Sunday, 29 April 2018

3 Months to go

In just over 3 months I will be 40 years old and I have started writing blogs this year for the first time in earnest. I tried to do this years ago but lost interest and wasn't really able to keep it going regularly but this year so far has been different. For those reading this that don't know me, I am a Maths teacher in a secondary school in the UK and this year I will be going on a number of school trips so I started to write these travel blogs whilst away. The blog's that I have written are about my personal thoughts and feelings and the things I have encountered rather than the activities that our students have been up to! Here is the link to these if you want to have a read.

I guess up until now I have really ignored the idea of getting older. I guess I don't act or really feel that I have been on the planet for 40 years and still kind of ignore the idea that the 90's were 20 years ago! Whilst being away over Easter there have been a couple of times when I have stopped to think about what I am doing and where do I want the next 30 ish years to take me and I guess like a lot of people I am just working my way through work and life and the weeks just roll past. Sunday is the start of the stressful part of the week and Friday comes so quick that another week disappears.

So far this year I have met some amazing people and I guess they have added to my thoughts about what am I doing and what would my legacy be? How would people remember me, not that I am ready to go anytime soon but have I left a mark? So since leaving the Netherlands last week, I have decided that I need to get into shape and look after myself and my family and be someone that does rather than be an "in a minute" kind of person. It is a bit difficult at the moment as I am planning 3 school trips and Cub camp and also getting 62 kids through their Maths GCSE. Some of the inspiring people I have met are older and some are younger than me but I hope that I can be inspiring to someone.

This week has been a start. I took my kids out for a bike ride on Sunday. A run on Monday and then managed to squeeze in my first Park run this morning. I have cut down on the amount of tea that I drink and reduced my carb intake and I am pleased that I have lost 2 kilos this week already. I need to keep going, I want to get into shape and not think about getting old but thinking more about this being the start of something. I really want to get fitter. I am not totally out of shape in an athletic way but I need to shed some pounds and take better care of my body if I want to continue being as active as I can for my kids and hopefully one day my grandkids, not that I am expecting these for at least 10 years but I need to start now.

This week has also been another opportunity for me to apply for additional responsibility at work. I'm not going to lie I have been knocked back a number of times and been told really nice things like "you are really appointable" but you know that really doesn't help. So this week I have been interviewed for a couple of positions that would allow me to work with our support staff and teaching staff together. I really like working in a team and one my professional traits, in my opinion anyway, is that I always try and keep everyone sweet. I haven't always been successful and I know of at least 1 teacher that I have failed at this with but I don't believe in the teaching/ support staff divide. I used the word superior in an interview and the reply was senior came back as a better suggested but really I refute both words. In

any industry, people need to work together in a team and people have different responsibilities. Some have a more decision making role and get paid for this. Other people are really happy not to have that responsibility and therefore don't get the same pay. I totally agree, but in a school or business you need everyone working together and I am a work with people kind of person not a work for kind of person. Teachers would find teaching really difficult if the support staff didn't come into work! So I will wait and see the outcome. So far I have labelled myself as a successful failure with interviews over the past few years so I wait and see what happens this week. I have got to the point where I the ounce of hope that you hang onto after an interview is rapidly becoming smaller and smaller.

I am going back to University and do a Masters in Education. I have been teaching for 6 years and I think it is about time I reflected on my practise and belief about education. I am planning on using my interest in educational technology which I have some responsibility for this year although it is quite a challenge moving anything along as it needs to be on someone else's agenda too.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Netherlands - Day 7 Going Home

Final day in the Netherlands and being without a bike wasn't going to stop me getting out in the fresh air and enjoying the view of the amazing town, so I decided to go for an early morning run. I had brought my running stuff as I thought I'd get a chance to get out and enjoy a run on the flat in a different country. Having had the bikes had meant I didn't need to before that.

The final morning was beautiful, the sun was out and it was perfect conditions for a brief 5 km around Harderwijk. I'm so glad I did as on my run I spotted a market that was being set up. I thought, at the end of my 5km I would walk back to have a look before going back to get ready and packed up. What a stroke of luck as the market was a mixture of local produce, flowers, cheese, bakery, other foods, and clothes. We decided to have a breakfast from the market and enjoyed a pastry from the bakers and then sampled some of the cheeses and olives from one of the sellers.

A short walk to the beach for a cup of tea in the sun and we managed to say another goodbye to a couple of the other teachers that were leaving for Italy. It was a nice lazy morning after my run and after checking out of the hotel we sat and had lunch at Valhalla. A shack right on the beach made out of a couple of shipping containers and a central bar area that was really atmospheric. I can imagine in the summer months with a live band playing that this venue is packed both inside and out. Lunch here was really enjoyable and the staff were really attentive but also happy to let us sit and read rather than constantly ordering food and drinks. Definitely somewhere to come back to.

Then it was time for the last leg of our adventure, the journey back to the airport and the short flight home. Like our journey from the airport a simple train ride with one change that was far less daunting than the arrival journey as we were now really clued up as to how simple the trains were. The rest of the journey home was a nice time to reflect on the week and think about how a country so close to our own had such a different feel to it. I was immensely proud of our students and how they had changed in the week. I was also incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to go on this trip and especially for the staff that hosted us each day and how welcome I was made to feel. Could I consider changing and teaching in the Netherlands? If the opportunity came up I would have to consider it!

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Netherlands - Day 6 The Escape Rooms

The Penultimate day of the trip and our last day with the bikes. This is the first time in ages that I had spent so much time on a bike in a week and covered so many miles. As a family, we usually take our bikes to Centre Parcs when we go but this isn't the same sort of distances that we covered this week and I was sad that this was the last day of my bike. I will try and get mine out on a more regular basis but the 17-mile commute over the south downs is probably a step too far each day!

This was also the last day for our students to create their escape room. They spent the morning beavering away creating their themes and puzzles for the rooms that were going to be tried out that evening by the Dutch students' parents. I was really impressed with how well they all come together during the day and after lunch, they were all making lists of the things they'd need to bring from home or pick up in order to complete their rooms.

The students were given the freedom to go early and get these materials if everything else was completed and this was another example of the trust given to the students to complete the task without following strict rules about times in and out of school.

I also had a chance to sit in on another Maths lesson. A younger group this time but again looking at linear equations and a recap of what we would call order of operation questions or BIDMAS. Interestingly the Dutch used a staircase approach but it all amounts to the same. The linear equations were interesting as they didn't use the same notation and it got me thinking, why do we use the letter m for gradient? Having taught maths for 6 years you'd think this wasn't the first time I'd thought about it but it was. So a quick Google search gave me no conclusive answer. It would appear that there is some people suggesting it comes from French monte meaning slope and others for modulus of slope but neither seemed totally conclusive from the small part of research that I was doing so when I spoke to the teacher about the difference in notation we both agreed that we liked the c for the constant but the 'm' was a mystery! The group of students was happy for me to answer their questions but they were a little nervous about asking me the question in the first place.

After school and the final bike ride to return the bike was slightly emotional. This was starting to signal the end of the trip and I had had such a lovely time that returning the bike was the first sign of the end approaching. The week so far had seemed to fly by but also felt far longer than a week. I returned the bike in mostly the same number of pieces to its rightful owner who kindly took us off to see some Dutch tulips in the fields and also a quick pit stop to pick up some Dutch created waterbottles. It was really kind of her to do this for us and this echoed the amazing hospitality that we had received all week.

Back at school for the final revealing of the Escape rooms and the parent's had also prepared some traditional Dutch food too. I was really impressed and proud of the student's work. I thought that one of them may have been too mathematical to complete in the time available but the parents got stuck in and tried them all out. We all knew it was a great success when one group of parents let out a great big cheer when they had completed the room. Definitely a successful activity and week for the students. Great credit to the teachers that came up with the idea! The Dutch food was delicious but not quite enough for everyone as a dinner which left us going back into the town centre for another lovely dinner with some of the staff.

After dinner meant some goodbyes as we were all going our seperate ways the following morning with us leaving last the others had a fairly early start to their journey's home. The week was a fantastic experience and I have made some more friends in schools in other countries.

Day 7

Netherlands - Day 5 Texol

Today was a chance of a day trip to the Island of Texol, pronounced Tessol. We had an early start to get a coach to the ferry which was a 2-hour coach ride and gave us a chance to see more of the countryside and canals that litter the country.

We then crossed the dam that separates the Markermeer and Ijsselmeer lakes. This dam is 25 km long and has a 2-way road on top. This seemed like a desolate road on top of a thin line of rocks separating the lakes. Once off the dam, it was a short drive to the ferry that makes the crossing to Texol.
Off the bus and a quick run to the terminal building to get aboard the ferry that makes the short crossing to Texol. 20 minutes on board and we pull into the port. The ferry had a small refreshment area, toilets, and a nice sun deck. The ferry takes cars, vans, and passengers across to Texol which has approx 13,000 inhabitants on.

The next leg of our journey required the hiring of bicycles for all of us. Being a beautifully sunny day again this was music to my ears. The bike hire place is right next to the ferry, so easy to pick up 30 odd bikes for students and teachers and then off. The bike hire place had a good number of bikes and also had electric bikes, tandems, bikes for kids, and bikes with child seats or trailers.
What we hadn’t been prepared for was the distance to our first stop. About 10km from the port we came to a shipwreck and beachcomber museum, which had an amazing collection of things that have been washed up on shore. I wonder how much has also been picked up from obsolete shipping equipment too. The colour displays made great photographs but I wondered if I was looking at a museum collection or just a junk pile.

From the museum was a short ride to the lovely sandy beach, with a couple of shops and restaurants with large outdoor areas perfect for the glorious sunshine that we had been lucky enough to enjoy. Also, a chance for our students to play in the sand, a paddle into the sea or pick up some souvenirs.
Journey back to the ferry was a little more interesting. Disaster struck a student’s bike as the straps used for holding things to the back got tangled in the wheel and gears. A couple of us sent the student off with a teacher’s bike so that he could keep going whilst we fixed the bike. The untangling process, unfortunately, wasn’t the only issue as in the whole process the gears had broken leaving the bike useless. So the issue was now 3 teachers, 3 bikes one of which was useless and 11km to go back to the ferry! The broken bike was juggled back to the ferry by one of the Dutch teachers and I had the other teacher on the back of mine! It was quite a journey and the back wheel of my bike was far from prepared for the work we made it too. The whole journey back was interesting for all 3 of us! We definitely earnt a beer from that!

Once we close to the port we could see our ferry pulling out of the harbour so we had an hours wait which wasn’t ideal but allowed for a rest in the sun. It was interesting to see the staff and students from the Mediterranean countries taking shade whilst those of us from the North were quite happy to soak up the sun.

The ferry took us back an hour later and then we went to a local pizzeria for dinner before the drive back to Harderwijk. The return journey was via Amsterdam but with all major cities, there was a fair amount of traffic around it which delayed our return. I didn’t get to see any of the Dutch capital on our trip as the airport was to the south of the city. I’m not sure what I missed as I don’t remember the last time I went through the city and it will have undoubtedly have changed.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Netherlands - Day 4 Escape Room Puzzles and more hospitality

Our Hotel was a nice Best Western Hotel in the heart of the City. Each morning before we started the day we had breakfast in the Conservatory. This was a beautiful part of the bar and in the morning was a quiet place to sit and enjoy the usual buffet style breakfast found in most European hotels. A mixture of hot and cold meats, eggs, fruit, cereal, and pastries. Tea was the most disappointing with hot water in a flask that was far from boiling. Maggie Smith summed up our disappointment beautifully in the second best marigold hotel.

Today was mostly a school day. The student used the morning looking at different ways to put puzzles into their rooms and devise other puzzles for them to work on. I showed them a couple of options that could be changed to be included in their theme for their room, this wasn’t really planned as the Dutch teacher was late coming from the other site. The students got on with making their puzzles and device the theme and plan their room.

This was also an opportunity for me to go to an English Maths Lesson in a Dutch school. Confused? Well, this was one of the bilingual classes. The learn the same thing as the students learning in Dutch but the whole lesson was taught in English. This really separates us from Europe as we would never think about bilingual teaching but if we did which language would we choose? My son learns Mandarin at his school and has additional lessons on top of his normal timetable but I couldn’t begin to imagine trying to teach Maths in another language. I guess this is where we differ but are incredibly fortunate. It seems that the preferred language to learn in Europe is English and a lot of countries are learning it as an additional language and teaching subjects in that language mean that the students will get a better grasp of the language.

The topic for today’s lesson was quadratics and the students had to find vertices and complete the square. Classic quadratic learning but what was really interesting was the notation. There are a number of differences that are employed in Europe and are in their textbooks too. What was really interesting was their textbooks was that their textbooks weren’t English they were a translated version of their Dutch books so the notation was the same and any English conventions were “Lost in translation”! The teacher was amazing at getting the ideas across in English and was really receptive to the differences I pointed out. Some of the students tended back to Dutch when they were speaking to each and when I challenged them to only speak English I was told “but we are Badass!” This was hilarious and as the teacher pointed out was a perfectly English response.

The afternoon gave us a chance to explore Harderwijk town before dinner in the main square. Harderwijk is almost in the center of the Netherlands and has been around since the late middle ages. As with most European towns and cities of that era, there are a number of impressive churches in the town with bell towers that are so impressive. The church outside our hotel had a bell tower is over 20 bells in and these are all pitched so that they are really musical and on special days or during the run-up to Christmas they play recognizable tunes. This isn’t commonplace in the UK as most churches in the UK are lucky to have a bell in the tower and some Cathedrals will have up to 8 bells.
The main town center displays the old city walls that have long been ignored as the boundary of the city as expansion in all directions has happened since the 15th Century. There is still construction going on all around and the waterfront is having a huge investment in new housing going up. There is an eclectic mix of architectural styles in Harderwijk from the start of the town, typically Dutch style houses and also modern housing too.

Dinner was the main square at Luigi’s restaurant. The name would suggest an Italian restaurant but the menu was a mix of all styles similar to the food you would find in a pub chain in the UK. The food was good and it was lovely watching the world go by as we sat in the square with the last remnants of the Sun filling the square with warmth and light. It was great having a chat with a couple of the Dutch teachers over dinner to talk about life in a Dutch school.