Tag Archives: northern practicum

News from away! (with the Batmanns and their iPad)


We received our iPad just before going to Argentina, and it has been our faithful travel companion ever since. It was on this little screen that we saw our niece for the first time (after hiking six hours down a mountain to find wifi on a semi-weekly basis… Two weeks overdue, seriously, kiddo?!);

that Josh applied for Education from an Argentine campground (and was accepted!);

that a Mennonite frantically tried to learn Cree as his train chugged towards the Northern school at which he was expected to teach it;

and of course, it was on this little screen that this very blog was born.

Now, halfway across the world in a different direction, our little iPad has remained faithful in keeping us connected with our lives back home and in being the bearer of some very exciting news. In May, in a campground outside of Rome, it was on this iPad that I opened the email that would change the direction of my life yet again:

Going into Medicine has been a dream of mine for many years. I am beyond thrilled to not only have the chance to study Medicine, but also to study it in the Bilingual Stream, which will allow me to continue pursuing my passion for the French language and the French community that has become an incredible part of my life!

I received the email around midnight, so all the buses going into town had stopped running. Therefore, we celebrated my future career in Medicine by running across the highway and going to McDonald’s for celebratory McNuggets. I figured I didn’t need to worry about being a good role model for healthy eating practices until I was actually IN med school 😉

After receiving my acceptance in May, I had a few blissful weeks free of any obligations. Finally, however, the magnitude of paperwork caught up to me. In early July, I spent an entire day in my cousin’s office in a tiny hamlet of Switzerland downloading, printing, filling out, scanning, and finally coaxing an ancient fax machine to send all the forms required for my admission. I am frankly astounded that the forms actually sent properly… I don’t know if the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Manitoba have ever received an enrollment package from Ober-Says, Switzerland!


During this trip, Josh’s path has also meandered along some new adventures! In May, Mr. B officially graduated with his B.Ed. Although we were in Köln, Germany at the time of his convocation, his wonderful Ed friends made sure to include him in their celebrations:


In June, we were living in a London flat with Josh’s family during their annual trek to England. One Sunday evening, Josh received an email describing a possible job opportunity for the fall. He excitedly emailed back, but the next day, we went to Glastonbury for the night, so we were without Internet for one day. ONE DAY… which was apparently enough time for the principal of the school to request an interview with Josh! Arriving home that night to a pile of emails, we panicked that he had missed his chance. However, thanks to a convenient time difference and some speedy Skype-calls, Josh got ahold of the school, who reassured him that it wasn’t too late, his interview could be moved to the next day.

Fantastic… Except that the next day, we had tickets to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at London’s West End. So, we brought the iPad and during the show, Josh snuck out of the theatre and ended up doing his interview in the theatre bar over Skype. Only at one point did his potential employer ask Josh if there was a marching band in the background. Unconventional, perhaps – but, that very evening, there was a job offer in his inbox, so unconventional seemed to have worked!!
Josh Skype

A huge thank-you to Laura for faithfully checking our mail back at home, M.O.M. for being willing to sign and drop off all Sara’s crazy forms, Andreas and Simone for letting Sara commandeer their office all day and then (trying to) explain to their workplace why two Canadians had to use the fax machine for an hour, Gwen and Leanne U. for being the most persistent emailers, the Dixons for the 3G, the bartender at Royal Drury Lane Theatre for not batting an eyelash during Josh’s interview, Margaret Park School for being so flexible (note from Josh: I’m so excited to join you this fall!)… And to all of our amazing friends and family, back in Winnipeg or here in Europe, who cheer us on in our crazy, unconventional, ridiculous adventures. We love you guys and love sharing our life with you!

Js Glastonbury

A thousand words is worth a picture (right?)


So, I was going to wait til I had a few more photos before writing another post, but as taking pictures in schools is generally frowned upon, and my non-school hours are generally not accompanied by daylight, I thought I’d give a verbal description of life at Gillam School. So here it is, a Top 10 of my first ten days:

10. Northern hospitality: Less than 24 hours after my arrival in Gillam, my roommate and I were dining on caribou roast at our CT’s (collaborating teacher) house, talking about family and quoting Fubar (that’s big here). And tomorrow we’ll be heading one block away to my other CT’s house for a Grey Cup party (as such, any bits of CFL trivia you want to pass along would be muchly appreciated!). Thanks Julie, Jen, and Joe for such an incredible welcome to the community!

9. Sports: As the least athletic person in my graduating class, I never envied the sports teams that had to spend every evening being shuttled to some school across the city for games. In the North, however, since the games are generally about 8 hours away by train, you gotta make ’em count. Gillam hosted Volleyball Zones last week, meaning school was cancelled for two days while students from Churchill, Lynn Lake, and many other communities all slept in our classrooms. It felt more like a youth retreat than a tournament, as I had the honour of supervising the games room, working on my killer ping pong skills.

8. DIY Catering: Of course, a sports tournament needs a canteen. But whereas a city school would have all kinds of regulations about what could be sold in said canteen, here the student council just spends their evenings cooking pizzas and hamburger meat in the Home Ec room. Better still, they’re very generous with student-teachers who are willing to stay late cleaning pans!

7. Technology: While there are a handful of smartboards in the school (which I have likened to having a motion-activated toilet flusher in your bathroom…looks cool, saves a tiny bit of effort, but is not worth the $1000 investment), teachers are not afraid to bust out the ol’ overhead, and they do so with an enthusiasm that keeps students (and me!) engaged. That’s my kind of school!

6. Small town neighbours: My roommate (who is technically not my roommate since at the last minute we were placed in adjacent apartments rather than a house) is a super solid guy, and we have a pretty great open-door, open-fridge policy. We’ve also made friends with some of the other teachers and EAs, one of whom lives in our building also and showed up the other day with a bowl full of curried rice and chicken. So good!

5. Food: And on the subject of food, I suppose Reid and I both processed our initial feelings of homesickness by cooking. Every evening. In bulk. So now our fridges are literally burgeoning with leftovers, and we probably won’t have to cook again until we leave.

4. Informal Faculty Advisor relationships: An ‘FA’ is the person that comes to your school 3 times during your practicum to evaluate your teaching and decide whether you’re actually going to graduate or not. OR, in the case of the north, it’s the person who you pick up at the airport, wander all over town with looking for the person who took her bag (two identical MEC bags on one tiny puddle-jumping aircraft? Seriously!?), then walk to school with each morning. Thanks, Barbara, for enjoying Gillam with us, and for all the wise teaching advice and encouragement!

3. More sports!: I was called out of the lunchroom yesterday to witness the first official trapping practice of the season. Yes, trapping is an official sport of the Frontier Games, and students must race to set and break six traps twice. The record was something like 37 seconds, held by the all-school trapping champ, and I managed to do it in 1:43, which I figured was pretty good for a beginner.

2. Cooperative learning: Through a fortuitous miscommunication (my Spanish-teaching course was titled “Teaching Aboriginal and World Languages”), I’ve been placed in a Cree classroom for the majority of this practicum. A grades 1-8 Cree classroom, no less. My CT in incredibly patient as I fumble with the 20-syllable words, and I’m learning lots about early years education as well. It’s certainly never boring, and it gives new meaning to the term ‘cooperative learning’, as I have very explicitly stated that the students are allowed to correct me if I make a mistake. It keeps them on their toes, which is good!

“Hello from Gillam!” in my homemade Cree tiles

My bathroom, like the rest of my apartment, labelled in Cree

1. Best. School. Ever.:The school has 300 students, K-12, and as of yet I have not heard a single one disrespect a teacher or a fellow student. The positivity continues in the staff room, which has to be one of the most welcoming workplaces I’ve ever experienced. The theory is that it’s a perfect combination of expats (at least that’s how us ‘southerners’ feel) and born-n-raised Gillamites, so people have a lot invested in the community. Whatever it is, it’s an awesome place to be.

The view from my bedroom window

Overall an incredible experience so far. As I said, I still haven’t managed to see much of the town in daylight yet, but hopefully we’ll remedy that this weekend.

Northward Bound (part 1)


Spread over not one but four reclining seats as the golden prairies roll by seems like an appropriate position from which to dust off saratreetravels (and to espouse the joys of train-travel!).

Sadly it’s a bit of a misnomer, as the ‘Sara’ portion of saratreetravels is actually remaining in Winnipeg. It’s weird to be writing Is instead of wes, but I will do my best to maintain the narrative wit and attention to detail of my dear wife.

After a thoroughly enjoyable final week in the ‘Peg, I am now heading a thousand miles north to start my 5-week teaching practicum in Gillam, where I hope to learn much, much more than I teach. My bag is full of elbow-length mittens, my Cree dictionary, and more Reese’s products than a generous mother-in-law could buy at a Halloween clearance sale (which, incidentally, is exactly what happened). My fellow passengers have come all the way from Quebec, the Maritimes, and Holland to see the polar bears. Mine is the only seat with ‘Gillam’ scrawled above it, inviting many odd glances from people wondering why on earth someone would travel this ridiculously far only to get off at the last stop before Churchill.

I’ll have an answer to that question soon. But first, I’m told there’s a lounge car toward the back…time to keep espousing the joys of train-travel!

If there had to be a farewell, this was the best one possible.

(and if you have to travel for 36 hours straight, this is definitely the way to do it!)