Sunday, July 29, 2007

Home safely

The plane touched down 45 minutes early on Wednesday afternoon (around 2:15pm), and I blinked back tears as I looked out the window at the Toronto airport.


I keep meaning to write, to try and capture how it feels to be back, but things have been even busier than expected... Spending time with family and loved ones, enjoying my favourite dinners and foods that I haven't had in a year, relaxing in backyards that now seem huge to me (the ones in Britain are so little), and sleeping off jet lag. The last week has been all about adjustment for me. Getting used to the new time zone and learning to exclude British phrases from my everyday conversation (which I forget to do quite often), learning to think about tax when I'm paying for something, and trying really hard not to be surprised at the prices of things.

I spent two days sleeping on and off in a hammock, and eating incredibly good food - most of which came from nearby farms. It still hadn't completely sunk in that I was back on Canadian soil... That didn't happen until Saturday afternoon, while I was enjoying a dinner at Jack Astor's in London ONTARIO with Jeremy and his grandparents. During our meal, I looked up at noticed the replay of a Team Canada hockey match playing on one of the TV screens. Suddenly I felt all choked up and it hit me - I'm HOME.

"bloody hell! I can't believe it! Hockey on the telly! Brilliant!"

(okay, so it might take a little while before I sound like a Canadian again... Until then, feel free to take the mickey out of me all you want.)

(don't know what "take the mickey" means? Look it up mate!)

I'll be back sometime this week with a (hopefully) better account of my homecoming. Time to go and drink my coffee and watch The Weather Network.

It's good to be home :)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The night before the Last Day of School

The Last Day of School is tomorrow. When children excitedly are planning their summer holidays and saying "see you next year!" to their friends and teachers. For me, though, this means goodbye...

The corridors are empty and ugly looking without all of the displays that have graced them throughout the year. My classroom walls are also bare, and all of their books have been sent home. Tomorrow is a day for the last assembly, class parties, adorable cards, goodbye hugs, and end-of-the-year speeches by the management team (who never gave us pep talks through the year, but will now make it sound like we were all a crashing success).

Every afternoon, after the children have gone for the day, I put up the schedule for the next day, and write the date on the board. Today I wrote:

"Today is Friday, July 20th, 2007".

I looked at the date and remembered my first couple of weeks in that classroom, when I couldn't stand working with these kids because they were so naughty and loud, and had no idea that I would end up being their classroom teacher. I didn't know they would amaze me with their progress and steal my heart with their personalities. I guess you can ask any teacher at the end of the year about their class and they'll probably have at least a few nice things to say (even about the naughty ones). With mine, I'm so proud that everybody acknowledges how far they've come this year, and they're known as being one of the better behaved classes in the school. We've all come a long way...

I've been trying to avoid the sadness about not seeing my little ones after tomorrow, and the craziness of the last week has definitely helped. But there have been moments here and there that have made me pause and remember that soon I won't hear 30 voices sing-songing"Good morning, Miss Peeeetason!". That sound made every little bit of stress I've gone through this year worthwhile. There have been countless moments like that this year when I've stopped and grinned at my class, thinking "wow, I love this job".

Tomorrow will not be an easy day for me, but I will do everything I can to help them get excited about going into Year 3, and having a new teacher. Some of them are having a hard time right now, clinging to me and refusing to go and play outside because they "don't want to leave" me. I know they'll be okay soon (children are so adaptable), and I'm sure I will too - it's part of the reality of being a teacher: you work with them all year and then send them to their next set of challenges, hoping they learned something from you along the way.

Dear Miss Peterson,

Just a short note to thank you for your unique contribution to my daughter A's education. I'm sure all the parents of children in class 2A would agree that you have brought something very special to our children, in that they very much believe in themselves, thanks to you. It is in no small measure that your firm but exceptionally kind delivery of the national curriculum has lined our children with the confidence that so many of them were lacking.
I believe that having taught in an "inner city" school in the UK, you will undoubtedly be able to and in fact exel no matter where you teach in the world. So, once again a big thank you and good luck in everything you do!

With every good wish for the future,

A's mother

Is there any doubt why I'll need a box of tissues tomorrow?

Monday, July 16, 2007


After writing my last post, I got all of my things together and sailed out of the house, convinced it would be a wonderful day full of lovely memories of London. I climbed to the top of the #106 bus to Bethnal Green Tube Station, and looked out the window daydreaming about the park and about going home. There was a woman sitting behind me, singing to herself. Eventually I looked behind me, and a few moments later, I heard her move to another seat.

A few minutes pass by and suddenly I feel a tugging on my camera bag. Attached to the zipper of the little pocket holding my mobile and Oyster card is a hand. Attached to a guy sitting behind me.

"What the FUCK do you think you're doing?!!" I shout at him, jumping up and hugging my bag to me (I'm freaked out, but not letting him see this)

"Wha, wha? I didn' do nuthin"

I hurry down the stairs away from him because the bus is pretty empty at the top and I didn't fancy having this moron pull a knife or something on me.

I didn't even notice what he'd done until I got down the stairs.

Turns out, he figured that I was going to tell the bus driver to call the police and followed me down the stairs, standing close to the doors - clearly planning on running off with my phone as soon as the bus stopped.

Yep, he'd stolen my phone. The very phone that was a gift from Sony Ericsson 3 years ago for a job well done. The phone that held recordings of my students singing, pictures of my nephew at 10 hours old, countless phone numbers that are now lost forever, and acted as my alarm clock every morning, photo album, and main method of communication since I've been in this country.

At this point, I'm furious and bellowing "BUS DRIVER! Call the police!! This asshole stole my phone!! GIVE ME MY PHONE BACK!!"

People froze and stared, but nobody made a move until I shouted again "You FUCKING BASTARD GIVE ME THE PHONE NOW!!" Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a trio of large guys stand up. As soon as I looked at them, the bastard with my mobile turned his head and looked at them too. Deciding I was going to beat this jerk over the head with my shoes or anything else in reach, I stepped towards him yelling, the guys in the back finally waking up and coming closer too.

We all watched in amazement as the thief pulled open the bus doors and jumped off the still-moving bus.



It's ironic that 10 days before I was due to leave England, I got robbed. It could have been much worse of course - I could have had my camera stolen (which would have broken my heart even more than losing my beloved phone) or my credit card, or the guy could have hurt me.

I'm still really angry and have repeatedly wished I had somebody to punch in the last couple of days, but nothing will bring back my phone or the things that were lost on it.

So here I am setting alarm clocks I've never used, depending on land lines to make phone calls (very inconvenient), needing to buy a watch, and constantly feeling like I've forgotten something (any woman who goes out without her purse knows this feeling, I'm sure).

Last night I sat in my window, watching groups of teenagers saunter past, talking on phones and making their usual racket, and I started feeling pretty sorry for myself. Fortunately, I've grown up a lot in the last several months, and the melancholy didn't last nearly as long as it would have a year ago.

Yes, my phone was stolen and yes, that sucks and I'm angry and hurt, but I was lucky...


The problems with Inner City London affect so many people. Every person with any kind of connection east of The City knows somebody who's been mugged, robbed, beaten up, threatened, or worse. Gangs of teenage boys prowl the streets of East London looking for other young boys to rob. (My landlady's son has been mugged 8 times this YEAR) Some of these gangs even approach little kids to use as mules to carry drugs or weapons. They think it's cool to get their younger brothers or sisters to fight other little ones or do bad things. Just today a year six boy got his 5 year old brother to beat up another kid for fun in the schoolyard.

I was horrified to hear about a student in MY class, a 7 year old boy, telling people that one of the older kids in the school approached him to join a gang following this new rapper from Walthamstow called Lethal Bizzle. Apparently this guy is pretty typical of what you'd expect an inner city rapper to be, and the children in East London think he's the height of coolness. Sadly, they idolize these performers and seem to believe that becoming part of the gang culture is a good idea. There are stories in the papers about gangs here recruiting children as young as the ones in my class. Imagine a 7 year old child walking through the streets of inner city London with a bunch of kids carrying drugs and weapons.

As the teacher of innocent children who have only been on this planet for 7 years, and who have no idea about the big world that exists outside the limits of their borough (never mind the city of London itself), I'm absolutely heartbroken at the thought that some of these wonderful kids are going to turn to gangs and crime one day.

No, I'm not being dramatic here. Some of them WILL become part of it.

These kids live in a different world. Their parents are uneducated, smoke cigarettes or worse in front of them, have fist fights with other parents, dress inappropriately, feed them terrible, unhealthy food, and basically are struggling to get through each day, so they don't have as much time to look after their kids as they need. At night, the streets are only safe for the kids who roam in gangs - except when other gangs challenge them of course. Litter and graffiti are everywhere, people drive low riders with blaring music, or blast their mobiles on buses. They eat chips and fried chicken 3 times a week and spend hours watching American TV and playing Playstation games like Grand Theft Auto. The kids in this borough are obsessed with their (skewed) viewpoint of American culture, particularly hip hop and urban lifestyles. The swear and shout, refuse to give up their seats for old people or moms with newborns on the buses, and will tell off any person who dares to speak up to them. They wear New York Yankees clothes (even though many of them don't have a clue who the Yankees are), baby backpacks, listen to all of the music from back, home, and even walk and talk how they think people in Detroit, New York, and LA do. If it wasn't so sad, it would be hilarious.

No fucking wonder this part of the city is in trouble.

These adorable, caring little babies in my class will soon realize that kindness doesn't always work, and some of them will very likely one day become a kid who jumps off a moving bus with somebody's stolen mobile so they can buy some drugs. They will need to be street smart in a way that I never will be (despite being 20 years older), to depend on themselves and their connections to avoid gangs and shootings and stabbings - all very real things that kill young kids every day here. (Don't believe me? Search Google for teenage killings in London and see what comes up - we lost a 15 year old East London boy just last month.)

I'd love to sit them down and tell them what happened to me. To explain why I'm so sad about having my phone stolen, and shock them into remembering "the time our teacher got robbed on the bus" so they might avoid such a bleak future.

Just call me Pollyanna...

There's a little boy in my class. His name is C, and he used to have a lot of trouble with his behaviour. He's turned himself around in the last several months, has become a lot more affectionate both with his peers and the adults in the school. He tries really hard to listen, works hard, and seems to be finally enjoying school, although he isn't making much progress academically. His mom works long hours, and his grandmother takes care of him a lot. He's got an older sister who plays the same music I listen to, and he often comes to class singing the same hiphop songs I sing along with as I'm getting ready for school in the morning. His aunt doesn't think he'll amount to anything, and yells at him all the time. His grandmother also shouts at him occasionally, and he's come to school in tears because of it. Very few people think he'll get anywhere in life. At 7 years old, he already has a label to overcome.

What will become of this child? The one who told my adult helpers during our trip to the seaside that he wouldn't have been able to come a few months ago because he "used to be naughty, but he isn't anymore" and smiled so joyfully all day because he was seeing the ocean for the first time. Hell, it was the first time he'd seen field and cows (he and about a third of my class had never been out of Walthamstow). What are the chances that he'll escape the poverty and violence that are woven so tightly into the landscape here? What are the odds that he'll advance in school and not need to work minimum-wage jobs for the rest of his life?

Where will he be in 10 years?

Has his chance of a happy, successful future already been stolen?

If you're the praying kind, please say one or two for the children of Walthamstow - they need it.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Another countdown, another list of "last times I'm going to...", another series of nights where I run around trying to fit in everything I possibly can before saying goodbye.

I wish I'd had time in the last few weeks to write here, it's sad that a lot of the happy moments and funny stories I remember now, will be forgotten, and lumped into a sentence like "I had a great time in London".

In the time since I moved to Hackney and finally had to learn to take care of myself completely on my own, there have been a lot of experiences that I would prefer not to remember. Those memories too, will turn into "it was rough going for awhile, but I got through it".

Today I'm going to my old neighbourhood to say goodbye to Portobello Road, Kensington Gardens & Hyde Park, Big Ben, and a few of my other favourite places in the city. I'll take pictures of things I've already taken dozens of pictures of, in hopes of capturing all of the little things that make this part of London so special. These pictures too, will be part of a file on my computer or a photo album that will say things like "London's great! Look at how amazing it is!" or "everybody should visit there - there is so much to see and do!"

Those photo albums will be full of good memories.

Lately I've been thinking about one of my favourite episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond - the one when Robert and Amy get married. The whole wedding is a complete fiasco (as expected), with Marie (mother-in-law from hell) causing all sorts of problems and even interrupting the ceremony to talk about how she's feeling about their wedding. At the end of the episode, Ray gives his best man's speech. In it, he talks about editing. About only keeping the nice pictures, and forgetting about the bad things that happened. Focusing on the good memories that made the day special so ten years later people could say to each other "wow - that was a fantastic wedding, wasn't it!"

I'm glad that people have the tendency to do this, to forget about the problems and stresses that happen and remember or even exaggerate the good times. Are we lying to ourselves? Or being childish and silly for trying to forget the tears and fights and headaches? Or are we smart because we know that when we're 90 years old and not running around after members of the opposite sex, or children, or 'the perfect job', or traveling around the world, we are going to want to sit with a cup of tea and smile as we think back and remember the wonderful lives we've had.

Ten days until I say goodbye to London. A place that was never on my Top 5 Places to Visit list, and that didn't seem like it would be all that exciting to live in. A place that cost me thousands of pounds, hard times, job worries, stress, commuting problems, lots of tears, and all sorts of other negatives that I am damn proud to say hurt me, but did NOT break me.

So I edit.

When I'm back in Canada, telling stories about living here, I'll talk about the lovely accents, crazy expressions and sayings they have, the fabulous pubs and beer, friendly people, beautiful children, amazing parks and sights to visit, delicious food and incredible street markets where you can literally find anything. I'll say it was a hell of an adventure, an opportunity of a lifetime, and that I've never regretted moving here. I might even make everything that happened this past year sound like a happy accident.


"Yep, writing report cards was so stressful, I spent a month in front of a computer, adding this, and deleting that, basically working 80 hour work weeks. It was terrible. But you know, it was really good experience for me, and almost every report was a positive one. I was miserable, but it's all over, and now I completely understand why teachers get summers off!

Hey, did I ever tell you about the time I spent 24 hours in Brighton?! One of the best times of my life..."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

And this folks, is why the internet is a wonderful thing...

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Love letter to my country

Dear Canada,

When I decided to leave you to come and live in England, people said "you never know - you might want to stay there", but I always knew that would never happen. I missed you even before I left, and not just because you happen to be home to all of the people I love the most.

I counted down the lasts for weeks before getting on the plane last August - last camping trip, last drive down highway 401, last beer with my friends, last dinner of hot wings, last Tim Horton's coffee. I looked at the stretch of trees and fields we passed by on the way to the airport, and thought about how much I love the wide open spaces and fresh air, and knew I would miss those things very much.

Since I've been in Europe, not one person has made a negative comment to me (or around me) about you. We Canadians are known as friendly, intelligent people who respect the world around them and balance out the trouble currently being caused by some other countries. The British love us despite our lack of ability in soccer, Holland loves us because we helped them during the wars, and the French love us because we speak French too (that, and because we're not American), dozens of other countries admire us for our leadership in hockey, and still more love us for being the peacekeeping country that we are.

I've learned that spending time in a different place makes you appreciate home even more. I've become even more patriotic than I used to be and love teaching my class about you, and now have parents coming up to me saying their children want to visit and see you for themselves.

And so Canada, on your birthday, please know that me and all of the other proud Canucks abroad are wearing our white and red today, watching old re-runs of Molson Canadian commercials on youtube (this too), toasting you with our beer, singing our national anthem, and missing you like crazy.