Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Two-Week Update from Sheffield, England

DISCLAIMER: My friend, Kathy, faithfully writes me on Saturdays. Her letters are a treasure to me. I try to return the favor within 24 hours, and these two letters are partially what I returned to her. I realized my family and other friends might like to know details of my week, too, especially since they are pressing me to start writing and sharing daily! I asked her if I could share our some of our private conversations, and of course she said yes. I have reversed the two letters so you can read the most up to date first. :) Also, I still do not have uploading pictures on community wifi is HARD and time-consuming. I've been here now a little under six hours, and I already had this material written!! Some of the pictures do not match the text, but I don't give a flip anymore! :)


It has been a great week here. 

One carriage on the Northern Line between Lincoln-Sheffield.
Monday evening I went to Lincoln to visit Eric and Wendy (Kevin in SGF's parents.) They fixed a great dinner of jackets (baked potato), cole slaw, deli ham and roast beef, green leaf salad, tomatoes, cheeses, and breads. For dessert, biscuits and red wine, which we had out by a bonfire that Eric made. We even roasted a couple of marshmallows. We talked and talked and talked, for nearly three hours under a starry sky and beside orange fla
Eric and Wendy in the garden.
Tuesday we drove to Skegness and I visited with and observed three teachers: a reading intervention teacher, (7th grade) a sixth form English teacher (jr/sr) and a sixth form early childhood teacher...meaning she teaches the course for students to get their early childhood certificate. She gave me a sample of her literacy lessons. The Head Teacher (male) is a former secondary English teacher, and although the national curriculum requires literacy in all content areas, he pushes it. Each
Everyone teaches reading and writing.

department has a bulletin board for how  literacy fits into their content area...newspaper articles are posted and are even annotated with things like "noun" "hyperbole" "metaphor"'s pretty phenomenal. I don't even know if some of our teachers know what a hyperbole is--and our PE teachers probably don't even care. Skegness takes students with C's, so many of the kids who are there would be like our "average to below average" students. Somehow they appear "smarter" in their ties and vests.

The afternoon was spent at the beach. Although it was chilly, it sure was a pretty, pretty day.
That's right. Donkeys. North Sea in the background.

Full sunshine. We had a "cuppa" tea on the pier. The water was muddy and cloudy. I took off my stockings and shoes and waded out...I felt like I was walking across a muddy creek bed. The sand was much finer on the beach. The tide was out. Waves were not even a foot high. The landscape to the south was the Suffolk Coast, and directly out in front (straight west from the shoreline) were hundreds of windmills. We walked through the streets of Skegness, and Eric took pictures for me.

Having Sheffield on this list is equivalent to having SGF.
We drove home, stopping at The King's Head for dinner, the oldest thatched pub in Lincolnshire, 1367 I think.  It was in a little village called Tealby. Maybe 50 people live there. It was remodeled on the inside, and a fine dining experience. I had Gammon (ham steak) and mushrooms. We got home about 8:30 and about 10:30 friends stopped by, church friends. I was already in my jammies lounging in a recliner, so I felt a little ridiculous. I had just taken a nice long bath, that Eric gave me a glass of red wine for, so I was literally using toothpicks to hold my eyes open. They are struggling at church with a minister who doesn't seem to be too minister-ly. I think the bar is set high with these folks; they minister to everyone, specifically to the "least of these." I listened to them commiserate and plan for how to deal with it (church meeting on Thursday) and they also shared stories of including those with disabilities in church such story of a man playing Jesus with one arm and one leg....carrying the cross. Without making fun, they giggled their way through the entire play. It sounded like something straight from Monty Python, but it was real, and it was their work, and he wanted to
Oldest Thatched roof pub in Lincolnshire, 1367. The Kings Head.
play Jesus. So they made him Jesus for the day. Good people. I feel like a better person just being around them. I miss my friends at home who do this for me.

The next morning we got up for breakfast and Dennis came over, a neighbor and friend. He just knocked and walked on in, unexpectedly, and yet again, I miss my friends who drop by and come on in. "Do you have time for a sit?" was the first question Eric presented to him after initial greetings. "Just 10 minutes" so tea was made and served. I had already met Dennis and his wife, Marlene, on my first visit.  We caught up and he wanted to know all of what I had been doing since our last meeting. I caught the train home at 11:25 a.m. Round trip costs me 18.50 gbp, and three hours. 

Thursday....hmmmmm??????? worked out, did a little yoga, went to the library, coffee shop, and met Steve for dinner for Thai food. I cannot remember anything else. Oh...I remember now. Thursday I was very depressed, homesick for conversation and friends, and frustrated. I must have been at some new level of culture shock. The weight of worry for home was heavy on my heart. The government shut down, the people who have lost pay...I don't really care about the people (and yes I am including Veterans here) who cannot get into their memorials and national parks. Don't get me wrong, I think it's sad and ridiculous, but I also thinks it's sad and ridiculous that these are the types of headlines that show up. I started to feel extremely guilty for being in the middle of England funded by the federal government when many people who are paying college bills for the children, buying food for their tables...and not getting a paycheck. It really, really frustrates me, and I can feel, literally feel, the weight of hatefulness people are sharing for one anothers political views. Steve is a good sounding board for me, and by the end of our dinner my tears were abated, and believe me, it was a full day of crying.

Friday was my first day to meet with Teacher Trainee writing groups. I hadn't worked too much on a presentation, so I got up fairly early and headed to my office...was there by 11:00. Ha--early!! I got up, worked out at my gym (by work out I am running/walking on a treadmill and I try to 2-3 miles each time--30-45 minutes worth,) practiced yoga, and was out the door by 10. This is gooooood for me. I worked all day at the office on a mini-powerpoint and activities. We had a such a good session. I had 11 volunteers and I am over the moon about this. I was hoping 3-5 at least. Eleven just made my day. We will meet for the next three Fridays, break, and then one more before their paper is due. They are young, happy people ready to become teachers. I already adore them in the hour we spent together. I think it will be hard for them to trust the protocol. Trust that you will get some benefit...and it might not be immediate. Just like my students in the US, they also have never participated in getting feedback quite this dynamic. However, I feel this sense of trust toward me, and already looking at me as an expert. I have to remember these students are completely volunteers, so they want to be there. I was at work until 6:30, and then was home by 7:30 or so. I made chili. It was cold, rainy, and windy. I needed chili. I met Steve at The Nursery Tavern and we watched the second half of the England game, which they won 4-1. I was home by 11.

Saturday, up at 5:15 am. for a train at 6:25 to London. I buy my tickets in advance for a cheaper rate, but this means there are no refunds and I cannot get on any other train, so I cannot miss my trains. I made it to London at 8:35, tube to Russell Square, and then breakfast in the Russell Square park, where I cuddled with a puppy Labrador retriever. So sweet. Puppy breath and all.

Met with eight teachers on the steps of the Museum. I have been to the British Museum twice before, and I think of all the places in London to visit, it's my favorite. We wrote together in the cafe, and then separated to where ever for an hour, then came back to the cafe and shared. I sat and visited with Jeni, one of the WP directors, and then finally made it to the clock room and the North American room.
Teachers, all secondary, listening to read alouds in the writing group.
I love the clock room...I go to that room EVERY time, but I have never written in the room before. It's a good, good writing space. I am doing a research project with the WP, too, so I have some interviews to conduct.

We finished about 12:30, but we sat around until 2:00 p.m. I raced to the Duke of York's Theater to watch Ibsen's A Doll's House, but I missed it. :( Next time. I then walked around the neighborhood, just losing myself on the streets of London. I went into clothing shop, shoe shops, astrology shops, health food shops, bookshops and such. Made my way to Covent Garden, and then found a Mexican restaurant. Bless my soul...I barely made it to my train home. Seven Dials was hosting cocktail week, and I made friends at the Mexican restaurant with a very handsome gay couple from Hungary who were participants in cocktail week. We compared travel stories in Budapest. It was a delight. I had purchased a first class ticket home (only 3 pounds more,) so

Covent Garden, near Neal's Yard Remedies.
this was nice to sooth my exhaustion. Home at 10 p.m. and bed straight away. I was tired. Up and at Starbucks at 9:00 this am. I have a long list of work to accomplish. I need to decide when to start writing...not just notetaking and bits and pieces here and there.

I think first quarter at home is up, and grades are due. Ugh. Busy time that I do not envy. Nor do I miss it. I thought I would, but I do not. I enjoy being in the classroom here, and being with students, but I like having different responsibilities with them. I already do not know how I will assimilate back into the life of a teacher. I thought a 20-year pattern would be so hard to break. Turns out...nope. 

Think about living your life where the only conversations you have are with people at the cash register. There are days when I literally do not talk to anyone because I do not have anyone to talk to. It's been a lonely experience. So when I am in places where people will engage in conversation with me, I find myself at home. 

Happy Sunday morning. I came down to Starbucks about 10:00. I drank my coffee in a comfy chair and never even got my computer out. Just sat there enjoying the Sunday morning sunshine from the window and the people filtering through to get their coffees before heading out for their day of adventure, fun, whatnot. Sundays seem to be a day for sports. I have noticed often children and teenagers in soccer uniforms and cheer/dance team uniforms on Sundays. 

The steam engine to Haworth.
I love the fact that the schools do not have organized sports like we do, which many know I oppose even though I coached for 13 years of my career. We do have alternatives...communities and clubs can easily take over this agenda, and are. I saw this article last week, and my mouth was salivating.

It's been a full and industrious week. Sunday I spent the day at the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth. I met Becca, Hank, and
Anna there. We walked, shopped, ate, had afternoon tea and scones, and toured the Parsonage. I will go back. My ticket is good for the next year. Hope I haven't lost it. The countryside, the village, the tapestry of the green hills dotted with sheep and quilted together with rock walls...I cannot wait for my sister and dad to visit (hopefully!) I have decided that with them, we will journey north rather than south, but maybe going over to Wales, too. The people are just so nice in the north. So very nice. I
haven't run into mean people in London and south, but it's certainly a different culture.
Me just after Yorkshire Tea in Haworth.


The Brontes Parsonage, Haworth.
Monday...I cannot even remember that far back. Ha.

Tuesday...Teacher Strike. I blogged that. 

Wednesday....rain and I spent the entire day at the office at Sheffield Hallam. I arrived about 10:00 a.m. and didn't leave until after 8:30 p.m. (Discovered I was locked in. Had to walk two floors down the back fire escape stairs to the 9th floor where night classes were still going on.) I think it's true what Walden wrote (I think it was Walden) that if we give ourselves space and time, that we will eventually get back to the intellect and produce something. And I sort of think that might be what Fulbright expects, or what happens with the Scholars. They so often encourage this idea of "do NOT overwork yourselves. Get out, meet people, take time, reflect, work. And guess what--that theory might actually work in producing. I have days where I literally do not get anything accomplished, and I feel bad about that. I have even told my colleague, Steve, that I fear this journey sometimes because left to my own devices, I can be very lazy. And I think it's because at home my work is so much work, all the time, going going going. Teachers reading this now know what I mean. Even on a day of respite from teaching, we are never encouraged to reflect and be still. Meeting here, meeting there, meeting over lunch. Sign in. Sign out. Go. Go. Go. 

At the same time, there are days here that I get so into my work that I forget to eat, go to the bathroom, talk to people. I am absorbed with it, and absorbed differently than I am in the States.

Inside Sheffield Wednesday Stadium.
I was supposed to go to a yoga class that night at 6:30, but I had planned to return home before going to change, get my mat, etc. It's just too hard for me to carry around all that crap on two bus rides then a half-mile walk. So, because I was working, I just kept working. I will try to go this week.

I also met with the Lecturer, Martin, for the PGCE Teacher Trainees. These are our student teachers. They all have bachelor degrees, and now it takes another year to get their teaching certificate...which they are student teaching during the entire time. On Fridays, they come to the university for a Seminar. Martin has agreed to help me organize a volunteer group of students who want to participate in small writing groups. The PGCE (post-graduate certificate in education) students who are taking the course for graduate credit are required to write two essays, and a draft is due on November 15. So, I'm running a trial writing group with them to see how the writing is influenced. It is also a way teachers can participate in alternative ways of teaching writing and offering feedback outside of the more prescriptive and formulaic approaches to teaching writing. I'm looking forward to it and their feedback.

Thursday...rain. I worked from the Learning Centre just across the street from my flat, which is the building next to my gym. If you search it (Tom F. will probably do this) it's the Sheffield Hallam Collegiate Crescent campus on Ecclesall Road. My gym is in the Pearson Building, and the Learning Centre is next door. I have found a nice path to cut through, an easy three-minute walk from my flat. Although I'm with the college students, I find I can still work there. I created a letter and invitation to the Teacher Trainees for Martin to hand out at the seminar. I also had some Fulbright surveys to complete, and I am taking a 4-week course on writing up research through the University of Maryland, so I posted to ELMS (blackboard) for some feedback. I love this course, and think I want to write a course like this for OWP teachers. In the past, I do not think we have been successful at getting products to come from teacher research courses--maybe it's just me who has been unsuccessful. I am getting a better grasp on what is valuable, and what is not necessary. And I am understanding time frames much better. This has been clear, distinct, and helpful in helping me focus on what needs to be accomplished and what needs to be discarded. We are reading short, practical articles on conducting research, and I think that has been super. of my best days yet.
"Two paths"...go ahead and quote it in your heads Frost fans.
Up early and took the train to Cambridge. Met the Directors of the UK National Writing Project at Anglesey Abbey, a National Trust Site, which I get in for free because a full membership to the National Trust came with my Fulbright. Bonus! We met in the cafe all day long, from 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. We talked, talked, and talked some more.  I adore these two people, and I hope our collegial friendship lasts long after my return to the States. I spent 63 minutes with them in a formal interview, and sent that off yesterday to be transcribed, which is going to cost me over a hundred pounds. Gulp. Out of this came a whole new research project that includes me visiting all 17 writing groups around England, if I can make it happen. This is what I will do with my extra $1500
Angelsey Abbey, a National Trust Site in Lode.
research grant funds. I was so tired, that I decided to come home from Cambridge rather than spend the night. I will return. Although the train ride home was disastrous. Nearly three hours of standing room only. And I had to switch trains four times. ALL of them packed. I will rethink train travel on Friday nights from 5:00-9:00 p.m. I finally switched my phone to military time. Locals do not use it on store signs or in conversations, but the trains and buses always use it, and I just do not have the mental energy to convert it and make my train on time. Ha.

Saturday...I slept in, went for a walk in the Botanical Gardens (right behind my flat) and then spent the whole afternoon at Cafe Nero. I alternate coffee shops. :) I like Nero better than Starbucks. It's cleaner, the crowd is a little older, it seems a little more sophisticated I think, and the coffee is smooth. Steve's friend Jeanne is here to visit from London. We ate dinner about 9:00 p.m. at The Mogel (in my neighborhood) and then crossed the street to The Lescar. The Mogel is Indian food. Jeanne writes for the Wall Street Journal. I had dinner and great conversation with a writer for the Wall Street Journal and a Harvard graduate. Never suspected this for an Ozark County girl. She writes about healthcare, and was in a conference last week (in London) where the Director of the FDA was to appear. Then the US Government shut down. Everyone at the conference was totally bummed. Twice now I have been slightly embarrassed by America since I've been here...the Syria issue, and now the government issue. I had a gentleman ask me Friday on the train "Americans seem to be so proud to be Americans, but yet they do not want to take care of other Americas. Why is this?" He is coming from a culture of British pride, and a deeply-rooted sense of taking care of one's fellow countrymen. Many locals, not the media, see Americans as selfish when they say they do not want their tax dollars to pay for someone (more than likely a neighbor) to get healthcare, but they do want their tax dollars going to fight in a war. It's an odd sense of ethics for many.
Time is flying. Fall is here, and leaves are sprinkling the streets and gathering in gutters. I reread Keats' Ode to Autumn yesterday. Hedge-crickets sing; redbreast whistles; swallows twitter....

I miss watching the Cardinals and listening to the games on the radio in post-season play.  

England's smallest train station.

Anna, Hank, and Becca on our Harry Potter train from Haworth to Keighley.
Snapshot from train to Haworth.


Janet Morrison said...

"I fear this journey sometimes because left to my own devices, I can be very lazy. And I think it's because at home my work is so much work, all the time, going going going. Teachers reading this now know what I mean. Even on a day of respite from teaching, we are never encouraged to reflect and be still. Meeting here, meeting there, meeting over lunch. Sign in. Sign out. Go. Go. Go."

I feel you on this comment! When I was in Asia for two weeks, I felt so great! I was learning, doing, and just feeling good. My first day back was challenging because I felt a little like molasses...not because of jet lag but just because I was challenged at becoming the energizer bunny once again. And I feel the need to do that...though there's a part of me that wishes I didn't, but don't really know how *not* to!

Your other comment about the way people feel about our government was interesting to me. Really brilliant observation...though I doubt the people proving their point would consider or agree that there is any conundrum in being proud of their country yet not helping those in it. It makes me shake my head. :-(

While in Laos, I took a cooking class with 3 people from Australia, 1 from Columbia, 1 from Finland, 1 from Germany. As always, they know all about what's going on with our country and have educated opinions about it...and I find that so many times we (Americans) can't even locate them on a map.

Good to "catch up" with you. Wish you had internet so I could skype you without making an appointment! :)

BK said...

It's so good to be keeping up with you in England. So much here to learn from and about. I wish I could be there with you to help you document the experience with my video camera, but as you might guess, I have had second thoughts about coming to to take you up on your invite.
We had a tough month of August and actually some of September. Tuvia was in and out of the hospital and that's slowed me down and forced us to rethink and reschedule our travel.
So sorry I can't join you but I'm so interested in your work there.