was one of the last to board. (I made it with 10 mins to spare).
On the plane I was wedged between 2 elderly ladies. 1 who looked Greek Orthodox to me and she prayed at the beginning of the flight, she was also very fat so had to get the person in front of her to put their seat up every time she wanted to get out which was entertaining because it clearly go on both party’s nerves. The other lady was very elderly, she looked close to death and she coughed pretty much the majority of the journey, at some points I was concerned that she was going to die there and then, but she didn’t, thank god. I swear people that old, I mean close to death old, shouldn’t be allowed to fly, I was genuinely scared for her health! The flight itself was very smooth, not so much as a bump or ears popping on take off and landing, hats off to the pilot!
Then, of course, next I had to go through immigration, the fact that my landing card declared that I am here for 6 weeks raised eyebrows and so I had to reassure her that despite only having $50 in my wallet I did have a credit card (well actually it’s a debit card with an authorised overdraft, but that concept doesn’t seem to exist in Canada. I seem to remember from my last visit that they don’t have Visa Debit here like we do.) She also asked me my occupation, which is an expected question at Immigration but then she asked me what I studied. Was she trying to check I wasn’t lying about the fact that I’m a student? Anyway I got the magic stamp that lets me in the country.
The first thing that hit me about Montreal is that its more French than I remembered. Every road sign and billboard advert is in French, I swear they were bilingual last time I was here! I had a bit of trouble understanding the taxi driver because of his strong Quebecois accent combined with a weird version of Franglais. But after my ears tuned in I had a nice chat with him about how although we do study the region of Quebec and other Francophone countries (such as Haiti where this taxi drivers family was from) at university, we most definitely only study the French language spoken in France. But then to my dismay he said ‘mais vous ne parlez pas la lange française de la France, vous parlez en français avec un accent anglais’ (‘but you don‘t speak France French, you speak French with an English accent‘)
- ‘Oui, merci, je sais, c’est évident que je suis anglaise!’ (‘yes, thank you, I know its obvious that I’m English!’)
Alas, if I can’t fool Les Québècois then I definitely won’t be able to fool Les Français in October when I’m in France.
So I got to my 1* hotel and had a lovely chat with the proprietor who seemed delighted that I could speak French and asked me if I was from Guadeloupe (errrr, non) but anyway turns out there’s some problem with the roof or something so he transferred me to another hotel which turned out useful because I passed the coach station when I was walking there, so I will walk there tomorrow morning instead of getting the Metro. The room is bigger than I expected and is perfectly satisfactory but definitely on the budget end of the scale, but, hey, I’m a cash strapped student!
I just tried to ring the school I worked at last time I was in Canada in an attempt to warn them that I’m planning to turn up on the door tomorrow and hoping to stay for the week. However I couldn‘t get through so I will be surprising them tomorrow morning! (Don’t worry readers, I have a back up plan if they say ‘no’, one of the teacher’s knows I’m coming and has offered me a bed as hers for as long as I want as has her son offered me a place to stay in Montreal.)
Alors (that’s ‘so’ in French by the way) right now I am watching TV and listening to the clubbers outside my door and the tube run underneath me (I said it was budget! Its central location has downsides!)
Canadian TV makes me laugh - adverts for ‘real Canadian cheddar’ (er, Cheddar is in England) and cereal adverts that show the actors poor milk out of a plastic bag in a jug - oh Canada, you and your silly ways! I’m watching a stand up show which 1) isn’t funny (because North American humour isn’t) and 2) after every commercial break we are warned ‘this programme contains coarse language and adult content, viewer discretion is advised’ - well it is 10.30 at night so I wouldn’t expect a child to be watching TV right now. Good old England and our ‘watershed’.
Anyway I feel I’m rambling so I’m going to go to bed as I have an early start to catch 1 of the only 2 per day coaches to Montebello (the town where the school is) and hopefully I will be welcomed back with open arms! Wish me ‘bonne chance’ (good luck)!

P.S. An actress on an advert, just said ‘erb’ not ‘herb’, oh god I’d forgotten about THAT annoying North American pronunciation!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

SAS - my reflective practive and personal development review

I have found the SAS experience very interesting and useful. Before SAS I had done one week work experience at my old school plus I worked at a school in Canada for a year before university. However this experience was very different because the school in Canada was a very small private school and Canada has a different education system. Therefore before the SAS my main experience of learning and teaching was from my old school – a medium sized all girls private school turned Academy. The SAS has taught me the importance of placements at different schools as every school has its own way of doing things and its own way of implementing the government specifications. I have learnt that there is a lot more to teaching than just knowing your subject and being able to control a classroom. I have also learnt a lot about different types of learners and the range of ability not just in a year group but in one class (even when the classes are streamed). At the beginning, when helping in classes, I found myself a) concentrating my attention on those who asked for help and b) giving students the vocabulary they wanted instead of encouraging them to look it up or think of another way to phrase it. As I gained more confident and as the students began to be more aware of my presence and therefore more receptive to me I found I was able to offer help to those who needed help (because I could spot them) and not just those who asked for help. I have learnt how to be creative in encouraging the students to work out the answers themselves by asking them prompt questions and reminding them of similar phrases which they can manipulate to say what they want to say.
I think that I will have the confidence to stand in front of 30 students and have good behaviour management when I become a teacher. I also hope that I will be able to form good relationships with my students.
I have learnt about myself that I am a fairly relaxed person who has the attitude “well, if you don’t want to do it, I can’t make you.” However there are certain things that have to be done and one of my hardest challenges during the SAS and will be during my teacher training is motivating students who refuse to do something. During the SAS experience I have found laziness more frustrating and challenging than weak ability.
In reference to my subject – French, the biggest challenge was adapting my vocabulary and my phrasing to fit what the students would understand and the way they had been taught. Through experience obviously I will learnt the set vocabulary lists of a particular textbook but during SAS I found it difficult knowing which words were likely to resonate with a student when they asked for a word for which there are many translations, for example ‘to shop’ you could translate as faire les cours/boutiques, faire du shopping, aller aux magasins etc. The teachers made the valid point that with weaker students it is better to give cognates (e.g. faire du shopping) as it will be easier for them to remember but for more able students you can give a wider range of vocabulary. I also found that when helping students to translate sentences I had to rewire my brain to think more simply and to think in set phrases and short sentences as opposed to when I speak French normally I tend to ramble connecting many sentences with complicated connectors such as ‘ce qui/que’ however this is a A2 level connector and therefore not appropriate in a year 10 class.
During my time at the school I was fortunate to be able to talk to a PGCE student and a Teach First student which meant I was able to ask them about the pros and cons of these 2 routes in to teaching. The PGCE student said that the pros of her course were that she has the time at university to read up on the latest research papers in education and to reflect on her observations from placements and write about them thus allowing her to reflect and improve. The only con to a PGCE course the student said was that you have to pay (but there is funding obviously). The Teach First student said that aside from the obvious such as being paid, the Master qualification and the business contacts the pros of her course were that you get to spend 2 years at the same school so you really get to know the students and follow their progress. However the cons were that as she has been teaching a nearly full timetable from the off she has felt very overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work needed to be done just to get through the curriculum that she had no time to reflect. She therefore felt that a PGCE course trains you to be a ‘better’ teacher than Teach First. Personally I am very interested in Teach First however as it is very competitive I will also apply for PGCE courses.
Teaching is a challenge I am very much looking forward to!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

SAS - not the army!

Before I embark on my adventures around Canada, Edinburgh and France I am currently doing the Students Associates Scheme or SAS which is sort of an introductory teacher training programme for undergraduates who want to become teachers. That’s right…I want to be a teacher! I have always wanted to be a teacher and I have pretty passionate view about education which I won’t go in to now, but let’s just say I really want to be a teacher and I know what sort of teacher I want to be. I also can’t stand the stereotype that the only reason people become teachers is because its ‘an easy option’/’guaranteed job after graduation’/’I can’t think what else to do with my degree subject’. The SAS has taught me lots of things and one of them is that teaching is not easy! My friend who is also doing the SAS and about to embark on a PGCE course said today “I can see why teachers need the long holidays” and its so true. I spent over an hour today preparing a slide show to teach vocab about the topic of holidays, when do teachers find the time to fit everything in?
But, alas this is what I want to do with my life so I hope you will join me on my journey as I finish my school placement, go on holiday to Canada, work at Edinburgh Fringe Festival to indulge in my other passion - theatre and then my year abroad in France as a language assistant….

Bonne journée