American Teaching in Scotland

So, as I have been preparing to go back to work this week, planning and racking my brain on how I’m going to start off this next school year, I’ve also been reflecting on the school year I just completed – pros, cons, and all the things I’ve learned thus far about teaching in Scotland.

The last you heard from me, I had just been offered my first teaching job in Scotland – I hadn’t even started yet! Well, now it is safe to say that I survived until the end of the school term and have learned loads! So, as a part of my reflection process, I thought I’d write some things down (because that’s how my brain processes information) and share with you some of the similarities and differences between the Scottish and American ways of teaching; and some valuable things I’ve learned in becoming a teacher in Scotland.

As to be expected there were many things that were different from my past teaching experiences in the States, but surprisingly there were also many things that were the same.


School Organization

For the most part, primary schools are organized in a very similar way to the elementary schools in the states with the exception of vocabulary.

For example:

Scottish:                                                  American:

Head Teacher                                           Principle

Deputy Head Teacher                              Vice Principle

Principle Teacher                                     Similar to a High School Dean – part admin, part teaching.

Curriculum Leader (High School)            Department Chair (High School)

Additional Support for Learning (ASL)     Special Education

Pupil Support Assistants (PSAs)               Instructional Assistants or Classroom Aids

Stage Level                                               Grade Level*

*There are a variety of stages in primary and secondary schools that I will detail out in a later blog.

…and lastly…

Pupils                                                        Students**

**kids are usually not referred to as ‘students’ in the UK until they reach university (or what we American’s call college).  ‘College’ in the UK is similar to Junior College.  In the UK there is a big difference between college and university (or ‘uni’) where as in American we just call it all college.

(There are also loads of other terms and acronyms that I’ve had to learn, but I don’t want to bore you with the details)


Another similarity that I experienced was the pleasure of working with a very dedicated staff, committed to their teaching practice, professional development, and their pupils!  I have a very supportive and encouraging Head Teacher and Deputy Head, colleagues who are always willing to help me out and appease my American questions with no judgement, a Support for Learning teacher that knows her pupils’ needs inside and out, PSAs who are willing to help in any way possible, and overall a great atmosphere to thrive professionally.

Kids & Parents

I have learned that kids are very similar to the kids in the states as well – they all deal with similar struggles of academia, insecurities, social media and peer pressure, family dynamics, extra-curricular activities, and more. I teach to a diverse pupil population, with an array of backgrounds and needs. There are many English language learners, as there are in my native California, however, the pupils here speak a variety of languages and come from a variety of cultures! At my school (and my kids’ school), we have many Romanian, Polish, Italian, Spanish, and French pupils (to name a few!).  Parents, as well, are very similar to parents anywhere – they all want the best for the children, some are involved in school life more than others, some work and some stay at home, and all come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds.


I could go on and on about all the differences with culture, British language and spelling, Scottish slang, and, as I previously mentioned, the variety in terminology, but I thought I’d try to stick to some of the ‘big picture’ differences for this section:

As a teacher trained in American, and more specifically California, there are certain aspects of teaching that are ingrained in you from the start of your first teaching course and from your own experiences as a student in school. Things like grades, grading, GPA, and report cards, homework, text books, class test and standardized test, state standards, and bench mark exams. To my surprise, there is very little of this in Scotland.  Let me attempt to break it down:

Grades: I was very surprised that grades are not given for assignments, nor are report cards issued in the same format that American kids are used to. Teachers do ‘mark’ assignments by giving direct marks or feedback, but pupils also often mark their own assignments followed by a peer or self-assessment.  There are two main peer/self-assessment tools that teachers used: (1) traffic light signals, and (2) Two Stars and a Wish.

Image result for traffic light assessmentTraffic light colors allow pupils to color code their work to let their teacher know how they feel about the assignment – I often use the happy, flat, or sad face method if I don’t want to mess with the kids pulling out their colored pencils.

Two Stars and a Wish is a method of assessment where pupils write down two things they did well or positive parts of the assignment and then follow it up with a ‘wish’ of something they could do better for the next time.  This is a great tool for peer assessment as well.

Although report cards with grades are not distributed, pupils do receive an end of the year formal report outlining what they have covered throughout the year and the individual pupils progress.  The format of these reports vary from school to school.  These reports require a ton of time to type up!  Luckily, my school’s report is a two page format with some boxes to be ticked, which makes the process a little bit less daunting.  However, both my children received 4-page typed up reports from their school!

Teaching Content

Much like the states have ‘state standards’ in all subjects to be taught and met by pupils each academic year, Scotland calls these standards ‘Benchmarks’ (which has a bit different use in California).  Unlike the States, these benchmarks are not public domain in the way that the California state standards can be accessed online by anyone.  Teachers use these benchmarks as a guideline for teaching and assessing each pupil’s accomplishments. Though, how teachers accomplish and teach these benchmarks can vary from teacher to teacher and school to school.

Unlike most schools in the states where every teacher teaches through a variety of textbooks (which usually map out the standards within the texts and teacher’s editions), the only subject that usually uses a textbook here is math, but you are not limited to the use of the single texts.  Instead, teachers use resources – loads and loads of resources – some that the school provides (there are tons of resource closets around the school as well as a resource room packed full!), online resources the school and teachers pay for, and, of course, good ol’ Google.  This aspect was one of the hardest for me to get used to by far.  I have always taught from a text.  This resource-driven way of teaching certainly allows for more individual creativity for teachers in forming lessons, but as a new teacher, it was difficult to navigate myself through all the resources that were available to help teach the benchmarks.  Another benefit to this type of teaching is the flexibility to teach all subjects across the curriculum – interdisciplinary learning is a key element in the curriculum, which I have found really enjoyable! (see below for links to various resources)


Another thing that I have found quite enjoyable is the focus on experiences for pupils – trips and hands on learning is very encouraged, and living in a city like Edinburgh there are loads of opportunities for

Image result for international festival edinburgh hub
‘The Hub’ – Headquarters for the Edinburgh International Festival

free activities (all museums are free to the public)! For most trips, classes will use the public bus system, which also helps keep costs down.  There are also a lot of opportunities to take walking trips as well.  In my short 5 months of teaching Primary 7 (aka 6th grade), my class got to travel to Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory during our WW2 study, we walked to the local park twice for outdoor learning activities and a picnic lunch, had 6 weeks of Tennis lessons for PE at Abercorn Sports Club (a short 15 min walk from school), a trip to ‘The Hub’ to participate in an activity put on by the Edinburgh International Festival, and a trip to the Risk Factory during our topic of health and safety.


Bilingual Education – French

Scotland, as previously mentioned, has a very diverse population of learning from all over since it is still part of the EU; so it makes perfect sense for there to be English language support and also an element of bilingual education – which I absolutely LOVE! Most schools have a French specialist (in the same way they have a PE and Music specialist) that come in once a week to teach French (and some primary schools even do a bit of German). Finally, I’ve been able to put my petite amount of French that I had learned in High School to good use (although I still regret not knowing Spanish a little bit). I can only imagine what my language skills and opportunities would be today had I started learning another language from Kindergarten.

Other Aspects of the Curriculum

A few other things that I thought I’d mention that are incorporated into the Curriculum for Excellence here in Scotland are the subjects of Health and Wellbeing (HWB) and Religious and Moral Education (RME).  HWB not only covers your typical topics of health (diet, exercise, drugs & alcohol, sex ed, etc) but also covers topics such as peer relationships, problem solving, and life skills.  RME is similar in that teachers can discuss basic moral principles.  RME also allows teachers to discuss religious holidays and practices– which covers not just Christian education but also other world religions.

Other Aspects of School Culture worth mentioning

Assemblies – Schools have assemblies every week.  At my school, assemblies occur every Friday – usually split into lower school (P1-3) and upper school (p4-7) with the occasional all school assembly.  Assemblies serve as a way for classes to present what they are learning to the whole school, a way for the Head teacher/Deputy Head to have face time with pupils, discuss new school focuses, policies and events, and, of course, to celebrate anything great happening at the school or with individual pupils.  In most high schools, assemblies are held every day with a different year group attending each day.

Political Awareness – I’ve never met so many young people interested and knowledgeable as toImage result for bbc newsround what is going on around the world and in their own country!  The conversations I have had with pupils (especially all their questions about President Trump!) is mind blowing, in a great way!  One way that many schools promote these conversations is by watching BBC’s Newsround, every day. Newsround is a short (c. 6 min) update for kids that airs twice a day covering world and UK news. Our kids often bring up Newsround topics and want to discuss them at the dinner table (lucky for me, I know what they are talking about because I watched the same episode with my class as well.)

Golden Time – Golden time is an all school reward system that most schools use here.  For my school, it occurs every Friday for 30 min. All pupils are rewarded Golden time at the beginning of the week; however, depending on their behavior, they can lose Golden Time as the week progresses. I have to admit that as an American teacher, I felt that Golden Time was a big ‘waste of time’ when I first started, but I’ve seen the effect that having Golden Time has had on my own kids (something for them to work towards each week) and am slowly changing my feelings towards the reward system.

Half day Fridays – yup, every Friday is a half day! This is a bit inconvenient for working parents, but it makes for a great start to your weekend!


Like I said, there is so much to compare and discuss when it comes to the differences between the American and Scottish ways of teaching, but I thought these were great starting points.  Please feel free to comment below if you have any further questions or thoughts about this new way of teaching I’m working through.



On The Hunt: Finding a Church in Scotland

I write this after enjoying a beautifully sunny day on a beach in North Berwick where my new friend Ahmed and I were kicking a football back and forth. Since our first arrival in Edinburgh (nearly 2 years ago), Leah and I were on the hunt for a church community. Before our move, we had tracked down a few churches, though with our eyes on a particular one. I had researched the church for some months hoping to get a pulse on the community from a distance. On our first week in Edinburgh—and with extreme jetlag—we decided to head to this church even though it was nearly an hour bus ride away! Everything about the church reminded us of Bakersfield. The community was filled with a nice mix of sweet old ladies and rowdy teenagers, though families were surprisingly sparse. The service was nice, energetic, and very charismatic of a familiar flavour. We left the service feeling as though we hadn’t skipped a beat. But, it was for this very reason that we felt most compelled to find a new church. For Leah and I, our time in Edinburgh was not about replicating our life in Bakersfield, rather quite the opposite. We wanted change and to experience a piece of life that we had never known. So, after chatting with a few of my PhD colleagues, we began to attend a Scottish Episcopal Church called “Ps & Gs” (Short for St. Paul’s and St. George’s; also, the heading image shows the exterior of Ps and Gs).

Inside Ps and Gs

Like the Scottish people, the Ps & Gs community is extremely welcoming and kind. The church provids three services on Sundays with a more liturgical focus at 9am (with a friendly face tickling the ivories of the organ); a family feel at 11am; and young-adult approach at 7pm. Obviously, with the kids, we mainly attend the 11am service. The church, being quite relaxed in its liturgical approach, still took some getting used to. For instance, wine instead of grape juice (aka, “diet Jesus”) at communion seemed odd…I know, I know, it’s in the Bible. But, even more odd was having to drink from the same cup of the old mustached dude before me, who I know left some remnants of the stache for me to unwittingly ingest (I started dipping my bread after this incident!). Also, the liturgically-driven sitting and standing left me feeling like I was in a Richard Simmons workout video rather than a church. But, looking back on our nearly two years of attendance at Ps and Gs, the oddities have slipped away and we remain thankful for this community. Our greatest joy in the church comes from their kid’s programme.

A bench in front of Ps and Gs

Penelope and Markie love their classes and daily ask to go to church on Sunday (even when mum and dad don’t really want to go J). The programme is relaxed yet organised, and the teachers are sweet. Our favourite part is the conversations on our way home following church. The kids learn about the issues of the world and actively pray for them. Penelope and Markie will regularly remind us (usually at dinner time prayer) to pray for the refugees and those without money for food or a home. It makes my heart happy that my kids are concerned for the poorest and most vulnerable people of society and that their lives are not simply self-interested.

We’ve been the thankful to the church for the numerous opportunities to participate in the community. During our first year here, Leah was warmly welcomed into the Mother’s connect group, which provided so much support for Leah and the kids as we transitioned our life to Scotland.  Now, although Leah is working full time and can no longer attend regular meet-ups, she has maintained friendships with many of the women and the kids often look forward to going to “Mother’s group” during their school holidays. Leah and I also run a bi-monthly in-depth Bible study (looking at the Gospel of Mark!) with university students. We typically have 6-8 students and cover anywhere from 4-8 verses in about three hours. We often eat together and enjoy each other’s company. The Bible study is strictly dialogical and requires participation. I help the students navigate the ancient context and Greek language, but still require their interpretive and investigative skills. The students have become aware and skeptical readers, questioning every ambiguous pronoun and every scene change. They understand terms like “pericope” and don’t take words like “gospel” for granted anymore. I watch these individuals regularly grow in their faith as their confidence to wrestle with scripture gives them a clearer vision of who Jesus is. These studies have been a great source of joy for both Leah and I. I also participate in the monthly student gatherings that are held at the church and enjoyed sharing at one of the meetings this last school term.  I was also asked to share on a passage during the Good Friday service this past Easter, and will be speaking a few more times during the 7pm service over the summer holiday.

Student Bible Study

Now, back to Ahmed. Ahmed is a Syrian refugee and new to the UK. He is just a kid, only two grades older than Penelope. Ahmed’s family was displaced by the grueling effects of war and terror in his home country, and he has had little in the way of normalcy. But today, Ahmed was not a refugee, he was just my friend. As friends, we kicked around a soccer ball, played badminton, and tried to fly a kite (with little success!). We chatted about his mates at school and how difficult it was adapting to the UK. We pissed off a couple making-out as our soccer ball flew within inches of their head…and it made for a good laugh! As I goofed around with Ahmed, I watched my kids and wife digging in the sand with other Syrian children. P’s and G’s had graciously reached out to refugee families resettling in Edinburgh with an aim to simply make their transition to the UK easier. Thankfully, P’s and G’s doesn’t only pray for our troubled world, but actively engages it. My family and I have never wanted to merely pray for our world, but rather actively engage it; and I am thankful to P’s and G’s for providing us opportunities to remain faithful to our call while on foreign soil.

Teaching In Scotland

After months of waiting to become a registered teacher in Scotland, I am not only proud to announce that I received my clearance for registration, but last week I landed myself a teaching job as well! I am beyond thrilled and so excited to start this new adventures!  I was offered an 18 month temporary contract (which is a very common offer here in Scotland) while the current teacher is doing an 18 month Secondment.

I will be starting my post on 30 January teaching Primary 7 (US equivalent to 6th grade) at Royal High Primary School.  One common teaching practice for primary teachers here in Scotland is for teachers to change stage levels (aka grade levels) every year. So, next year I will be assigned a different stage, but I am so happy to be starting off in Primary 7 (P7) as I love working with older students.

Royal High Primary School

I also feel so fortunate because I have been able to be in contact with the Head Teacher (aka Principle), current P7 teacher that I’m replacing, and the other P7 teacher (called my stage partner) while awaiting my first day.  The head teacher has been so encouraging towards me and has eased many of my insecurities regarding coming into the Scottish school system.  This week I am tying up loose ends at my current job as I prepare to transition out, all while communicating and planning meetings with those from my new job to ensure a smooth transition.

Royal High Primary School

An added bonus to this job is that Royal High Primary is located only a short 1.7miles from home (approx. 35min walk), as opposed to my current job which is 2.3 miles (50min walk) away.  I will also be getting off of work the same time as my kids get off school, so I will be getting home much earlier than I am now.  And lastly, but certainly not least, I will be making more money!

Royal High Primary School

I feel so fortunate to have been offered this post! I also feel so grateful for the time that I’ve been able to work and serve on staff at Broughton High School as a school support assistant (SSA).  My time as an SSA has afforded me so many great conversations and insights into the Scottish school system, and I have received loads of support from the staff regarding my pursuit to teach and interview for teaching jobs.

Cheers to a new year!


London Trip 2017

Following the holidays, we decided to head out to London for a few days before the kids started back at school. We had a great time, mostly hanging out in free Museums and walking around the many famous sites in London. It was nice to be away and just hang out as a family without any obligations. Below, we’ve posted a short video highlighting parts of our trip. You can also find some pictures here.

Trying to Teach

As Mark previous mentioned in our Summer Is Here blog, I thought I’d write a little update about my process of looking for a job.

gtc247_380When Mark and I were preparing for this journey across the Atlantic, we had decided that I would take a year off of working to help situate our kids into our new life in Scotland, all while applying for registration with the General Teaching Council of Scotland (GTCS), with the hope of being registered and ready to teach/supply teach (substitute teach) by fall of 2016. Well, the registration process with GTCS has been anything but speedy!

To sum up this process, let me just say that hindsight is 20/20, and if I could go back and start things sooner, I would! But, for now, I live in the present and have to wait.

So let me now explain my process (with the hope that this post might help some other California teacher pursue teaching in Scotland!)

Substitute/Supply Teaching

Unlike in California, in order to substitute teach (or supply teach, as they call it in the UK), you have to be fully certified and registered with GTCS. In CA, all you need to substitute teach is 90 semester units at university under your belt and to pass a test (called the CBEST). However, due to the amazing maternity benefits this country offers, many supply positions are long-term jobs, sometimes upwards of a year; so, it makes sense that they want supply teachers to be highly qualified. Unfortunately for me, this means that substitute teaching is not an option until I complete registration.

Registration Process

I started filling out my registration paperwork in December 2015. All was going well until I hit the part of the paperwork that required a police certificate from my country. Although I am cleared to work full time in the UK through my visa, GTCS needed this certificate, which required me to get finger printed and all my info sent into the United States FBI. My first issue with this step was that there is literally only ONE person in all of Edinburgh (the capital of the country mind you) that does official fingerprints, and he lives about a 45 min bus ride away. So after setting up my appointment, getting finger printed, and mailing in my prints, the wait time with the FBI was estimated to be 13-15 weeks! Needless to say, I got my police certificate back in April 2016! Hindsight: If only I would have done this before we left the states; (1) it would’ve been a lot cheaper (it cost me £70 – roughly $100) to get my prints done, and (2) I could’ve submitted my completed application much sooner.

So, with my fingerprints in hand, I officially submitted my application to GTCS in April! However, a week later part of my application was returned because they needed more information…

In Scotland the grade levels are labeled a bit different from CA. For example, when Penelope started school this past year in October 2015 she was 5 years old and she started P1 (primary 1), which is equivalent to Kindergarten in the states.   This school year she is in P2 (primary 2), which would be labeled as 1st grade in the states. There is also no “middle school” or “junior high” here. There is only two school levels – primary and secondary/high school. Things get a lot more confusing when it comes to labeling levels in secondary school, and I’m still trying to figure it out, so we will just leave that conversation for another day.

In California I have a K-12 Multiple Subject Credential, but that label does not necessarily translate in terms that are relevant to the Scots system, so GTCS asked me to get a formal letter from my university explaining in detail what ages, not grades levels, I am certified to teach and the details on the subject matters in which I am qualified. The letter took a few weeks to get completed after a few timed out conversations with my university and GTCS (which I am incredibly grateful to the time and effort made by National University’s credential office!), and I have to say, that after reading the details of the letter from NU, I was pleasantly surprised to see all that I was qualified to teach!

So where am I at in the process now, you may be asking?

After submitting all of the new information from NU, I was finally contacted that my application was under review on 19 Aug! However, although I was ecstatic to receive this email, with the email came more requests for information. The council informed me that although I have a teaching “credential” from the state of California, they are more concerned with the course work that I studied and not the certificates that I have earned…which I completely understand. So they requested detailed course descriptions and syllabi of some of my specific courses. Again, National University pulled through for me! After multiple phone calls, conference calls, and working with various departments and professors, I sent off the official letters to GTCS this morning (5 Sept)!

So the waiting resumes…

But in the mean time what are we going to do to generate income?

Because our timeline has been prolonged, I have not been able to jump into the teaching game as soon as we had hoped. We budgeted for my year off of work, but our first year abroad has come to a close (12 Sept). So, while I have been waiting and working with GTCS, I have also been tirelessly pursing a job that does not require registration (this effort deserves a blog of it’s own!); however, I am happy to announce that I was offered a position as a School Support Assistant at Broughton High School. This job entails working 34 hours a week in a variety of areas within the school: reception, attendance, administration, welfare (first aid), helping students and parents, and anything the staff needs. Although this is not a teaching post, I am very excited to be in a school, working around staff and students, and getting to know the school system a bit better. I have also been afforded a tutoring opportunity with Kip McGrath, a private tutoring company that focuses on math and English. As of right now I am tutoring a class of my own on Wednesdays and covering other classes as needed.

Because Mark has a some-what flexible study schedule, he will be able to walk the kids to and from school and take care of Markie during the day after he is finished with nursery. We are still trying to work out all the logistics, but we are feeling hopeful. Our needs are being provided for, and I am on my way to being able to teach in Scotland.

Image result for broughton high school edinburgh

PT. 3: Around the World and Back (Volcanoes and Prostitutes)

*I apologise for the British spelling, but my processor now pledges allegiance to the Queen!

British School sign
The British School at Rome

After returning from the Summer School at London I had about ten days home before heading off to Rome and the Campania region. The University of Edinburgh helpfully provided the needed funds to pay for my research trip. I was afforded the opportunity to stay at the British School at Rome, and it was quite impressive. The British School is open to all students at British Universities. The place is equipped with a fully stocked library, which is open 24 hours a day, and a wonderfully peaceful setting for writing. Also, artists from all over the world rent studios here to practice/produce their art. The school gathers all the residents for nightly communal dinners. The food was fantastic and the conversation even better. I had the opportunity meet some amazingly talented scholars and artists. For any future research trips to Rome, I plan to use their accommodations.

British School - Wide Shot
Wide Shot of the British School at Rome

As for my purpose in Italy, I needed to secure photos of coins, graffiti, and artefacts from Rome, Pompeii, and Herculaneum. Though these places catalogue their finds quite well they rarely publish high quality photos online for closer inspection and reuse. Also, part of my research trip was to familiarise myself with Herculaneum and Pompeii, two sites I had never been to, though will likely be a feature in my dissertation. I had just travelled to Rome with Leah and the kids in February and had done the touristy sites, which meant I could focus my attention on the Museums housing important artefacts. As in the last blog, I will only discuss one of my favourite features from each city.

The She-Wolf feeding the young Romulus (founder of Rome) and Remus.


A piece of my dissertation intends to trace the history of the Roman rex (i.e. “King”). In ancient literary sources of Roman history, the kings play a prominent role. Modern scholarship, in many respects, has either overlooked (with prospects of getting to the more interesting periods) or sought to discredit the veracity of ancient author’s claims. Certainly, myth is the kernel of Rome’s foundation. For example, the child (king) Romulus, the founder of Rome, and his brother Remus were not actually nursed and cared for by a she-wolf (see image above) after being abandoned to die. It is along with these mythical stories that Roman kingship in its entirety has been cast off. However, over the last century some important archaeological finds have helped solidify the early reality of Roman kings. Among the most important was a piece of pottery (i.e. a bowl) from the 6th century BCE with the inscription “REX” found in the Regia (The Regia was the royal residence of the early kings of Rome and later functioned as the headquarters for the Pontifex Maximus [i.e. the “high priest” of Rome]). Another important inscription was found under the Lapis Niger (lit. “black marble”), in the ancient comitium, i.e the earliest known worship centre of ancient Rome. The inscription “RECEI” was found on a cippus (i.e. a pillar) and written in archaic Latin. The form (i.e. boustrophedon) places this inscription to the first half of the 6th century BCE, the earliest known Latin inscription. The inscription appears to be a dedication to a rex (“king”). These were a few of my favourite finds in Rome.

The Regia


Rex - Pottery - 6th cent
6th Century Pottery with the inscription, “REX.”


Cippus - Lapis Niger
A plaster model of the cippus found under the Lapis Niger.

Herculaneum and Pompeii:

Naples is located about an hour and a half by train from Rome. It’s the main city to stay for travel between Herculaneum and Pompeii, both being less than a 30-minute train-ride away. So, I decided to cover Herculaneum and Pompeii over a course of two days. The main purpose of my trip to these cities was (1) to familiarise myself with the city, but also (2) to investigate politically charged graffiti. However, in this small blog I didn’t want to discuss that aspect of my project, but focus on two interesting locations in Herculaneum and Pompeii.

Mt. Vesuvius as seen from Pompeii.


The ancient city of Herculaneum lays nine miles East of Mt. Vesuvius. Vesuvius erupted on the 24th and 25th of August 79 CE, leaving the city decimated under a 100-foot thick layer of volcanic ash. The historian, Pliny the Younger describes the scene:

“Ashes were falling, hotter and thicker…followed by bits of pumice and blackened stones, charred and cracked by the flames.”

“Meanwhile on Mount Vesuvius broad sheets of fire and leaping flames blazed at several points.” (Pliny the Younger, Epistles VI.16)

However, the volcanic ash that destroyed the city also perfectly (for the most part) preserved it, as it stood before the eruption. Left in the remains were private houses along with household items like food and even wooden furniture. Public buildings, statues, roads, and restaurants were also found beneath the ash. For me, the most intriguing piece of the site was the harbour with twelve boathouses full of skeletons. The skeletal remains were those of fleeing refugees. Early excavation of the city revealed the remains of only six people, which led many scholars to believe that most of Herculaneum’s 4,500+ population had been safely evacuated. However, further investigation of the harbour and the beach revealed a different picture. Over 250 skeletal remains have since been found in the harbour and the beach. Along with the skeletal remains, archaeologists found a large over-turned boat that had apparently sunk at the inlet and upon rescue, leaving the group of refugees stranded. The charred remains of those on the beach and those huddled in the boat-houses likely reveal that two strong pyroclastic clouds (watch video of a modern pyroclastic cloud) of volcanic ash burning at nearly 900°F and moving at about 200-400 mph hit the city. Those bodies that were found on the beach died instantly as the fluid in their bodies evaporated. However, the group huddled in the boat-houses did not have direct contact with the pyroclastic cloud leaving them to die of thermal shock and suffocation as the fine burning coals/ash were inhaled into their lungs. Some remains show marks of skull fractures likely in part caused by flying debris. The archaeological evidence in part confirms the words of Pliny as he describes the scene.

The “boathouses”
Skeletal Remains from the Boathouses
Skeletal Remains from the Boathouses
Skeletal Remains from the Boathouses
Area near where the large boat was found over-turned.


Pompeii, too, suffered the same tragic end (and preservation!) as Herculaneum. The site at Pompeii is probably 10x (if not more) the size of Herculaneum and boasted a hefty 20,000-person population in its prime. My favourite site was the Lupanare, which is a brothel. The building is two stories with each floor having five small rooms. It seems that only the lower floors were used for prostitution and the upper floors as lodging for the workers. The beds on the lower floor are made of cement, though I’d imagine they put pillows and the like down while they provided their services. For privacy, each room would have been closed with a wooden door. The building was likely constructed in 72 CE as evidenced by a coin imprint left at the first room on the left of the main entrance. The multiple inscriptions and graffiti found on the walls reveal that both the customers and the workers were from the lower class. The cost for these services would have been as low as 2 assi, which is equivalent to a loaf of bread. Most interesting was the erotic artwork above each room. The paintings show multiple couples engaged in various sexual positions. The purpose of these paintings not only intend to arouse the customers sexual drive, but also to make them feel—for the moment—as though they were part of the elite class…as it was the upper classes, who engaged in regular sex parties. In any case, I found this part of the site extremely interesting and thought I would share.

Erotic Painting above Room Entrance
Erotic Painting above Room Entrance
A bi-phallic Priapus (Greek god) holding his penises with two hands. Each penis is pointing in different directions to ward off potential evil spirits. This is appropriate for the brothel as it was believed that attack was most potent when naked.
A mason bed with light shining in from the window above.


For more pics go to my Facebook albums: Rome, Herculaneum, and Pompeii.



Coarelli, Filippo, Alfredo Foglia, and Pio Foglia. 2002. Pompeii. New York: Riverside Book Co.

Mühlenbrock, Josef, Dieter Richter, and Paola Barbon. 2005. Verschüttet vom Vesuv: die letzten Stunden von Herculaneum. Mainz am Rhein: P. von Zabern.

PT. 2: Around the World and Back

Mola Visit
British Museum’s Numismatic Summer School Class, 2016

            Angel’s funeral was on Monday and my flight home was Tuesday—though, I arrived late Wednesday night. To my benefit, I gained a day on my flight to the states, but unfortunately lost a day coming home due to time zoning. I had only four days to recuperate before heading off to London for a week. By the time my sleep schedule had normalized I was packing for London. This was unfortunate as I wasn’t able to spend more valuable time with the kids. However, we had prepared for a busy July. In any case, I was off to London.

            In April (2016) I had applied to the British Museum’s Numismatics Summer School. Numismatics pertains to the study of coins, banknotes, and medals, among other things. For the summer school the context was purely coinage. A chapter of my dissertation is solely focused on Roman (Imperial) coinage of Vespasian’s reign. As a student of the New Testament, my background work in Second Temple Judaism had been cultivated from day one while my skills in Classics (Roman and Greek) had nearly been neglected entirely. Numismatics also falls under this banner of missed opportunity. So when I was accepted into the summer school I was elated. The school comprised a week of lectures and interactive components.

Exterior of the British Museum

            I arrived a day early to settle myself in before the sessions began. Thankfully, the school had not only paid for my plane ticket, but also my lodging. However, I was surprised to find my accommodation was the dorm rooms of University College London, which quite reminded me of a prison cell. Needless to say, the room was less than stellar and equipped with a communal bathroom in tow. But, beggars can’t be choosers…and as a student, I’m certainly a beggar! In any case, after waking up in my cubicle-sized room, I was headed off to the first session. I left early knowing that I would get lost in the hustle and bustle of a morning commute in London. After finding my bearings, I finally stumbled upon the British Museum and was floored by its beautiful structure…this place was enormous! The summer school program was open to students of all levels, though I found myself being the oldest, by far. The gap between the next oldest and me was nearly 10 years. For me, the gap was tangible. Though, I made friends with a couple of other students in the program, and they were great! Nonetheless, the staff was nearer to my age and I made good friends in them.

Interior of the British Museum.

              As I fear of boring those reading this blog, I will only discuss my highlights and avoid some scholarly jargon while still sharing insights. In any case, the highlights of the week were the lectures explaining how and why coins were produced as well as the visit to MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology). As I’ve noted already, my background is not in numismatics and so understanding the mechanics behind coin making was quite helpful. One example is “die studies.”

This is an ancient die, which would have been struck by the “hammer-man” to make the impression on a coin.

               A die is a metallic piece used to strike a coin. A die has the engraved inverse of the image that will appear on a given coin. Production of a single coin requires two dies, the front (obverse) and the back (reverse). One die is attached to the workspace while the second is held in place by a suppostores (see picture below). Once the dies are centered, then the malliatores (literally, “hammer-men” [think “mallet”]) strikes the die, leaving the impression on both sides of the coin. Each die is individually handcrafted by a signatores (think “signature”). What this means is that every single die has a unique mark, which is (usually) identifiable. For my study, I am looking at coins that were most frequently used. Die studies helps quantify coinage output of a particular coin by examining those coins which share unique die markings.

Coin-making in action.

               Another interesting part of the summer school was our visit to the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA). Here they store thousands of ancient treasures found in London. Most recently MOLA uncovered (News article here) some 405 wooden stylus-writing tablets in the swampy underbelly of London. As part of our MOLA tour, we were able to handle and examine these wooden tablets (which are not yet available for public viewing). Due to their find location, many of the wooden tablets were waterlogged, which inadvertently preserved them. Most of the tablets found were rectangular panels of wood, which would have been overlaid with a coating of wax. A scribe would then write a letter, business transaction, or legal document with a stylus (stilus), impressing his message onto the wax. These tablets were made for reuse and one simply wiped the previous text clear with a spatula. However, the lettering on the wax created by the stylus was often pressed through to the wood revealing what was written on the tablets. However, the multiple usages of the tablets make them difficult to read. From the 405 tablets less than 100 are readable. However, these tablets have shone a new light on early Roman London.

Bloomberg Stylus
Writing Stylus
Spatula for clearing the wax on the tablets.
Spatula for clearing the wax on the tablets.



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                 One example is the confirmation of the historian Tacitus who discusses “Londinium” (i.e. “London”) as an “important centre for business-people and merchandise” (Tact. Ann. 14.33). Most of the tablets reveal Londinium to be a bustling city with an active business life. Another example is the Londinio Mogontio tablet (see tablet above). The Latin reads, “In London, to Mogontius…” confirming the earliest written evidence we have of Roman London. These are among some of the contributions MOLA has made to the academic world. This aspect of my trip leant little to my project, though I was quite fascinated with the tablets. Overall, I was very thankful to be apart of the British Museum’s Numismatic Summer School and feel more competent to produce a qualified thesis on the issue of Roman coinage. Stay tuned for my blog on Rome, Pompeii, and Herculaneum in the coming week.

PT. 1: Around The World and Back

*This update will be in three parts with each section being released a few days apart: The first will recall my brief trip to Bakersfield and the second to London while the third will be focused on my time in Rome and Pompeii.

Angel at a Vans and Shindig event.

Oh, to say that the last month has been a whirlwind for our family is quite an understatement. At the end of June, Leah and I received the unfortunate news that one of the skateboarders—Angel Rodriguez—from the Shindig (i.e. our youth centre that we ran for 10 years) had been struck by a car, while skating, and died (See news story here). Leah and I followed closely the chaos that ensued on Facebook. His friends, and fellow Shindig skateboarders, were in absolute shock at the sudden loss of their dear friend. As Leah and I watched his friend’s confusion and anger mound we felt our distance for the first time. We wanted to be there to mourn with them and help them cope with the tragedy. Early on Angel’s father and I were in contact, and he expressed his hope that I could perform the funeral ceremony. Through the sheer generosity of a couple back home (and dear friends to Angel), I was able to perform the funeral. About a year prior another local skateboarder (and friend) had died and I watched as the pastor mispronounced his name, and I thought, “I can’t let it be like that for Angel.” So, after 26 hours of flights and layovers I was in Bakersfield. Though the circumstances were unfortunate I hoped to make the best of my time in town.

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Within two hours of my flight landing I was at Chipotle. It had been nearly a year since I had sunk my teeth into a succulent burrito or enjoyed the curious stomach gurgle after ingesting spicy salsa (the jalapeños in Scotland taste like sweet pickles…yuck!). After a long nights’ sleep, I was up early and ready to go. I enjoyed my morning at Dagny’s Coffee, my “second office” when we lived in Bakersfield. I stuck around there for about four hours while scores of friends poured in just to see me. Over the course of five days I had the opportunity to catch up with friends and family, and it was a wonderful time. I was quite thankful for everyone who paid for my food, drinks, and movie tickets…it was completely unexpected. Y’all made me feel missed and loved! These times together made it difficult to leave.

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My time in Bakersfield, however, was not just about seeing family and friends, but to connect with Angel’s family and help them put their son to rest. Prior to my arrival, Angel’s father had decided to hold an open casket on Sunday (June 26, 2016) and the funeral on Monday (June 27, 2016). At the viewing hundreds of Angel’s family and friends poured into a small chapel to pay their respects. I asked Tyrone Bernal—someone I consider a very close friend and a positive influence on Angel (and Angel’s friends)—to attend the viewing with me to provide support for Angel’s family and friends. We watched as some of the toughest kids in our youth program broke down in tears for their friend. Tyrone and I were there to hug and cry with them. I became thankful for the 10+ years that I invested in each one of these kid’s lives…they trusted me and knew I cared about them. This was so helpful for me as I continue to look back on my life and consider how I’ve spent my time. Happily, I have few regrets with the Shindig.

Angel ripping on a skateboard as usual!

The funeral came the next day and it was a wonderful show of Angel’s influence. The Garden Community Church was packed with friends and family, nearly numbering 400 people. Over the few days I had to prepare the eulogy (through many tears), I felt urged to help Angel’s friends and family cope with their grief and loss. During the service I encouraged everyone to allow themselves to feel the full impact of their loss; to neither deny their pain nor make light of it (my eulogy in full: Angel – Funeral Service – for blog). The audience was gracious with me as the lump in my throat, sniffling nose, watery eyes, and outright ugly cry would have been a distraction in any other setting. During the funeral there were so many kind words shared about Angel’s life and influence—from helping out younger skaters to sharing his valuables with others when he had so little. And after knowing Angel for some 7+ years, I can attest to every positive word spoken about him.


The funeral was followed by a committal service, where we laid Angel’s body to rest. It was overwhelmingly hot by any standards, yet the bulk of those at the funeral service turned up. I prayed a final prayer for Angel and we committed his body to God. Before lowering his casket into the ground, friends and family took skateboard stickers and plastered them all over his casket as though it were a skateboard…a true tribute to a Bakersfield skateboard legend! Overall, everything went as well as it could, considering the situation, and the process of healing could now begin. After many hugs, tears, and laughs I said goodbye to the hundreds of kids that Leah and I had poured our lives into over the years. Tuesday morning I headed back to Scotland…to a glorious 62° F.


Summer Is Here!

Well, year one is essentially complete. Yesterday (May 31, 2016), I sat for my first year board reviews and passed. The board seemed quite happy with the thesis I proposed and believed it would be an original contribution to the field. My supervisor, Helen Bond, has been an extraordinary help in guiding the research and writing process up to this point and I am thankful for her encouragement. My project originally intended to focus on Davidic kingship in Mark’s Gospel, specifically how Mark uses David as a typology / prototype for Jesus. However, between the submission of my proposal (December 2014) and my matriculation at Edinburgh (September 2015) I became very interested in ancient Rome. As I believe Mark’s gospel was written after 70 C.E. (“common era” = A.D.) and to a culturally Roman audience, I became particularly keen to Emperor Vespasian (Rome’s emperor between 69-79 C.E.) and Flavian Rome. This is also in part due to the influence of my friend Adam Winn (New Testament Professor at Azusa Pacific), who has been extremely kind to review my work and provide helpful feedback. In any case, I found that numerous scholars have examined kingship in Mark’s gospel (and the Gospels in general), though with a particular interest in ideas concerning Jewish kingship. However, the Roman context of kingship in Mark’s gospel has yet to be explored in full. This is the gap I intend to narrow by understanding and analyzing the “official” ideals of Roman rulership and then comparing them to Mark’s presentation of Jesus (forgive me for not adding more details as I do not want to list too much information on the web).

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This Roman coin depicts Vespasian on the obverse (front) side and a Jewish captive on the reverse (back). Roman coins intended to tell a story to the citizens, those who encountered the images and words on these coins regularly. Here, Vespasian’s power over the Jews and their revolt in Judaea is clearly the intended visual.

The project, then, will require a strong emphasis on Roman Classics. This involves not only work with Roman literary sources, but also numismatic (i.e. “coins”) and epigraphic (i.e. “inscriptions” / “graffiti”) works as well. My background and training has mostly consisted of Jewish studies and their relation to the New Testament. Therefore, I’ve had to learn the ins-and-outs of Classical methodology and history. This, surprisingly, has been great fun! Sadly, the field of Biblical Studies has focused so strongly on Jewish studies that Classics are generally given secondary importance. In fact, I don’t remember being assigned a single Classical Roman or Greek text in my Masters program. Also, my Masters program only required that I learn Hebrew and Greek, and not Latin (though, I took Latin on my own at Fuller). Because of these deficiencies, I find myself playing catch-up with both Latin and Roman Classics. Thus far, I’ve audited a few Latin courses and have completed the Histories of Livy and Tacitus (and they are wonderful!).

The lettering behind Penelope’s head is an example of epigraphy inscriptions at Rome.

In another effort to sharpen my chops in Classics I recently applied for epigraphy (Oxford University and Ashmolean Museum) and numismatics (British Museum) summer school programs. Both programs were highly competitive and only admitted a limited number of students (15 at Oxford and 10 at the British Museum). I didn’t make the cut for the epigraphy school (because I was not a “Classics” student), but I was admitted to the Numismatic Summer School at the British Museum. The school takes place from July 4-8 and all expenses (including flights) are paid for by the Museum. This will be a valuable time of learning as well as connecting with experts in the field of numismatics. Additionally, with my project focusing so heavily upon Classics—especially Roman classics—it is necessary for me to be near Rome. Much of the coinage and epigraphic materials that I need for my project are held within the local museums and sites at Rome (though, many are also at the British Museum). I decided to apply for some grant money from the university and was awarded enough to cover 3/4 of my trip to Rome. So, I’ll be in Rome from July 20-27 staying at the British School at Rome. The British School brings together scholars from around the world, as well as in-house scholars, to interact and connect those people working on similar projects. Along with the school providing me access to sites generally shut off to the public, they were also able to get me into the museums where I will be able to photograph and inspect needed collections. Any researcher knows the value of obtaining personal photos of a collection in order to bypass the copyright process.

This is a Roman coin with Vespasian's head on the obverse (Front) and Judean captive on the reverse (Back). The coin tell a story of Rome's power over Judea and the Jews.
The Colosseum was a project started by Vespasian and completed by his son Titus just months after Vespasian’s death. This is one of the many important sites I’ll be investigating while in Rome.

So, it looks like this summer will be packed with opportunities and new adventures. In fact, our family heads out to St. Andrews in a couple of days for a three-day conference. We are glad to have my mom and Bobby in town presently, who will also be going with us to St. Andrews (They have loved their time here so far!). I ask that friends and family continue to pray for opportunities for both Leah (Leah will be writing on potential job prospects in the next blog) and I as we continue on our journey in Edinburgh.

Birth Pangs

Leah and I have a pattern. Beginning nearly six years ago, we happened to birth a baby at every new stage of my education. In each case, both kids were born just one week before classes started (who cares, you don’t need sleep in a Masters program!). For the nine months prior to our move to Edinburgh we were certain that Leah was going to get pregnant or just have a miracle baby a week or so before I matriculated.

Leah pushing out babies.
Leah pushing out babies.

Though we didn’t have an actual baby, something else was birthed in our lives…my dissertation (they call it a “thesis” in the UK). The UK PhD system is beautiful for those who are ready to move directly into the writing process and avoid two more years of classes. This seemed the better option for me considering I had to rectify my teenage screw-ups by taking years of community college courses. In any case, the average U.S. PhD in Religious Studies / Biblical Studies is completed within 6-7 years whereas in the UK the program is designed for completion within 3-4 years. The UK has a high expectation of readiness for language skills in the field of biblical studies—typically, incoming students are required to have strong proficiency in Greek and Hebrew, and a healthy level of scholarly German, French, and Latin (or another biblical language) along with strong writing skills. During the application process I had to present a dissertation proposal along with my plan to execute that project. In the U.S., this part of the project is done only after the second year of classes are completed. So, to say that I hit the ground running when we got here is an understatement.

One of Mark’s translation projects.

The project has in many ways been like a baby, needing my full attention and nurturing as I bring her to maturation. She has changed, and has changed me, so much in the six short months that she has been alive; and she continues to grow stronger and healthier each day. She regularly causes me to lose sleep, consuming my mind and testing my patience. However, I wouldn’t change my situation for anything. Over the next month, I will be wrapping up my first completed chapter and preparing for my boards (May 31st), where I will stand before five notable scholars to explain and defend my thesis (sweating bullets I’m sure!). This process is not an intimidation tactic, but rather a way to assess the student’s progress and to make sure the school is providing them the best representation possible (or so they say). My project, for example, has shifted so much attention to Roman Studies (Classics) and Numismatics (study of coins) that I may need to double dip by getting a secondary supervisor in Classics as well as Biblical Studies. This will be brought up at my evaluation and the board will help decide the best course of action. Still, a PhD student can fail the process and be recommended to change or rewrite their thesis (worst case scenario). So, the heat is still on and it is important to perform well. Therefore, over the next few weeks I will continue to strengthen my arguments and tidy up my languages. Though this process has been quite difficult I am thankful for this opportunity and look forward to watching my new baby develop into something beautiful.

In the next blog, I will elaborate more on my project and discuss some exciting opportunities I have coming up this summer.