Back to School

This time last year was the first back-to-school period that I remember when I didn’t actually go back to school. I’d been on the same yearly schedule for over 20 years, so it felt odd to spend my end of summer days packing for England and watching Buffy and Angel and figuring out how to ship my cat across the world.

Now I’m back in Toronto, back in my old routine, getting ready to go back to my old school. Everything feels mostly right, but just a little bit off. Things have changed and I’m used to change (I might not like it but it doesn’t usually surprise me), but they changed while I was away so I didn’t have a chance to get used to the changes themselves. Bloor Street has a barber shop called The Man Cave and Book City is empty and gone. The school that was going to become condos is now condos. It all just looks a little bit different. And I’ve changed. I pronounce the word “pardon” differently and I sometimes say that I’m not bothered instead of saying that I don’t care. Subway rides feel ridiculously short in this city. I rarely have time to settle into a book before I get to my stop. I don’t mind not having an hour and a half commute to and from work, but I already miss the view from the train and the company from the colleagues I’d meet up with at Clapham Junction. I don’t know if I made the right decision in coming back. I don’t know if I would have made the right decision if I had stayed. But I’m here, and I’m happy, and I’m excited to feel leaves crunch under my feet soon.


Writing Again

Well, as I kind of expected, I completely fell through on my plans to write something weekly. Or whatever that goal was. I have done a fair bit of writing in a notebook, but not much of that has made it onto this blog. I have a new project in mind, though, and I might post some of it here.

I’ve decided to take part in Teachers Write this year. I played around with it a few years ago, and then last year I left town and disconnected from the internet around the time it started, but this year I want to try to commit a little more fully. I know I’ll have a hard time since I also need to work full time and pack up my apartment, but writing makes me happier when I’m stressed, so I really plan to stick with it. I also plan to be a day behind. Since the main Teachers Write blog comes from the USA, and I’m in the UK, I won’t see the morning posts until I get home from work, and sometimes I know I’ll sometimes want to write in the mornings. So I might just shift everything back by a day. But I also don’t want to completely fall behind. It’s Monday, the first day of Teachers Write, and I don’t have time to do the mini-lesson before I need to go to sleep, but I will do this week’s Monday Morning Warm-Up. So here it is:

My Plan for Teachers Write, 2014.

I plan to write about my time teaching here, in London, and compare to my teaching from back home. It doesn’t feel like an exciting topic, and I feel annoyed with myself for not writing as much about what I saw throughout my time here, but I still want to get it down. My experience here has been so different from my teaching experience at home. I can’t say that teaching in England is drastically different from teaching in Canada. I’ve taught at one school in each country and I know that those schools don’t represent the entire country. But, oh my goodness, those two experiences have been so different from each other.

I want to write this story because I have strong feelings and ideas about teaching and what education should look like, and I’ve had to reassess and rework those feelings and ideas several times this year. I think the beauty of this story will be where I always find the beauty in stories about school. The beauty will be in the kids. The beauty will be in the ways I got to know them, the things they learned, the grown-up people I think they might turn into. And the beauty will also be somewhere inside me. It will be in the things I learned about myself and about teaching over here in this school system that’s completely different from the one I’m used to. It will be in the mistakes I made and, I hope, in the ways that those mistakes will make me a better teacher. It will be in my view through the window of the train I take every morning and evening, or through the top front window of a double decker bus when I manage to score a top front seat.

Because I want to write about real people and real schools, I don’t know how much I’ll end up posting here. I hope I can find some that are okay to share. Stories get a little bored and can turn into boring stories when they spend all of their time alone in a notebook.

So, that’s my plan for the next few weeks. I’m too tired to proofread this post. Maybe tomorrow I’ll find a few mistakes but for today, I think I’m just going to sign off. Goodnight!


Drugs and Dog Shit

This is kind of hilarious.

To teach kids the importance of the editing process.

To teach kids the importance of the editing process.

When I was in public school (North American style, not British), we had pencils that said, “Toronto Public Schools Make The Difference. Say No To Drugs” or something like that on them. People would cross out words so they said, “Toronto Public Schools Make The Drugs.”

But I actually don’t even like the intended message of the pencil. I feel like it adds to stigma against people who are addicted to drugs. I’m sure there are ways to encourage people not to do something without promoting disdain for the people who do that thing. Or maybe not. A few weeks ago I saw a dog take a crap right in front of me. The owner must have known that I’d seen it, but just walked away once the dog had finished. I think that, back in Toronto, someone in that situation would at least pretend to look for a bag and not find one on them. And I see a lot more dog shit on the streets in this city, sometimes right beside posts with signs talking about the fine you’ll have to pay if you don’t pick up your dog’s shit. So maybe we need public shame to learn stuff. That sucks.

(This post ended up being way more serious than I thought it would be. Really I just wanted to post the picture and tell my own pencil drug story, but then I had more thoughts.)

Reading Toronto

I read Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson a few weeks ago. I don’t know how to recommend it without sounding silly. It’s really good. It has so much action in it. About a quarter of the way in, I wondered why the author had gotten to the climax so early in the story, but then it just kept building. Every time I thought things would start to settle down and end, more action happened. And then more happened. I felt disappointed when I ran into someone I knew on the bus or the train on the way to work because it meant I couldn’t read. And the ending felt cathartic and open. Nothing got wrapped up too tidily. No cheesy epilogue explained how well (or how poorly) everything turned out. It ended with tragedy, but also with hope. And the prologue probably has the best description of Toronto I’ve ever read:

Imagine a cartwheel half-mired in muddy water, its hub just clearing the surface. The spokes are the satellite cities that form Metropolitan Toronto: Etobicoke and York to the west; North York in the north; Scarborough and East York to the east. The Toronto city core is the hub. The mud itself is vast Lake Ontario, which cuts Toronto off at its southern border.

That’s my city. A wheel sticking out of a murky puddle.

When I heard the Book City in the Annex was closing this spring, I got really sad. I won’t make it back there before it’s gone. I feel bad, because I prefer reading off my e-reader, and I buy a lot of my e-books through a major corporation that I don’t like supporting. I still like the feel of actual books, and I’ll miss going into Book City to pick them up, feel their covers, their pages, their weight. I used to buy books there all the time. I liked it better than the large Chapters (or Indigo or whatever) because I could see everything there at once. I liked it better than used bookstores for almost the same reason. I could find things in that Book City. And if I couldn’t find something, I could find a person to ask really easily, and I’d get a straight answer right away. If I could buy e-books at Book City I would, especially if it meant I got to go inside, walk around, and feel the physical copies first.

My city’s changing and I can’t see it. It might not turn into the dystopian version from Brown Girl in the Ring, but it’s still changing.

Why Angel Doesn’t Work

I really like this piece on vampires as privilege. It reminds me of something I meant to write last summer but didn’t. It might be something that everyone has already figured out, but I haven’t read it anywhere, so I’m gonna write it.

Some Buffy and Angel spoilers below.

I watched a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel last summer. I had already seen most of Buffy, but I caught up on some of the episodes I hadn’t seen, and I watched in order story arcs that I’d seen before in bits and pieces. It was good. Buffy generally is. I mean, it isn’t close to perfect – it’s super racist, to start off with – but has some good messages about gender and it nicely critiques the helpless damsel trope that used to be so prevalent in horror movies. (Has that trope actually gone away some or do I just not watch enough movies to notice it?) I hadn’t watched as much Angel before. I knew the overall storyline, and I wanted to know how those events actually happened. I figured I would enjoy it the way I always enjoy watching Buffy. Instead, I decided that Angel just doesn’t work the way Buffy does, and there’s a very good reason for that.

If Buffy (the character) is the shallow, helpless, blonde cheerleader who finally learns to protect herself, Angel (also the character) represents white, straight, cis, male privilege, and its resulting guilt. He spends about 150 years living as a metaphor for sexual violence, and then when a pissed off family curses him with a soul, he feels guilty about all of the horrible things he has done. I think he works as a character on Buffy. It makes sense to me that they would fall in love with each other (a teenage girl who grows up too fast in a way that no one else can relate to and a guilt-ridden man who hasn’t really grown up yet sort of fit well together, if not in the most healthy way). On Buffy, Angel tries to fix the problem he used to be a part of by working with the Slayer. The minute he experiences true happiness, he loses his soul. This also makes sense. When people with privilege forget about their privilege, they become part of the problem. On Buffy, Angel is an ally, but most people don’t fully trust him, and Buffy makes the decisions.

On Angel, Angel’s the boss. He briefly puts Wesley in charge in the second season, but the show still revolves around him and he generally ends up being the hero. The audience is supposed to identify and sympathize with Angel, the guy who is one moment of pure happiness away from switching sides. I think Joss Whedon forgot, or maybe never realized, that this isn’t Angel’s fight. It’s Buffy’s fight. It’s the Slayers’ fight. It’s the humans’ fight. It’s the fight of the people that actually suffered as a result of the things that Angel, and others like him, did. Angel can help, but he can’t be the solution when he caused so much of the problem.

(Also, the show just doesn’t deliver on the same critiques of gender in fantasy and horror movies that Buffy does. They have, like, a zillion mystical pregnancies and don’t handle any of them particularly well, and I then I just stopped watching when I got to the episode in the third season where Angel fully prohibits Darla from terminating the pregnancy she doesn’t want to have. Awful awful awful.)


I really try to avoid writing clichés. I don’t like it when people roll their eyes at me and I don’t think I should say things that other people have said over and over again (unless it’s something really important that I think I need to repeat, but those aren’t really clichés). However, right now I need to write something that I see as a cliché in personal blogs.

This really sucks. I have to work myself up to actually say it.

I need to post more.

Ugh. It just sounds so disingenuous. If I actually thought I needed to post more, I would post more, right? Apparently not. I don’t know if posting that I need to post more will actually make me post more. It might just make me feel worse when I don’t follow through. But this is my second post in less than a week, so I should at least get part marks.

The worst is that I sometimes have an idea of something that I want to post, but then I just don’t do it. I don’t write it, and eventually enough time passes that I feel silly thinking about writing it. I have a post that I started writing a few days ago. I better post it soon before it gets stale. I’d do it now, but I wrote it up in a notebook and I can’t get at the notebook because I have a kitty on my lap. I can’t disturb this!

This is my excuse for not doing a lot of things.

I’m stuck.

Anyway, I’m gonna aim for at least one thing a week. Maybe more. We’ll see if I get anywhere close.


Today, I heard a(n old, White) man say to a group of people that he’d never met before, “He lost his mother at a young age and went to live in an orphanage,” (about a dead man they were supposed to look up to) “and you can imagine how difficult that must have been.”

It struck me how little imagination this (old, White) man must have had, to think that they would have to imagine. To think that none of them had ever gone through something similar. To think that everyone’s experience must mirror his own.