New kid on the Canadian block

Shinead Maher from St John’s Primary School in Lambton, in Newcastle, is on exchange in Toronto, Canada.

What an experience and what a time! I arrived at my Canadian school at the beginning of January, in the middle of winter. I had to get public transport to school as I had no car. Walking to school in below zero temperatures was an adjustment but the beautiful snow made it bearable.

Everything is new

I felt like the new kid on the block, learning the names of staff and students, new bell times, new routines and a new way of teaching with limited technology. I met my new Grade 1 class, a total of 20 students, such a small size. They all walked into the classroom with their snow gear on and had two pairs of shoes – one for inside and one for outside. The process of taking their snow clothes off was lengthy, but it was all part of this wonderful experience.

Teaching in Canada is the best. We get 240 minutes of planning time (RFF) a week as students do French lessons every day as well as music and gym throughout the week. I had so much extra time, I could take students aside to get to know their strengths and weaknesses as well as plan lessons. Amazing, right? At the beginning of 2020, teachers and their union were fighting for smaller class sizes and strikes were happening regularly, sometimes once a week!

COVID-19 comes

I was teaching for less than 10 weeks when our March break came around. This is when the global pandemic struck and schools were shut for three weeks. We then began online learning.

This was very challenging, as some families did not having access to the technology to do work at home. The school boards had to hand out computers to students so learning could continue at home.

This was challenging within itself but, as the virus spread rapidly, it was announced that schools would not reopen until the new school year in September. I was devastated as I had only just got to know the staff, students, and their families.

Summer holidays

Now it’s summer vacation and I’m loving it. Thankfully, the virus is more contained, so I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel around this beautiful country.

I will return to school in September and to teach Grade 2. My principal was kind enough to put most of the students I taught in Grade 1 into my class again. I’m excited to return and see their faces again!

Canada seems to have a better work/life balance. I still have a few months left here and as long as the virus stays away I can keep enjoying the sights, culture and all things Canada has to offer.

This year has certainly been a rollercoaster but what a year to remember. I miss my family and friends (especially my dog) but I am also grateful for the opportunity of this exchange.

Shinead Maher