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.

SIMILARITIES

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)

Staff

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.

DIFFERENCES

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)

Trips

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

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‘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.

-Leah

 

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.

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.

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!

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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.

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

Rome:

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.

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The Regia

 

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

 

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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.

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Mt. Vesuvius as seen from Pompeii.

Herculaneum:

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.

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

Pompeii:

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.

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Erotic Painting above Room Entrance
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Erotic Painting above Room Entrance
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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.
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A mason bed with light shining in from the window above.

 

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

 

References:

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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.

Six Months In….What We Not-So Love

As with anything there are two sides to the equation. In our last blog I wrote about some of the things we really LOVE about our new city and new life. But, not everything is always rosy. So, we thought we’d also go through a list of some of the things we not-so love about our new home. Enjoy!

We NOT-SO LOVE…

Our regular walk up Calton Hill, which leads to a spectacular view.
Our regular walk up Calton Hill, which leads to a spectacular view.

 

Walking – Although walking has amazing health benefits, it does fail when trying to get to places in a timely fashion. Walking requires much more planning and timing, which can be difficult when you have small children and things don’t always go according to plan. Also, with small children come little legs, which can’t endure as much walking as adults. We brought our sit-n-stand stroller (or buggy) from the states, but the wheels are not fit for cobblestone or the rough roads.

 

See the COBBLESTONE?!?!
See the COBBLESTONE?!?!

 

We’ve thought about buying a single buggy for the boy, but the cost is just not in our price range. The buggies here are insanely durable, constructed from kryptonite and Schwarzenegger’s sweat (to take on those cobblestones from hell!), rather than our cheap plastic California stroller. So, for now, we’ve chosen to invest our money in warm jackets, gloves, hats, and better footwear. Walking in rain hasn’t been too burdensome, but at times the wind is uncomfortably chilly and the ice is slippery, which is never any fun, but we are doing our best to trudge on.

 

Penelope on our daily walk.
Penelope on our daily walk.

 

Public Transportation – Although a great, faster (and warmer) alternative to walking, public transit still has its time constraints. A trip that could take 15 minutes in the car, may take 30 minutes and transferring between multiple buses. Again, it calls for greater planning, but most people sympathize when you are late somewhere due to bus delays since the system is used by so many.

 

Waiting at the bus stop...Penelope is so bored.
Waiting at the bus stop…Penelope is so bored.

 

Smoking – Everywhere you go the ever so disagreeable smell of cigarette (and sometimes something else) smoke graces your nostrils. With Mark’s asthma, this is especially frustrating and irritating. Before we left California, I remember Mark and I having a specific conversation about how it was such an oddity to see someone smoking in public. Not any more! It’s everywhere! I think the most frustrating situation is when someone is smoking at the bus stop or in front of a building entrance. There are no-smoking signs everywhere, so some folks will generously step aside, yet forgetting that the ever so gusty wind doesn’t care. End of rant.,,,

 

Lacking a Dryer – I have never liked air-drying clothes and have never had the need to do so unless the tag on my sweater called for it (and even then sometimes I didn’t listen). However, long are the days gone now when I would throw my clothes into the dryer to get them warm before I’d put them on or to freshen them up. Long are the days gone when after I washed a pair of pants they would shrink back up to their original size again and fit like new. Air-drying is the way of life now. No washing and wearing on the same day anymore, another task that causes more planning and thinking ahead. On the bright side, our electric bill is probably lower and our home smells of fresh laundry constantly (two things I don’t hate).

 

The Weather – This California girl misses the sunshine. Although the sun has been saying hello more now as of late, it is still not the same. Even though California is craving the rain (and soaking up the rain it has been receiving lately), I miss having more dry days than wet – especially when it comes to being able to play at the park. Also, the lack of sunlight effects the good ol’ production of Vitamin D. SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a real problem that presents itself, and we’ve been doing what we can to increase our vitamin intake and exposure to sun, but some days you just want to stay in bed, cuddle up, and watch Netflix all day. Motivation is a struggle as well, but our daily routine of taking the kids to school must go on. Mark must research, even if it’s in his pajamas on the couch!

 

 

So, with all that said, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the Atlantic pond, but we are learning to adjust, anticipating the spring, and are embracing the simple things of a slower paced life.

Milan and Rome Family Trip Photos (2016)

First off, we apologize for the lack of updates. Our family is doing well and continue to adjust and adapt to our new home in Edinburgh. We have been quite busy between Markie starting school, my project, and illnesses. We have a number of blogs written that we intend to release over the next month and look forward to hearing from our friends and family. In any case, to the content of this particular blog…For some reason, our blog site wouldn’t allow me to upload a number of our photos from our recent trip to Milan and Rome and so I decided to post via Facebook.

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I’ve attached the link for more photos: Pictures of Lamas Family Trip to Milan and Rome.

Toot Toot

“Hey Daddy, I tooted in class today” was a phrase Penelope couldn’t say just two months ago. Our baby has started school! In the UK, state-sponsored education begins as early as three years old,  and Penelope is five. Even though Penelope never attended school prior to our arrival in Edinburgh, she has done remarkably well.Pic1 She’s made scores of friends and loves learning. Her teacher, Ms. Cairnes, is quite nice and has helped smoothly assimilate Penelope into Scottish culture. In fact, Penelope has already picked up the local accent and lingo—she makes sure we throw out our “rubbish,” wash our “trousers,” and put “plasters” on our booboos. She even loves her uniforms—skirt, cardigan, and all! The learning process for Penelope will be interesting (and I look forward to three years from now) as pronunciation and inflection differ greatly from Leah and I, which has lent to Penelope picking up an accent.

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She’s our little Scottish girl. Also, the schools, like America, have a catchment area designated according to a home address. However, the overall areas are smaller, which makes for classes with fewer pupils (Penelope’s class is 18). Penelope’s school is called Leith Walk Primary, and it is nestled in a nice neighborhood, about a five-minute walk from our house. When we first saw it, we thought we had stumbled upon the Harry Potter set. It was beautiful.  The school is great and seems to be interactive both with students and parents having already offered two different classes for parent education and, during Halloween, throwing a dance party for P1 (Kindergarten) and P2 (1st grade) students. Though, most of the kids were ghoulish, not only dressing as princesses or fairies, but as witch princesses and demon fairies…it was, admittedly, cute. Penelope was a Ninja Turtle. In any case, we are thankful to the staff that made the enrollment process, and Penelope’s experience, so easy during such a difficult transition. We look forward to watching our daughter (and son, in January) grow in her intellect and social skills as well as reminding her that etiquette doesn’t permit tooting in class.

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