Aug 16

I’ve moved!

This site will remain live, but I’ve started writing again at Mrs Wilson Science, my other site. Please check out that site and update your subscriptions and feeds. Thank you!

May 07

Turning 40

birthdaymeSomehow, today I turned 40. I don’t know what I was expecting. I don’t feel 40, but what does 40 even feel like? When you’re a child, you think people who are 40 must be old and grown up. I don’t feel old or grown up.

On the other hand, I do feel like I’ve had more than my share of amazing experiences in 40 years. Sometimes though, I feel like an 18 year old who has just had an extra 22 years of life experience. Although my hair is changing from brown to gray, a few fine lines are appearing around my eyes and forehead, and my joints sometimes feel a little sore, I still don’t feel old. (Maybe the joints shouldn’t count since I had broke an elbow twice and had two knee surgeries before I was 18 – not to mention countless sprained ankles!) Maybe our spirit never feels old. Perhaps it’s just our earthly bodies that slowly wear out (not that mine feels very worn out, either).

I also never could have imagined I would spend my 40th birthday celebrating in England because I live here. It’s been a little difficult being so far away from the rest of my family. Last year, I spent my birthday hanging out with my sister and a lovely evening meal with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and nephews. Although my husband was far away in England. This year, I’m the one far away from them but here with my husband.

I thought I wanted/needed to do something big and spectacular for my birthday, but I couldn’t figure out what. Yesterday, we went to the White Cliffs of Dover chasing the sun expecting today to be cloudy and wet.

But today ended up beautiful and sunny and I spent a blissful day in England from church to brunch to Stowe Landscape Gardens with my husband and dog, ending with a lovely meal at Jamie’s Italian. It was lovely; a great way to spend a birthday weekend. Maybe it wasn’t big and spectacular, but it was a beautiful day.

And so now I am 40. I can’t wait to see where the adventure of life takes me next!

Gardens, blue sky, and a lovely dog

Gardens, blue sky, and a lovely dog

Birthday coffee and GF brownie in the sunshine

Birthday coffee and GF brownie in the sunshine

May 03

Weekend walks in the country

bluebell walkWe tend to spend a lot of our weekends exploring the countryside these days, especially if it is a sunny day. Back in Georgia, we didn’t do much walking in the country mainly because it was really hot most of the year, even in the higher elevations. In England, the main problem is rain, so if it’s a sunny day (or even a cloudy one with little chance of rain), it’s a perfect excuse to get out and do something.

We have membership in the National Trust, which allows us to visit over 500 places across the country ranging from historic chapels to country manors and coastal walks to countryside rambles. This past weekend, we drove towards the southeast coast not entirely sure where we would end up. Along the way, we decided to go to Bateman’s, the home of Rudyard Kipling. Most National Trust properties have a lot of land with walking trails, so we chose a two and half mile loop to explore. We found a range of sites from rolling hills to ancient woodland covered in bluebells.

walkingbootsSince we’ll be walking around a lot more, I decided it was time to buy some proper walking boots. I soon learned you also need proper walking socks. I had no idea what I wanted when I explored the shop, but I had a very knowledgeable gentleman helped me. I thought I needed an ankle high boot, but it turns out there not usually necessary for the types of walks I’ll be doing. Trying everything on and humming and hawing over it all reminded me of the first time I bought a pair of running shoes. And then found out there are running socks. And that some running socks are specific for the right and left feet! (Speaking of which, it’s been almost two years since my last pair of running shoes, so I’m overdue, and I actually have right and left footed socks these days!)

Walking through the countryside is really fun as you climb over stiles, pass through kissing gates, walk across fields of cows, horses, or sheep, and feel a million miles away from civilization. It’s definitely a great new way to pass the weekends, and it’s one of the things I’m really enjoying about England.

May 01

Day by day: Comparing US and UK school schedules

In the previous post, I shared some differences in the yearly school schedules.Today, I want to compare what I’ve experienced schedule wise in the US versus UK on a daily basis.

One of the big differences is that in the US we refer to the school schedule, our daily schedule, students have schedules, etc. We like the word schedule. In the UK, everything is referred to as a timetable. In a sense, they are the same thing. However, a student’s timetable in the UK is much more complex (that’s the case for teachers, too).

US Daily School Schedule

Firstly, I taught for ten years in the US, and we tweaked the daily schedule in major or minor ways every year. There were also some significant differences between middle and high school. In middle school, students took four academic classes (math, science, language arts, and social studies) every day and two connections classes. Our discussion on the middle school schedule included things like length academic classes vs. connections classes, lunch times, who had connections at which time of time (sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students stayed together for connections, and the length of time for homeroom. Ultimately in middle school, students took four academic classes every day along with the two connections. The schedule for a particular student would stay basically the same throughout the year with a rotation of connections classes each nine weeks. Academic teachers would have planning periods while the students were at connections. This meant that all grade level academic teachers had planning at the same time allowing for meetings to take and planning to take place. Most recently for me, academic classes were 70 minutes in length.

The two years I taught at high school were quite different from each other. The first year, we were on a traditional non-block schedule. Students had seven classes each day including four core academic classes and three electives. Classes were 55-minutes each, and there was an hour for lunch. Teachers had one 55-minute planning period per day.

The following year, we switched to an A/B block schedule. Students had eight classes total, attending four classes each day in addition to a 25-minute academy time for project work. Class periods were 85-minutes in length, lunch was 30 minutes, and teachers had one planning period each day. So as a teacher, I taught three longer classes each day. Although I am not there this year (obviously) I did help shape the schedule for this year, which is a tweak of the previous schedule. We still use an A/B block, but Monday students go to all classes for shorter periods of time. Students are back to taking 7 classes instead of 8, and there is a full block of academy time every B day (Wednesdays and Fridays). You can see what the schedule looks like for Mondays, A days, and B days below.

Monday Schedule

A-day Schedule

B-day Schedule

It might look confusing at first glance, but after a week or two, all students and teachers have their own personal schedule memorized. One interesting thing to note is that you see the same classes at the same time each day. This is pretty common in the US. It’s incredibly different in the UK as you’ll see below.

UK Daily School Schedule

The basic schedule at my current school is the same each day. We start with 20 minutes of form/tutor time. This is similar to homeroom in the US. We then have 1st and 2nd periods followed by a 15 minute break. This 15 minute break is awesome. Teachers have duty one day each week, but the other days it is a break for students and teachers alike to grab a snack and a cuppa. (How very British!) We then have 3rd period. Fourth period is longer as it’s the lunch period, and it’s followed by 5th period, the last class of the day. There are review sessions for an hour after that, mainly for students in exam groups. It rotates by content area, and science does ours on Wednesdays. Otherwise, teachers often have meetings during this time period as the majority of students have gone home after 5th period.

Hazeley schedule

Now here is where the big differences come in. Instead of a student’s schedule repeating daily or every other day, at my school now, a student’s schedule repeats every two weeks. It’s the same for the teachers. Students don’t have the same classes at the same time each day. Depending on the grade level, students have a different number of science classes over that two-week period (generally referred to as a fortnight).

Since the schedule only repeats once a fortnight, it is really difficult to remember the schedule. I have mine written down to refer to at all times, and students write their timetable in their planner. If a student loses their planner, they usually need to get a copy of their timetable in order to know where to go when.

One perk to this schedule is that I see a class group at different times of a day throughout the fortnight. It becomes really apparent how time of day affects learning and behavior. I have one class in particular that are really amazing when I have them period 1 or 2 and that are a complete handful period 4 or 5. If I only saw them in the afternoon, I might think they were all just poorly behaved. However, since I also see them in the mornings, I know a lot of it has to do with time of day (not that I’m excusing poor behavior, but I think all factors should be considered).

Here’s a glimpse of my current timetable noting weeks A and weeks B. When I initially received my schedule, I had to color code it in order to help me see what classes I had when.


Since I’ve been teaching in England for less than a year, I’m not sure how a timetable/schedule like this evolved. From what I’ve seen, I believe other schools operate similar schedules. I also don’t yet know what my preference is between the US and UK. The only stand out is planning. I’ll talk about this more in another post, but planning one lesson to teach 4-5 times in the US system is much more efficient use of teacher time (in my opinion) than planning 4-5 different lessons to teach one day with no repeats. It also doesn’t allow for that perfecting of the lesson throughout the day that I used to love. There’s a lot more to share about differences in how lessons works, so I’ll save it for another post.

Finally, you might have noticed there was not a new post on Friday. My initial aim was to post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I may have to rethink this schedule, as I find I’m quite exhausted on a Friday afternoon!

Apr 26

Throughout the year: comparing US and UK school schedules

Office Calendar School Purposes Desktop DairyOne of the big adjustments I’ve had teaching in England has been with the school schedule – both when school is in session and the day to day scheduling of classes. There are some significant differences between the two students. Today, let’s look at the big picture yearly calendar. Next time, we’ll look at the differences in the day-by-day schedules.

Yearly Calendar

I know there are several school calendars around the US varying from state to state and district to district, and it can vary quite widely. I’ll be speaking from my own experiences. In terms of the UK, most schools operate on the same general system with a few differences in where the breaks are.

US School Calendar Basics

This is based on my experience working in Gwinnett County Public Schools. You can see this year’s calendar here.

  • 5 Teacher Preplanning Days before the first day of school
  • First day of school in early to mid-August
  • Two semesters: August to December and January to May
  • Bank holidays: Labor Day (first Monday in September), Martin Luther King Jr., Day (third Monday in January)
  • Other days off: Election Tuesday in November on major election years; day in February and a day in March unless there is an inclement weather day to make up (these days can vary a bit from year to year)
  • Teacher Work Days (students off while teachers work): one in October, one in January, one in February, and one in March
  • Longer breaks: Thanksgiving week (full week off the week of Thanksgiving), Christmas break between semesters (usually two full weeks but can be a day or two shorter), Spring Break (first full week in April)
  • Last day of school the Wednesday before Memorial Day (the last Monday in May)
  • 2 Teacher Post-planning days to wrap up the year, finalize report cards, move rooms, etc.

UK Calendar Basics

This is based on my personal experiences at The Hazeley Academy. You can see this year’s calendar here.

  • Two staff inset days before the first day of school (similar to preplanning days in the US)
  • First day of school beginning of September and not all students start on the same day: year 7s (like 6th grade) start Monday, years 8-11 (like 7-10th grades) start Tuesday, year 13 (like 12 grade) start Wednesday, and year 12 (like 11th grade) start Thursday
  • Three terms: Autumn September-December, Spring January-April, Summer May-July
  • Bank holidays: Easter Monday (day after Easter) and May bank holiday (first Monday in May)
  • Teacher Inset Days (like work days): one in October, one in January, and one in June
  • Longer breaks: One week break halfway through each term at the end of October, middle of February, and end of May; two week break at the end of each term in December and April
  • Last day of school around July 20th
  • No post-planning days

As you can see, there are several differences between the two calendar systems. I really like all of the planning days we have in the US system – especially before the start of school. Two days to get ready for the year that were mostly meetings made it a challenge to be ready for the beginning of the year. I haven’t experience the end of the year yet, but I am having trouble fathoming finishing on the same day as students.

One thing I love about the UK system so far is all of the breaks throughout the year. I’ve long thought year round school would be a good idea. The UK system is similar to year round school, and the breaks definitely help. There were time when I was teaching in the US, when we would go from mid-January to spring break with hardly any extra time off. It was tough. Then once we returned from spring break, there were less than 30 school days left. The US summer is longer (about 10 weeks for students compared to 6 weeks for student in the UK), but research has shown that students regress during the summer. I believe a shorter summer isn’t a bad thing and having additional breaks throughout the year is a much better way to go. I know it would be difficult to change this in the US since parents would have to rearrange schedules much more, but I still feel like it’s a possibility that should be explore more.

What school yearly calendars have you experienced? Do you have a favorite? I’d love for your to share in the comments! Then don’t forget to come back on Friday and hear all about how daily schedules differ in my experiences because there are some huge disparities that might surprise you.

Apr 24

Grocery shopping: US vs. UK

IMG_0525The overwhelming winner from Friday’s poll was to hear about differences in grocery shopping, so here are my observation based on my favorite daily grocery store in the US (Publix), and my current local grocery store (Sainsbury’s). Grocery shopping is not one of my favorite pastimes, but it’s necessary, so I go when I must. I’ve noticed this has changed a lot since moving to England. In the US, I would usually do one big grocery shop a week, and that was it. In the UK, I go a lot more often, usually two to three times a week. I have to; most meats have sell by dates only a couple of days in the future. Plus, our refrigerator is quite small, so there’s not room to stock up on a lot of goods, and my pantry is just a small kitchen cupboard. The good news is the local grocery store is less than half a mile away, and it’s easy to walk or drive to.

So what are the big differences between the US and UK? I mean, a grocery store is a grocery store. However, there are some things about UK grocery stores that I find odd/different from my prior experiences.

  1. IMG_0526UK shopping carts come in two sizes. I usually get the smaller size. All of the carts are really hard to maneuver, as they move forward, backwards, and side-to-side at will. The thing that throws me off the most though, is that it’s missing the storage space underneath the main part of the cart. Now, I rarely used that space for storage, but I was constantly resting my foot on the bar. I miss that. (Silly; I know.)
  2. The stores are either really big (think Super Target/Super Walmart scale including the range of merchandise), or medium sized. I haven’t been to a store that is similar in size to the standard US grocery store.
  3. All of the cold food is together in aisles in the UK. There are some pictures in the gallery below to show what it’s like. In the US, the cold areas usually line the perimeter of the store, and aren’t all grouped together in the middle.
  4. Eggs aren’t refrigerated in England, and are on a normal grocery shelf. That’s just so weird to me. In the US, eggs are refrigerated. Apparently the difference comes down to how the eggs are prepared for sale. In England, the eggs are not washed, so they retain their protective coating which allows them to stay at room temperature. In the US, regulations state that eggs must be washed before sale and the refrigerated.
  5. The check-out experience is significantly different. At Publix where I primarily shopped in the US, I often had help unloading my groceries from the cart to the conveyer belt. Once they started scanning your items, there were baggers, usually teens, who would bag your groceries, and load up your cart. Then once you had payed the bill, they would push the cart to your car for you, and load the bags into your car. What amazing service! And it made a difficult task a little bit easier and enjoyable. In the UK, you have to unload your groceries yourself (which I would expect), but you also have to bag your groceries yourself! Not only that, but you have to bring your own bags. If you forget your bags, you can buy some, but they cost 5 p per bag. It’s a great way to encourage people to use reusable bags.
  6. Microwave meals: in the US, we eat lots of microwavable meals at times, but ours are usually found in the frozen aisle. In the UK, most microwavable meals are found in the refrigerated section.
  7. In Publix, there is a small English section on the ethnic food aisle. In the UK, there is a small US section in the ethnic food aisle. At least that’s the same. However, there isn’t anything in the US section I would actually it!

These are the main differences I noticed on my everyday shops. Another difference however, is the lack of speciality grocery stores. In the US, there are a lot of specialty grocery stores that focus on more upmarket products or organic foods like Trader Joes, Sprouts, Whole Foods Market, and Fresh Market. I haven’t seen anything like this in the UK. However, there are a couple of Whole Foods Markets in London. I’ll have to go visit one and see if it’s anything like the US stores. Watch the slide show below to see a few more differences in photos, and don’t forget the next post will be on Wednesday.

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Apr 21

The teacher job hunt: US vs UK

teachers wantedJob hunting for a teacher position in the UK is quite a bit different than it is in the US. Although I wouldn’t say my job hunting experience in the US was extensive, I did teach in two of the largest districts in the country in three different positions. Generally when applying for positions with districts in the US, you fill in one online application indicating the grade level(s) and content area(s) you wish to teach (elementary, middle, or high school), and principals at all of the schools with openings matching your desired areas are alerted. You can also contact the principals directly via email or cover letter to show your interest. The main thing is that you can fill out one application for a large number of schools.

However, many jobs are also secured at job fairs. I was hired for my first teaching position on the spot at a job fair. The interview was short and very informal. I also got my foot in the door for my second teaching position at a job fair. I attended the job fair in Georgia while we were considering a move there. I wanted to see what the prospects were like the area. I met a principal who was interested in me right away. He told me to contact him if I did end up moving to Georgia. A few months later we were living in Georgia, and I was ready to find a teaching job, so I emailed him. I was invited in for an interview. This interview was longer and a bit more formal, and I also met with one of the science teachers. Although I wasn’t offered the job that day, I had a really good feeling about it based on how the interview went. The next day, I was offered the job. My most recent job teaching in Georgia, at Lanier High School, was an internal transfer. I wasn’t changing districts, just schools. So there were no applications to fill out, only a form requesting a transfer. Because I had been involved in establishing project based learning at the middle school level, I had contacts at the high school who were interested in having me work with them there. I had been considering a move to the high school level, so it was the perfect opportunity. In fact, my transfer was approved before I had even met with the principal! I would say I was really lucky in finding such great positions so easily when I was looking the US.

As I started job hunting in the UK, I realized the process was quite a bit different. Firstly, there are no school districts per se. Most schools have moved to a self-governing academy model, which in some ways is similar to the charter school movement in the US. As there is no central district for each county or area, each school lists their individual vacancies and has their own format for a job application. The job applications were poorly formatted Word documents that were cumbersome to work with, and a lot of detailed information was required including a complete job history requiring an accounting of every position you held since leaving high school and an explanation of any gap in employment, even if it was for university studies. Once the application is completed, it is emailed to the school by the application closing date with a cover letter and a CV if accepted. (Some schools did not want to see CVs, which seems very different from always having a resume in the US.)

When the schools receive applications, they review them and decide who they would like to interview. Some schools will contact you via follow up email to let you know they were not interested in interviewing you, but I found many did not respond at all. If the school is interested in an interview, they email you with the interview information. When applying for teaching jobs in the UK, I sent out applications for every position that was remotely close enough to where I knew we would be living. Most of the schools I did not hear back from. One school emailed and said they were not interested at that time, and another school indicated they were interested in interviewing me but wanted to interview in person. At that point, I was still in the US (it was April of last year), and there was no way I could be in England for an interview any time soon.

It was at that point I realized that my job hunt was a bit futile until I was actually in the UK. One component of the interview is teaching a sample lesson, so the school likes to know you’ll be able to come in for an interview. If they see you are residing outside of the country, most won’t bother contacting you. I imagine this may be the same in the US, but I know that my former district recruited far and wide and would sometimes have interviews via web conference.

So this brings me to the story of how I found my current teaching position. I would check the school web sites of schools in the area I am now living to see if any openings were available. If there were, I would complete the application and send off my information. Right before I moved, I noticed there was an opening at my current school. The application deadline was right before I was flying out. In the midst of packing everything up and getting all of the details for transatlantic move with pets, I took some time out to complete the application. (I had applied to the school earlier last year, but I was not selected for an interview at that time.) Since I had already applied once, I only needed to spruce up my application and take into account all of the tips I had learned from perusing UK teaching forums. I sent if off and then worried about getting everything ready for the big move. (The application was due on Thursday, and I flew out on Saturday to give you an idea of the timeline.)

On Saturday, Devon, Newton, Halley and I made our way to the airport and departed for England arriving on Sunday. Once we arrived at our new home on Sunday, I slept most of the day. Between jet lag and moving preparations, I was exhausted. On Tuesday, I received an email inviting me to an interview for a position that Friday. That gave me just a couple of days to prepare a 50-minute lesson on one of the assigned topics. My husband had been saving money by not having internet access at the house, so I spent many hours at Starbucks drinking coffee and tea, eating gluten free snacks, and using their free wifi to create my lesson plan and resources.

On the Friday, I arrived for the interview with one other candidate. In the UK, they interview all candidates on the same date. You end up spending some time together throughout the day, which is interesting and a bit weird to be getting to know the competition. The day began with a welcome and overview from HR. We were then given a tour of the school by two of the students. Next up was the lesson observation where I taught my sample lesson to one of the classes. This was followed by meeting with the science department as a whole during the school break time. Finally, we were each interviewed separately with the principal and the head of science. The other teacher was interviewed first, and I was interviewed second. At the end of my interview, the principal said they could either call me with their decision or I could wait in the staff room while they discussed their decision. I had a feeling they wouldn’t offer to let me to stay if they weren’t planning on offering me the position, so I chose to stay and wait, especially since my phone still had a US number at the time. A few minutes later, the principal came in to congratulate me, and I accepted the position. Amazingly, I found a teaching position after being in the country less than a week. Additionally, I was lucky to find a school who saw the fact that my background teaching in US schools with different practices and strategies could be an asset for the school and not a hindrance.

So that’s my story about the differences in finding a teaching job in the US and the UK based on my personal experiences. It’s been relatively easy for me each time, and I’m sure it helps that I teach science, a high need subject area. I don’t know everything about the processes at all schools, but I do feel I have a pretty good grasp of the major differences. I think we could learn from each system. For instance, teaching sample lessons during US school interviews could be very beneficial. I know this does happen in some areas of the US, but I never experienced it myself. In the UK, a common application form for all schools would be helpful, as filling out individual applications for several different schools, each one formatted and ordered just a bit differently from the others was incredibly time consuming. Each application would take at least two hours to complete, and there must be a way to make this process more efficient.

I know I have a unique perspective on the experience, and it’s not everyday you get to see two completely different education systems. I’m interested in hearing what types of experiences you may have had applying for teacher jobs in the US, UK, or somewhere else in the world. Please share in the comments below.

Finally, I thought I’d give you the opportunity to vote on the topic of Monday’s blog post. The poll will stay open until 11:59 EDT on April 23rd. Please take the time to let me know what you’d like to hear about next!

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