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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Feeling Better

I just wanted to write a quick post saying that I am already feeling better than I was when I wrote my last blog post!

I know my last post was kind of intense, but it was very therapeutic to write down how I have been feeling. I know that I'm going to be stressed and slightly crazy during my first year of teaching, but I'm feeling better about the whole situation.

I had a great time last night hanging out with some other secondary teachers, including my co-teacher. We all live in the same apartment building, which is pretty awesome! The teachers who have been here for several years have beautiful apartments that feel more like a home than an apartment.

All in all, I'm definitely feeling better, and I know I'm going to be okay! :)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Feeling Overwhelmed...

I haven't blogged in awhile, and to be honest, that's because this week was tough for me. 

So far, I am enjoying Dubai, although I feel like I haven't had a chance to experience authentic Dubai yet. I have done a few of the touristy things, such as seeing the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Fountain, and visiting several malls. Yesterday was actually the first day that I did not visit a mall since being here. That means I went to a mall every single day for 11 days - yikes!!! I was shopping for home furnishings or groceries for most of the mall visits.

Last week's orientation went really well, and I was really excited about this school and this job, and to be honest, thinking a lot about the future (ex. buying a car, where I want to live a few years down the road, etc). It's hard not to think about the future when you are constantly meeting people who have stayed here for years and have no intention of leaving anytime soon. Everything about the school seemed great - software, PD, administration, the support staff, the other new teachers, etc. 

Fast forward to this week... I was very excited to meet my curriculum leader (she is in charge of the arts department). I really like her, but I ended up more confused by the end of day one. She is very honest about the school and its strengths and weaknesses, and happened to shatter several of the seemingly perfect illusions I had of the school the previous week. I was also incredibly confused about what I would be teaching, as it would be up to my co-teacher and myself to decide how we were going to shape the music program. 

I met my co-teacher two days ago, and he has given me lots to think about and lots of resources. However, I am struggling with figuring out what on earth I am going to teach. Other departments have it easy - especially math, English, and social studies. The curriculum, lesson plans, resources, etc. are already prepared for them and they can use them as a guideline as needed. I feel as though I have a bunch of stuff, but no way to organize them. The curriculum I was finally given is good, but it reads as more of a course outline to me - aka, how this course has been taught in general detail. I will be teaching 5 courses this year - grade 7 and 8 "extra" music, grade 9 music, grade 10 music, and grade 11 IB music. 

I have complete control over my grade 7 and 8 classes - they are an additional music class to the mandatory general music. I am running the grade 7 class as a band class, and the grade 8 class as a general music class. I have experience with beginning band, so I'm not too worried about the grade 7s, even though I know it will be a lot of work and logistics to figure out since they haven't had a band class in a few years. I'm also really excited about the grade 8 general music class. I have lots of ideas of fun musical activities. For example, I'm brainstorming a big rhythm unit that will encompass activities such as the cup song, a Stomp portion, body percussion, vocal percussion, etc. I think that I will be able to create meaningful music activities that will let the kids have fun while learning important musical skills. I'm really looking forward to these two classes.

As for grade 11 IB music, I'm nervous, but that's to be expected. I attended an IB music teacher training workshop in June, and all of the teachers there were nervous about teaching the IB course. It's a LOT of material to go through, and the students have to do a ton of work. However, I have lots of resources from the conference and am still in communication with some of the teachers from training, so I think I will be okay as long as I plan ahead. 

Then comes grade 9 and 10 music... my co-teacher and I have decided we are going to co-teach the classes - aka teach the same thing to different students in different classes at the same time. This is what I'm nervous about. He has taught the grade 9 class several times, but hasn't taught the grade 10 class in a few years. Apparently the grade 9 class is easy to teach, as it's more about small-group and  independent work (ex. rock bands). I'm just nervous and worried because I don't know how or what to plan when we are co-teaching. I would almost rather do my own thing completely, but the kids are expecting this type of rock band course. I really don't want to make my life any more difficult by completely changing the course and having the students be upset with me from day one. However, I'm not familiar with how to work with rock bands (even though yes, "music is music"). I'm not familiar with guitars, amps, cords, etc. and I feel like I'm being a huge burden on my co-teacher because I won't know the content we are trying to teach the students. 

To add to everything previously listed, our department is currently in the process of moving into a brand-new building with a big theatre and classrooms. Everyone is stressed out and frustrated, even the teachers who have been here for 4-7 years. I keep having to make decisions about my classroom for the entire year: do I want chairs? Desks? Pieces of staging? Tables? Which chairs? Cabinets? Cupboards? Big music staff whiteboard? etc. There is still so much to do in this building before the beginning of school. All the staff are joking that it is a "growing year". We don't really have an office yet - we have one big table in our room and that's it. No computers, no desks, etc. There's not even toilet paper or soap in the bathrooms!! One perk: the wifi just started working this afternoon :) At this point, I just wish I could have come to this school next year, or at a point where I didn't have to deal with the new building, as it is just constantly adding to my stress. 

As a brand-new teacher, I am seriously struggling right now. If I were back in Manitoba, I think I would be acing this planning and preparatory portion. I would probably be teaching band or choir. I know the curriculum backward and forward, and would have the liberty of using my professional judgement to decide how and what I want to teach. But here, I am not in a music position for which I have been "trained" (I hate using the word trained, but it gets my point across). Even now, I am currently blogging instead of organizing and planning. I just don't know how to even begin classes next Monday, and I'm stressing myself out. I know I can be a good teacher, and I'm one of the most organized people I know... but I'm still frustrated and really worried about the school year to come. I'm sure everything will work out and be okay, but I was really hoping to have a great year and avoid most of the first year teaching horror stories. Oh well. 

Wish me luck...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

First School Impressions

I haven't written much about my school yet! I don't want to publicly publish the name of my school, but I'll just say it's an International American School here in Dubai. It might not be that hard to figure out what school I'm teaching at, but that's okay!

I just finished my fourth full day of orientation. It's going really well, although they are throwing a lot of information at us very quickly. I could honestly write multiple blog posts based on what we have covered in the past four days, but I'll try to keep it more brief! I want this blog to be educationally based while also keeping family and friends updated back home.

We went on a school tour on our first day of orientation and all I can say is "WOW!" The facilities of this school are stunning. I'll have to post pictures at later date! My office and classrooms are in a brand-new building - it isn't quite ready yet, but I'm very excited to be in there. I also can't believe how many employees this school has - for example, there are 72 teachers in the Secondary school, which has about 560 students. There are also numerous other staff employed by the school, including bus drivers, security guards, finance and accounts men, an attendance officer, an admissions officer, ladies who sell the school uniform, 6 full-time IT gentlemen, 3 nurses and a full-time doctor, and many, many others. I think the school must have somewhere around 500 employees in total. There are still tons of workers around the school getting the last minute preparation and repairs done before school starts in just over a week.

Besides the sheer number of staff that appear to work at this school, I am incredibly surprised with how nice and supportive everyone is. We have met numerous staff members and leaders who seem to be more than willing to go above and beyond their duties to help the new teachers. The administration team is amazing, and I love how I can definitely see that both my principal and assistant principal were master teachers before they became administrators.

There is also quite a developed hierarchy in the school. For example, each department in Secondary has a Department Head, or a Curriculum Leader. There are also numerous co-ordinators for various programs throughout the school. I am reassured to know that there are several systems in place for me to get help when I need it, which I definitely will! I am really looking forward to my Curriculum Leader getting here next week. I can't wait to talk to her in person, and start to delve in to the music curriculum and begin planning for the upcoming year! My co-teacher will also arrive next week, and I'm looking forward to meeting him. We skyped during my interview for this position and have communicated through emails since then, but I'm looking forward to meeting and talking with him in person!

Overall, my first impressions of the school are that while it's very fancy, there is definitely a lot of substance to back up the potential facade.  The school is very passionate about curriculum, assessment, etc. I'll post more in the future about these specific topics, but I'm now off to yet another mall to try and buy a SIM card for my phone for the umpteenth time! Wish me luck! :)

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Word on Tea

Let me preface this blog post with the following information about myself: I am obsessed with loose leaf tea from the Canadian-based tea company, DAVIDsTEA. I literally have 10s and 10s of bags and tins at home full of loose leaf tea, and numerous tea pots, mugs, travel mugs, infusers, and various contraptions and accessories to help ensure the perfect brew. With my overweight luggage concerns (read the previous post for details!), I knew I couldn't take much tea with me, if at all. I was quite upset. I thought about bringing my top five teas, but that still wouldn't be very much tea. I figure I would drink through the tea in a month, maybe two, and then be stuck with nothing. I therefore did the gutsy thing, and only brought 2 types of specialty herbal teas with me which I will only drink on certain occasions: Cold 911 for colds, and Bravissimo for sore throats (I still did bring an infuser, a Timolino mug, DAVIDsTEA filters, and a tea spoon with me!).  

As I was driving into Winnipeg on August 15th to head to the airport and fly across the world, DAVIDsTEA posted this clever video of a new product on their Facebook and Instagram pages: a 16 oz. Timolino travel mug.

I own 2 Timolino mugs, and they are one of my absolute favourite products. The only problem: they only 12 oz., which I often find is a bit small for a travel mug. DAVIDsTEA has been teasing the idea of a bigger Timolino for at least two years. Imagine my mixture of horror and delight when I realized my ultimate tea accessory became available the very day I was leaving Canada and moving across the world!!! Being an avid DAVIDsTEA fan and a travelling DAVIDsTEA junkie (I have visited DAVIDsTEAs in Montreal, New York, and several in Toronto), I knew there was a DAVIDsTEA in the Pearson airport, where my first layover would occur. I immediately posted on both Instagram and Facebook, asking if the Pearson store had them in stock. Within an hour or two, I had a reply from the DAVIDsTEA social media  person (on both Instagram and Facebook!), replying that they had called and the Pearson store had them in stock!

When I landed in Pearson, I immediately headed to the store and bought a 16 oz. mug. The only slight problem: I was able to get 50 grams of free tea when purchasing this mug. I had to choose my favourite tea that I couldn't live without. I ended up choosing Simply the Zest, a citrusy mate that I love having in the mornings. I tweeted the DAVIDsTEA account from my Istanbul layover (I had to cover all social media platforms!), letting them know that I had successfully acquired the mug! 

Fast forward two days, to when my roommate and I are experiencing our first day in Dubai exploring the Mirdif City Center, a mall right near our apartment . We were simply walking when I literally jumped and exclaimed, "OMG A TEAVANA! WE HAVE TO GO THERE!" I proceeded to power walk to the Teavana with my roommate confusedly following me. I excitedly drank all of the samples of tea and asked eagerly, "do you have Raspberry Riot Lemon Mate?!" The man was impressed with my knowledge of their teas and product. 

I am a loyal DAVIDsTEA fan through and through, but Teavana is an excellent substitute. I have bought 4 or 5 of their mate teas before, as I was looking to supplement my DAVIDsTEA collection. I had no idea it was such an international company. The man later told me that it was the only Teavana in Dubai - and I had somehow stumbled across it on my very first day in Dubai. I spent 187 AED on four types of tea, going way over the cash I had brought with me to the mall and I had to use my Canadian VISA. My roommate was slightly horrified. Don't worry, I finally did the conversion today and that only equals $52 Canadian dollars. Not bad for a tea purchase at all! 

The moral of this story: I love tea, and I am so thrilled that I was able to support DAVIDsTEA once last time by buying my Timolino. Their social media person is also the best (is it still Yuri...?). I am also extremely excited that I have access to a Teavana only 15 minutes away from my apartment, and I look forward to enjoying tea in the years to come :)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Journey

Spoiler alert: I’m safely in Dubai! This was a long journey, and this will be a long blog post, as I typed it out when I couldn't sleep! But let’s backtrack to a few days before I left…

For me, packing for Dubai was such a struggle. I have a tendency to over pack for every single trip or event to which I travel, and moving across the world proved to be no different. I was trying to downsize my packing selections for the past few weeks. I gave away 6 garbage bags filled with clothes, and I packed up a ton of clothing (mostly sweaters!) to store at my parent’s house. I had two free 50 lb bags with my airline carrier, and two carry-on items. I first started to try and fit everything into two bags. My mom and I weighed the first one and it was close to 70 lbs. It became immediately clear that there was no way I could fit the weight of everything into two bags, and I would simply have to pay for a third bag. After hours of re-assessing clothing options, stuffing space saving bags, and constantly weighing items, we were done. I finally had three bags at approximately 50-52 lbs  each. My carry-on suitcase was extremely overweight (around 30 lbs), but I was hoping that no one would weigh it. My carry-on backpack, which housed most of my technology including my MacBook and iPad, was about another 10 lbs. In total, I was moving across the world with almost 200 lbs of my stuff.

The final days were extremely hard. I was constantly upset and crying after saying good-bye to so many of my close friends. I became extremely nostalgic for seemingly random things. For example, I lamented over my last spicy perogy pizza from Boston Pizza! I also lost a lot of nerve and excitement. Until about 3 days before I left, I was extremely excited and confident. That soon diminished and I was left wondering why on earth I was planning to move across the world and leave everything I’ve ever known behind. I checked into my flights, and aquired three window seats. I no longer felt brave, and I became more and more anxious about the upcoming journey.   

My journey started at 10:00 am on Thursday, August 15 with a 2.5 hour drive to the nearest airport in Winnipeg. I wasn’t actually that sad about leaving my hometown, because I was distracted with restoring my phone from my computer! After carefully checking in 3 bags (final weight totals: 52, 50, and 49 lbs and only $100 for my third bag!!!), I had lunch with my parents and said a very difficult good-bye, and I was off! Flying out of Winnipeg was extremely sad. To me, Winnipeg was representing all of Manitoba, and I was leaving it for at least a year. I couldn’t stop crying as I watched Winnipeg grow smaller and smaller. The tipping point was when I spotted the unmistakable blue cap of “the Fort”, an apartment building next to the Fort Garry where several of my friends lived throughout student teaching.  My first flight was fine and nothing exciting happened. I cried for awhile, then got myself together and read. 

At the Toronto airport, I had a 4 hour layover and was able to go for dinner with my brother and his girlfriend. I had visited them in March, but it was very nice to see them one last time before I left.

Then came the big flight – a 9.5 hour flight on Turkish Airlines. I met up with a friend, Cassie, who was on the same Toronto – Istanbul flight, as she is going to teach in Kuwait for a year. We managed to snag seats together, for which I am very grateful! The other young woman beside us was from Turkey and very friendly, and helped explain the food options. Overall, I was extremely impressed with Turkish Airlines during this flight! They actually have a chef on board. The very first thing they did as we were taxied to take off was hand out Turkish delights. The flight wasn’t too bad, although we hit a fair amount of mild turbulence and one particular child screamed for hours. I managed to sleep a bit, talked to Cassie, watched a movie, etc.

Heading into the Istanbul airport off by far the most overwhelming part of my 33 hour journey. The plane had been warm for the entire flight, and we were pelted with humidity and heat as soon as we exited. Inside the Turkish Airport was absolute chaos. There were hoards of people walking in all directions, and we had trouble finding where we were supposed to go, sweating profusely all the while. We realized we immediately had to go through security again, which was a bit of a pain. Once we went through security, there were even more people in the large, main part of the airport. Cassie and I went to brush our teeth and change our clothes, a welcome relief after the hours of travelling we had just incurred. After walking around in a daze we found a Starbucks – a welcoming site. We got drinks and I used my VISA internationally for the first time! In case you are wondering, a Java Chip Frappuccino tastes identical in Manitoba as it does in Turkey. We found a wall to lean on and eventually acquired a wi-fi password. I proceeded to text and talk to people, and even sent my friends some snap chats from Turkey. We talked to several people who sat next to us, often offering the wi-fi password. One of these men was from the US and living in Morocco. Our final experience in the Turkish airport was finding a Turkish delight store that offered free samples of several different types of Turkish delights. Cassie and I ate some Turkish delights and parted ways.

I went to my posted gate and hung out there for about 15 minutes. My boarding time was supposed to be at 7:00 pm, and around 7:05, things started happening. I locked eyes with the gentleman from earlier who lives in Morocco, and he mouthed to me that this wasn’t my flight. I asked one of the employees, and she told me the gate had changed. I was very annoyed, and slightly worried. I had been sitting at the gate for 15 minutes, and had not once heard an announcement for a gate change – at least not in English. The board had also still been displaying the incorrect gate 15 minutes before the boarding time. I quickly proceeded to the new gate, talking to two gentlemen who were also flying to Dubai as I went. We arrived at the gate to see a “30 minute delay” announcement. I continued to stand and stretch while talking to the gentlemen. An hour later, we finally boarded the plane. To my delight, the middle seat in our row was empty. The guy on the aisle and I were both able to stretch out a little more, and I felt a lot less cramped. I immediately got my flight essentials out (iPod, iPad, headphones, eye mask, etc.) and went to sleep. I think we were boarding for about half an hour. I woke up as we were taxiing for take off.  I was unable to sleep well on this plane, and ended up watching several episodes of a TV show I had downloaded to my iPad. The 4.5 hour flight went quickly, and soon I was touching down in DUBAI, my new home!

I got into the airport around 2:30 a.m, an hour later than originally scheduled. I walked for around 15 minutes until I finally found the Marhaba man who was meeting me (I found out later that my roommate got to drive in a golf cart vehicle instead of walking – jealous!). My school pays for this welcome service to help us through baggage claim, customs, security, and to meet them. Customs was incredibly easy. I’m not sure if it was because I went through the “Marhaba” line, or if everything I read about entering Dubai was blown out of proportion. The customs gentlemen basically just confirmed that I was coming to teach music, and asked if I would be able to teach someone like him music. I joked back, had to look into a machine and have my retinas scanned, and that was it. There were no questions about medications or anything. I had been incredibly nervous about customs, and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make it through! After collecting my three bags and quickly using the wi-fi, we continued through the airport, eventually ending up at the main Marhaba counter. As an aside, the Dubai airport was clean, incredibly modern looking, and full of Arab men in their traditional white robes. I pulled my luggage cart up to the Marhaba counter and heard someone say, “Emma?”. It was the school’s business manager, whom I have been emailing for months over travelling plans and tickets for both my IB training in Lake Tahoe and the flights to Dubai. Three men were there to meet me – the business manager, the assistant business manager, and the head of housing. My principal had also come to meet me, but we met up with her in the parking lot. Apparently I made it through the airport quickly, because they were all surprised that I showed up so soon! I was soon in a car with two of the men (one of them disappeared with all of my luggage – that was slightly scary!) and we drove to my housing, about 20 minutes away from the airport. We passed the school on our way, and it looked incredibly huge and fancy! I finally saw a glimpse at one of the famous buildings, the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building the world)! It was very far away, so it didn’t look that impressive, but I was still excited none-the-less.

I got to my apartment around 3:30 a.m., and got to meet my roommate in person! She had arrived about an hour earlier. The men left us with our settling in allowance, a cell phone (programmed with contacts reading: “Elementary School Principal”, and “Business Manager”, etc. in case we need to call someone), and instructions about how to be picked up for school on Sunday.  My roommate, Alison, and I explored our apartment and unpacked a bit. There were several confusions on our first night. We wanted to wash our new bedding, and had no idea how to work the washing machine. We don’t really know how to work our stove (it’s gas and some of the elements require matches!). We both decided to shower, but we didn’t really know how to work the hot water heaters. My shower doesn’t have a bath water option as it automatically comes out of the shower head. I didn’t realize  this, and immediately got drenched after turning on the water. Both of our bathrooms also flooded while we were trying to shower. Fortunately, I think this is common, as both of the bathrooms have a drain in them. My floor was completely soaked, as water was spraying out of the side of my showerhead. It was a night full of adventures, and we finally crawled into our beds around 5:00 a.m. I had been travelling for 33 hours – from 10:00 am on Thursday to 3:30 am on Sunday (minus 9 hours for the time change). We agreed to sleep until 10:00 a.m., then get up and try to stay up all day. After 33 hours, I had finally made it to my new apartment in my new home – Dubai! J

Monday, August 12, 2013

Difficult Good-Byes

I have had numerous difficult good-byes lately - from officially selling my car to saying "see you later" to 6 of my closest girlfriends from university, the past few days have been a whirlwind of emotions. On one hand, I am so excited to move to Dubai and begin living and teaching over there, but as the day comes closer, I find myself longing to stay in my city. I have lived in the same house for my ENTIRE life, so this is, by far, the most major decision and event in my life to date.

The next few days are going to be crazy! I need to officially pack, run tons of last minute errands, and see and say good-bye to several people, including some of my oldest friends.

I am so worried I'm going to forget a small detail, or forget to pack something! Yes, I know I can buy almost anything over there, but I will still be upset if I forget something that is meaningful to me.

I keep trying to remember the old adage: "It's not good-bye, it's see you later". I realize that this sounds incredibly corny, but it's true! Most of my university friends are moving within three hours of the city in which we attended university (my hometown). I will hopefully be able to see almost everyone when I come home next summer. I expect the year will fly by, and with technology being so prominent in our everyday lives, I know I will be using Facebook, Skype, Twitter, FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Viber to keep in touch with my family and friends!

Six of my closest girlfriends from the past 5 years at university

Friday, August 09, 2013

First blog post!

One week from today, I will be travelling across the world to begin my first teaching job at an American International School in Dubai, U.A.E!!!!!

I am so excited to being my teaching career, and I am even more excited that I will be teaching internationally. I know that I will really grow immensely from this experience, and I am looking forward to blogging along the way! I intend for this blog to have two main purposes: 1) to connect with other educators (music educators, international educators, new teachers, and everyone else!) and 2) to keep my friends and family back home up-to-date with my adventures.

I have been meaning to begin a blog for the past two years while in university education classes. I think blogs are an excellent way to network, share, and keep track of one's personal growth as an educator and as a person. I have decided to finally take the plunge and begin a blog today for three reasons: 1) It's exactly one week until I leave! 2) I received my employment visa today! and 3) I just added my roommate on facebook, and she already has a blog started!

A little background on myself: I am from a small city in Manitoba, Canada. I was born, raised, and educated in this city. I have always been heavily involved with music and the arts as my parents are both music educators. I recently graduated from the university with a Bachelor of Music and a Bachelor of Education degree. My job overseas will be teaching "Secondary Music". As far as I know, my assignments next year will include Grade 7 Band, Grade 8 Band, Grade 9 General Music, Grade 10 General Music, and Grade 11 International Baccalaureate Music. I will also be involved in after school activities including drama and musical theatre.

I secured this job at the University of Northern Iowa's Overseas Recruiting Fair - an experience that I can't recommend enough! It was an absolute whirlwind of a weekend with high emotions and drama, but ended with the ideal scenario! I felt extremely fortunate to secure a job, especially since I am a brand-new teacher and I was only willing to accept jobs in my specialized area. I will try and do an updated blog post at some point reviewing and explaining the fair in more detail, but for now, please visit their website for more information:

I would love to connect with other educators - especially those involved with teaching music, new teachers, international teachers, IB teachers, or anyone else who wishes to network with me! My twitter handle is @emmaindubai. I look forward to connecting with you! :)