Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My first and last day at college

I’m spoiled. When I think of college, I think of this. I attended and taught at Brevard Community College the year before I moved to England. I didn’t have any problems with students accept plagiarism and attendance. I had an office to work in, a textbook, a helpful Department Chair, and a pleasant atmosphere. I’ve taught at other colleges in Florida that weren’t State funded, and I still had resources and support. This is sadly not the same situation at all colleges.

The description of Further Education for the United Kingdom is not very different as Community College is for the United States. So I don’t understand why a student’s attitude would be so poor if they know they have to attend a class that they pay for in order to get a degree that will give them a job. Students who are in vocational training aren’t English majors, but from the experience I had in Florida, they could be really disinterested but maybe two out of 50-60 students would be rude. Most of the time they just didn’t attend class, and I would have to keep attendance to make sure that they didn’t fail due to absences.

That job that I had gotten last week, was what I thought I really wanted. It turned out to not be at all what I expected. As the old saying goes, sometimes you do get what you wanted and you wish you hadn’t.

Here’s a description of my first day:

I was told to report to the school at 9AM so that I could be introduced to a couple of teachers who could help me out on the first day. My first class was at 10:30.

I was introduced to a Teacher #1 who was Head of Communications or something. She discussed with the Head of English who I should talk to and who could maybe help me. First took me to the HR department to get a name badge first, but they were too busy. Then we went to another building to find a Teacher #2 who maybe knew the students I had and what I should be doing with them. She didn’t.

We wandered around various rooms to find another teacher who maybe had the students before and knew what they should be doing.  She didn’t either. In fact, she looked confused and nervous about why they were asking her to help me.

I was taken to the Learning Lab and left with Teacher #3. She allowed to log into a computer with her password, even though they discussed I shouldn’t be doing that but they had no choice because, “it takes forever” for a new member of staff to get a log-in. I was told over and over that the school “Doesn’t want to do formal inductions,” so I was just going to have to look within the resources they had on the college server and find something to do with the students. I stayed on one computer while Teacher #3 went to log into a separate computer. I heard a random woman (apparently the lady who runs the Learning Lab) that, “Excuse me, but you’ll have to do that somewhere else. Those are computers to man the Learning Lab desk.” Great. There’s my welcome.

Teacher #3 found a cupboard full of English resources like hand-outs and diagnostic tests. She also found a cabinet full of binders that had the last two weeks work from the students. I was their third teacher since the start of February.

I left the computer I was logged in to after I realized I couldn’t even print from it, set my bag and coat on the table. I started trying to pull folders and hand-outs out to find something, anything, to do with students I had that morning. I was never given a textbook. Never given a curriculum.

Learning Lab manager woman walked up to me:

“Excuse me, how long are you here for?”

Me: “Um, in what sense? All day? All term?”

LLM: “I mean are you based at this campus?”

Me: (checks watch to see that I’ve been on the job for 30 minutes without pay) “Yes.”

LLM: “Well, I know it’s your first day, but we’ve been trying to work with the English Department because there is no staff room, but this is a Learning Lab for students. You have to keep the computers free and nothing put on the tables.”

Me: (blank stare) “Right.”

Couldn’t she have given this b.s. to me on Day 2 at least?

After I got some supplies, I went to my classroom at 10:20, but a class was already in there. There was no where to sit, so I had to just hang out in the hallway and wait for my students to arrive. When I saw Teacher #2 walking around with two students, I heard her asking, “So you’re not usually in this room, then?”

The schedule was wrong and we had to go to an empty classroom on the ground floor. They also had a nice, older gentleman from the Learning Lab who was a Support Assistant. Teacher #2 just left him to help me with my class of 2 students who were English as Second Language and travel agent majors. The only thing I found that was potentially a good first lesson was with some exercises on apostrophe use and then, to kill time, a diagnostic test that I found in the cupboards.

I asked about logging into computers in classrooms but they were only student computers and I needed a teacher computer to access the resources.

After class, I tried to figure out what I could do for my afternoon lesson of catering majors. Since the Learning Lab was off limits, I had no where to sit. The cafes and hallways were packed with students and every teacher who I talked to was happily sitting at a desk, eating their lunch. I had to sit outside in the frigid air to talk to Steve on the phone where I told him how I could already tell this job was a bust. I eventually went to a cafe after the kids were back in class and bought a turkey sandwich. By that time my hands and butt where so numb from sitting on that bench, I didn’t care where I went as long as it was warm.

When I went back up to the Learning Lab to find a lady, Teacher #4, who had my classes the week before half term. She told me about how bad the students were and how mad they get when you try to give them work. At a college? Really?

Oh yes. When I arrived to my afternoon class of 10 catering students, five boys sat there being just plain rude. They wouldn’t call me Suzanne, they thought Suzy was more funny. They listened to music on their phones, had earbuds in, headphones on, talked, sang, cursed at the work I gave them. All of this stuff is totally normal when you’re covering a class for a day at a Secondary/High School but at college?

There’s something that snaps and when you see how disrespectful students are going to be, the knee-jerk reaction is to lay into them and kick them out of class. But that’s for high school. This was a college! One student even sat there chatting away on his phone during my lesson and asked if he could leave class early because he had to pick up his kid. My response was, “Aren’t you an adult? If you have to be somewhere you know, don’t you?”

The rest of the boys eventually slept and didn’t attempt to do any kind of work whatsoever. One student did help me with the projector and the got the dimmer for the classroom lights (you need a remote from an office to dim lights in the classroom for some reason), I’ll give him that. I had another student in there who had special needs so I had to make the work be as visible as possible on the screen. (That poor student, without a computer or a printer, how would any teacher ever be able to give her the proper material she needs to see?)

Anyway, I let the class go 10 minutes early since they weren’t doing anything anyway. I went up to the Learning Lab to ask Teachers #2 and #4 who had all sorts of papers to grade all on top of the Learning Lab tables but no one said anything to them about it, I might add. I asked them how much of a witch I could really be with the students. The answer was, “Not much.” They’re supposed to be adults and we have to treat them as such but they’re still underage so they have to stay at the school until 4:30. They aren’t even paying for classes, it’s funded. Fabulous.

By the end of the day, I tried to find someone to give my attendance too but no one knew how to do it (not even the English department.) I asked about having a place to work and they said, “Oh, there’s this lounge here. You have to just try to get a computer when it’s free because we have too much staff and not enough resources.” You’re right about that. Six desks with five people from another department I’ve never met or seen before and I’m supposed to muscle in and try to make myself comfy whenever I need to do my lesson plans? What if I go in there at 8AM and it’s busy? Every place else was because people scrambled to find empty computers where they sat parked for most of the day.

Upon research I read that the school had gone down in ratings within the last few years. They had even been reported for escorting school inspectors off the campus! Steve said just by looking at the place he could tell it was a crummy place to work. The buildings are old and dreary. The walls are all brown and the ceilings are exposed concrete. The students and staff didn’t seem happy to be there at all either.

Long story short, I didn’t go back. If there’s no place to sit and work, no materials to use, no discipline in place, and the pay is only for the time I’m in the classroom, I just can’t be bothered. I want to work, but within reasonable conditions. I don’t mind helping people but teachers need some essentials to get any kind of learning done. This job lacked a lot of basic essentials.

I tried to phone the school to even leave a message with someone this morning but no one had voicemail. I didn’t have any email address other than the main one listed online, so I just told them I wasn’t coming in and to let the Head of English know. I thanked them for the opportunity and all the help they gave me on the first day as well. I didn’t want to go in today, knowing I wouldn’t be able to do anything. Even if I got to campus early, there was no where to plan out my lessons. I don’t think any teacher should be expected to conduct class that way. Oh well, at least I know now.

It’s after 4PM now and I’ve not heard from anyone.  I doubt they even know I’m not there.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How to be a failure

I’m a big, fat failure and it’s time I come clean about what’s happened, just so I can get it off my chest. I’ve been depressed and crying on and off for two days and the only way I know how to get the burden off of me is to write about.
Right. Here goes.
I failed my driving test again. Third time. I drive okay in lessons, but fail the tests. This time I colossally failed and the instructor abandoned the exam. Why? Because I didn’t understand the rules of the road. After bus in front of me signalled that it was stopping at the bus stop, I tried to pass it. The bus decided to keep going and muscled me over into the other lane. Examiner had to tell me to slow down, then I stalled once he aborted my mission. I knew I failed then and there but didn’t know that I could have abandoned the test myself. (I honestly considered that the bus driver was at fault because he did signal left.)
After I knew I failed after that awful occurrence, I turned onto the wrong side of a sectioned street. Of course there are no signs that say “DO NOT ENTER” or “WRONG WAY” the little lines on the road are just implied. For a country that houses the English language, they certainly don’t like writing any of it anywhere important.
After I sat there, crying on the phone to Steve, in my driver’s ed car while someone from the DVLA brought my instructor back, I just knew I was never going to be able to do this. I’ve been taking tests for almost a year and I don’t know to not pass a bus on a certain road. Lord knows there aren’t any lane markings or signs that tell you “no overtaking.” I don’t know for sure what signs and markings of roads mean half the time anyway. There are five or more different things to be concerned about all the time. It’s not like in the States where we just worry about other cars and drive defensively. Until you drive here as a Floridian, you just have no idea how confusing this all is. But people do it. They pass. But I can’t.
Steve thinks most of the problem is the instruction I’ve been given. Most of the time the instructor shouts at me or is says something condescending like, “If you have to ask about parking now, you shouldn’t be taking a test.” Well, maybe that’s just it. Maybe I shouldn’t have even considered taking a test so soon. I tried to get the gist of how the roads work but the instructor doesn’t understand how difficult it is for me. He’s even said things like, “You mean to tell me that roads in America are really that different?” As if I’m making an excuse for just not “paying attention” and “thinking about what I’m doing.”
I just feel so completely stupid for thinking I could do this. Steve tells me all the time that I rush things and don’t look at all the details. If that’s true, then I shouldn’t do anything. I don’t see everything that I need to know. I try. I do my best, but it just doesn’t click. And it’s dang frustrating to not have all the puzzle pieces and not even know how to get them.
It’s just like my stupid lack of a career. I wanted to be an English major, so I went to college, thinking (and being told) that I will easily be able to become an English teacher with that degree. Of course that wasn’t the case and I spent hundreds of dollars on printer ink and gas money just trying to interview for jobs I didn’t have a chance at getting. It was like that with the Master’s degrees too. I thought (and was told) that I should work at the college, so I got the degree. After I got there, I was told there was no chance of having full time work. Then I got a library degree because supposedly jobs were all over the place now that people were retiring. I don’t stand a chance at getting a library job now. I can’t just volunteer or be an intern anywhere, my resume has teaching jobs, so they think I’m not serious about wanting to be a librarian in the first place.
Basically, I’m tired of wasting time. I’m wasting Steve’s money on tests and lessons. I’ve wasted my time trying for things that were never going to happen to begin with but I never saw the whole picture. I guess naive is the word for it. Everything I do has to be done over and over until I get it right. Nothing (aside from writing, I guess) comes natural to me. The only thing good I’ve done in my life is married Steve and moved away from the insanity which is Florida. However, the rest of the things that I need to have a normal, productive life just don’t click for me like they do for other people.
But I did get a job. The morning before my driving test I got a call confirming that I am going to be teaching at the college, with a chance of getting full-time work. I’m over the moon about this, because this is the job I really wanted. Right after the call, I had the driving test fiasco, then had to go to the college to get my schedule and discuss the details. Of course this unwelcoming country has given me no tangible evidence that I am still eligible to work in the U.K. while my Indefinite Leave to Remain application is in progress, so I may only be able to work for a couple of weeks until my silly ID card gets sent in the mail.
England; the country where they make it hard for Americans to work, drive cars, or find flavoured ground coffee.
At least we have a Krispy Kreme now. Whether or not I’ll ever be able to go through a drive-thru here is probably not going to happen. The idea of driving again with another instructor seems ridiculous. I’d love to be able to drive but with crazy roads and rules I don’t comprehend after 10 months of lessons, I just don’t know anymore.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

When I Get A Job

I really should update on what’s been going on with me lately. Last week I was able to try out for three different teaching positions, which is a huge accomplishments when I sat here for over a year and a half without so much as an offer to be a support assistant.

On Monday I went to a Secondary School to work with some kids who may need me any time between now and April until the end of the term. After I spent the day there, I high-tailed it to do an interview and 15 minute lesson at a college where I applied to teach English (basically freshman English for those of us who hail from America.) Then on Thursday I was able to do a 30 minute try-out lesson at a Primary School.

Any of these jobs would be great to have but the Primary School is closer so it would be nice to have a short commute. I’ve taught college English before (in fact, that was my last teaching position I had in Florida) so that is a really nice opportunity too. The Secondary School is a bit out of the way, but I figured out the bus by the time I left the afternoon of my initial try-out day. Again, any of these would be a welcome relief since I am so ready to not be in the house every day.

Of course, I have my projects I want to keep working on, and the Secondary School position isn’t 5 days a week, so I would have time to continue doing my work at home as well. It’s just such a nice relief to not have to be glued to Twitter all day just because I have nothing better to do.

It’s a weird thing, being alone all day. The more use to it you get, the more you forget that there’s a whole world going on outside that you could be a part of. I try to convince myself that I don’t mind it, but once I start going into schools, I remember how good it feels to use my day productively. I like helping kids. I like being out in the fresh air. I like feeling useful.

I also like being able to have money and I’ve made a list of things I plan on getting once I finally have another job lined up:

  • A car
  • Insurance for the car
  • DAB for the car
  • TomTom for the car
  • Makeup from Avon
  • Dresses
  • Nice skincare products from ProActiv, Lush, Lanc├┤me, etc.
  • Girlie DVDs such as Gone with the Wind, Dirty Dancing, Mean Girls, Ten Things I Hate About You, Heathers, Clueless, Carrie, The Twilight Saga (I know, I know! I even got the soundtracks on Zune player today.)
  • Go to teaching workshops- Read, Write Inc., etc.

Of course, books are on the list too, but I have a handful of them (at least) on my Currently Reading list as is. I will try to update Unfinished Book Reviews on Wednesday and Friday too. I always feel bad when I miss those posts because I have opinions on what I’m reading that I should be posting.

Besides, if I’m working, I’ll have less time to read anything outside of school. I’ll use that money to take Steve out to dinner, and to buy my parents biscuits in cute, British souvenir tins instead.

Wish me luck! (Again.) Jobs and a career are so much nicer and rewarding than watching daytime telly all week.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Farm livin' is the life for me.

We made our way back to Beamish on Saturday. This was our third visit but we hadn’t been down there since January of last year. I was really excited to use my new camera too (as you can see from my slideshow.) It is such a nice change of pace to be able to roam around the countryside, looking at farm animals, and feeling like you’re experience the good old days of English life. Certainly beats fighting crowds in a shopping mall.