Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

02.28.14Note To My UK Colleagues: Don’t Make Me Come Over There…

Home Sweet Home

I’m excited and a little nervous to announce some news to my friends and colleagues in the UK, and perhaps to ask for a bit of help while I’m at it.

As of September 1, 2014, I will be a resident of the fair city of London. At least for a little while.

I’ve always dreamed of taking my family to live abroad. After giving up on trying to convince my wife to take a full year off and home school our three kids in a yurt by a fjord on the Orinoco in the shade of the Rock of Gibraltar where our neighbors would be a couple of yaks, an emu and a football club with a world class youth development program, we have settled on a slightly less ambitious ten week mini-sabbatical in London instead.  From Sept 1 thru Nov 8 or so we’ll be training ourselves to walk into a pub and order “Bangers and Mash” with a straight face.

My primary purpose is to travel a bit, spend a ton of time with my kids, and give them a chance to see the world a little differently (and more extensively).  That said there’ll also be a bit of work involved. Planning to spend roughly two days a week trying to pitch in to make efforts to improve and support schools a bit more successful. It’s all very interesting to me.  As a neophyte, your intractable problems have a freshness that ours over here lack.  Much of the work will be with my long time colleagues at the Ark Schools but ideally there’ll be time for a few other things like perhaps offering a training workshop or two.

By the way, in preparation for our trip I am reading Kate Fox’s Watching the English which as you may know is an anthropologist’s effort to help people

PS Already found a flat. Cute, right?

like me avoid looking foolish when we’re visiting you over there. In my case that would be the triumph of hope over experience, to misuse Dr. Johnson’s phrase.  But anyway, Fox advises people like me NOT to write paragraphs like the one above where I share details of my family’s hopes and dreams.

Awkwardly lacking in privacy she says. The English really value privacy she says.

Anyway, as I figure out the work side I am also trying to figure out the family side and would love to ask for some help and guidance. (Note to Kate Fox: I realize this sort of thing is entirely unsuitable but then again I really could use some advice and wisdom.)

More Like This!

1) I need a reading list.  It’s possible I’ll send my kids to school for the ten weeks but there are all sorts of logistical challenges (un-Kate Fox approved aside. When I looked at the tuition at a school in London I thought it was a misprint!) so most likely we will arrange for a maths tutor and do lots of reading and writing on our own, ideally on the train to Stratford!  The idea is to read about things that connect to what we’re seeing: So… noting that my older kids will be 13 and 11 when we visit but are pretty sophisticated readers, I’m wondering what should be on our Life in London/Life in the UK reading list.  Shooting for lots of History and Literature and a smattering of Science; ideally suggestions would include a local tie in (ie “this book is set in Soho and the pump is still there” or “after you read it you can go see Keats’ house in Hampstead.” That kind of thing.

2) I need a ‘places to go’ list. I’ve got Bath, Canterbury, York, kind of things. But what about smaller less widely known and utterly perfect places to visit? Especially with kids.  I’d love to know your favorite secret places! (e.g the perfect castle where it’s dead silent and you can feel the middle ages.)

My son in action for Fulham, pre-Magath.

3) I’m looking for as much high quality football (your version, aka soccer) as I can get for my kids.  My two older kids (boy 13/girl 11) are committed to the game and accomplished (by American standards.)   They are eager to play while there and I’d like to find as many opportunities for them to train as possible but that part is likely to prove tricky.  I have some leads… but there’s really no reason why a club with a good youth development program would enroll a kid from the US for such a short time (at least I don’t think so…) so I am proposing to offer “teaching is coaching” work in exchange. I do this kind of work for our national soccer (football) federation over here so I think it’s possible I could help make the right club a little stronger on the teaching side if they were willing to take the chance.  So I’m looking for likely contacts who might be interested.  Or if you know of other ways I should approach finding football for my kids I’d be grateful.

Anyway, I hope you’ll take a minute to share your thoughts and look forward to meeting many of you in the fall.

25 Responses to “Note To My UK Colleagues: Don’t Make Me Come Over There…”

  1. Tracey Griffiths
    February 28, 2014 at 4:57 am

    Hi Doug! You should visit Leigh-on-Sea – my hometown. Just outside London by train. Lots of history. Cockle sheds – the cockle boats went to Dunkirk to rescue the WW2 soldiers. Lovely Norman church St Clements. Good shops. Close to Southend for more shopping, the pier and seafront. Will you be doing any work with Future Leaders while here? Would love for you to visit my school – a small primary in deprived area of London – our teachers love your book! Enjoy your stay! London is fab!

    • Beccy Earnshaw
      February 28, 2014 at 7:54 am

      Escape London for a few days & come to Newcastle and Northumberland! Buzzing city with some stunning architecture known world-wide for the friendliness of its folk and distinctive identity (incl. an obsessive passionate Newcastle United football supporters – the Toon Army!). Take in a match, explore the city and enjoy a night out. Then head North to a coastline of near deserted stunning beaches, more castles then you know what to do with (incl. Alnwick castle used as Hogwarts in Harry Potter films), uninhabited islands teeming with wildlife and dramatic landscapes. All just 3 hours direct from London and you can continue of the train to Edinburgh directly from here so you can make a proper trip of it! And if you want to throw in some school visits, give me a shout! Enjoy.

      • Doug_Lemov
        March 1, 2014 at 10:38 pm

        great suggestions. thank you. people rave about the northeast and its people. speaking of which… can you give me a pronunciation and background of “Geordie”? ie is it a term tynesiders use for them selves? with pride? where does it come from? I’ve read it in a bunch of books and don’t even think i can say it right. 🙂

        • Beccy Earnshaw
          March 2, 2014 at 2:58 pm

          Hi, it is pronounced Jor-dy but dob’t worry it never sounds right said by anyone but a native of these parts! Yes, Tynesiders use it for themselves and with great pride. One of the main chants at the football is ‘Geordies’ shouted repeatedly and you will see Geordie memorabilia all over Newcastle. There is no concensus as to where the term originates but it is probably linked to coal mining traditions. It is also a nickname for men called George so might be some link to that. Geordies have a very distinctive accent (recently voted the friendliest accent in the UK) and a rich local dialect is actively used in the area – happy to provide a translation guide if you do choose to visit!

    • Doug_Lemov
      March 1, 2014 at 10:37 pm

      thanks. haven’t spoken to future leaders yet but hope to. and to visit schools. see comments above about prioritizing family and not wanting ot over commit but hopeful i can work some visits out.

  2. Alison
    February 28, 2014 at 5:24 am

    Yay! This is great news. Hope you do manage to do something away from Ark.

    Not so hidden but my favourite place to visit is Hampton Court Palace, especially (but not exclusively) if the weather is nice. Look into English Heritage or National Trust places when you’re here as they’re always a good day out.

    A great all-rounder on British history is An Utterly Impartial History of Britain by John O’Farrell. It’s very funny and anecdotal. The Ghost Map is a good shout too. I would also recommend visiting the Old Operating Theatre as it’s a fun museum that is very hidden in the heart of London and they used to offer a cholera walk (hopefully still do) which would link nicely with that book.

    I teach history in central London and by far and away the students’ favourite trips are to the Imperial War Museum and Hampton Court.

    I’m sure I will think of lots more….

    • Doug_Lemov
      March 1, 2014 at 10:36 pm

      Cholera walk! I am SO in for that. We did-and LOVED–Hampton court on a recent visit. thanks for the great suggestions!

  3. Pedantique Wretch
    February 28, 2014 at 7:17 am

    Would be delighted to show you round a very English boarding school in the Cotswolds!

    • Doug_Lemov
      March 1, 2014 at 10:35 pm

      would be very interesting.

      • Pedantique Wretch
        March 1, 2014 at 10:39 pm

        My husband has been in touch with you on twitter; we’d be delighted to host you here!

  4. Harry Fletcher-Wood
    February 28, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Hey Doug,

    What a great idea! I would love to have you into the school (and, indeed, show you around East London/invite you out for a pint, if that’s where you’re going to be – as I only live just down the road from Stratford).

    As for places, Durham, where I went to university, is beautiful and there are loads of great corners of London to discover. Any bit of countryside will be worth a trip- maybe Stonehenge and Wiltshire, Kent, the New Forest or Cambridgeshire?

    Books: 1066 And All That is a highly entertaining, satirical history of Britain which may or may not make sense depending on how much of the real history your kids know.

    As for football, again, if you’re in East London, there’s a great organisation called Hackney Laces which runs a girls’ football coaching programme and ties that in with some mentoring as well – may not be of the level you’re looking for but I’m sure they’d appreciate your input and I can pass on the email of the founder if that’s any use…

    Looking forward to hearing about the workshops too!

    • Doug_Lemov
      March 1, 2014 at 10:34 pm

      great stuff harry thanks. hope to be able to put some schools like your on the agenda. see above about not wanting to over commit but hopefully i can make it happen. If not for sure s pint somewhere.

  5. Stuart Lock
    February 28, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Hi Doug,

    I really hope I get the chance to see you speak/ meet with you while you’re over. Our school had your book as it’s book club book recently. I’m sure many schools would love to have you visit. Here is another one!

    When you visit Bath, be sure to go up Ebbor Gorge. The West Country is my hometown and the spot at the top of Ebbor Gorge (a beautiful nature reserve) is my favourite with it’s view over the mendips to Glastonbury (another favourite). It’s right next to Wookey Hole and Cheddar, both also worth a visit for kids. The small village of Priddy nearby has amazing village pubs for lunch with an amazing history. You can probably google all these things yourself. The traditional British seaside of Weston-super-Mare is thirty minutes from there as well. I wouldn’t call that part “perfect” but it is an experience!

    My family are big fans of family days out in Cambridge. It’s stunning and there’s plenty to do.

    I’d also echo Harry’s comment on Durham – stunning.

    Football I will give some thought. There are many established leagues in London, though girls’ football is less well developed. I’ll ask Jade Bailey for advice (she carried the torch up the Thames with Beckham to the Olympic Stadium) as she was at our school and went through the system. I’m a referee but don’t do kids’ football.

    • Doug_Lemov
      March 1, 2014 at 10:33 pm

      thanks stuart. i’ll take the west country advice and hope we can find a good pub to share a round.

  6. Shaun Allison
    February 28, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    You must visit the south coast – Brighton (great pier), Chichester (great canal!), Arundel (great castle) etc etc – and of course it would be lovely if you could visit my school – maybe do a guest 15 minute forum or some staff development work.
    All the best

    • Doug_Lemov
      March 1, 2014 at 10:32 pm

      thanks. lots of exciting stuff–historically and educationally–on the south cost. let’s keep in touch about a school visit. have to be careful of promising too much bc the point of the trip is family but ideally i can work some visits out.

  7. Andy
    February 28, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    A couple of day trip suggestions from York. 1. Wensleydale is the quintessential Yorkshire dale with picture postcard scenery. Park in the Aysgarth falls visitor centre car park, admire the falls, then head off for a 5 – 6 mile walk, heading out to Bolton Castle, then up onto the ridge above the dale using paths worn by sheep drovers, along the ridge admiring the scenery before descending and walking along the river back to the falls. 2. Ride on a steam train from Pickering to Whitby on the North York Moors Railway. If the kids are into Harry Potter, Goathland Station was the location used for Hogsmeade station in the Harry Potter films. Whitby is an old fishing town with a ruined monastry overlooking the town from coastal cliffs. It was the location in which Dracula landed in England in Bram Stoker’s novel, and the fish and chips from the magpie cafe overlooking the harbour are excellent.

    • Doug_Lemov
      March 1, 2014 at 10:31 pm

      such great suggestions and rich detail. Thank you!

  8. Naureen Afzal
    March 1, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    My recommendation is Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s house in Westerham, Kent. Fab house and gardens and easy to get to from London

    • Doug_Lemov
      March 1, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      Great idea. Last Lion is among my favorite books ever.

  9. March 18, 2014 at 4:09 am

    I would be happy to host a seminar for you and secure you tours around schools in East London! I work with 56 Primary Schools in Waltham Forest (which is right next to Stratford!) I could provide you with an insight of all the local attractions, many not on the maps – as I am a born resident Londoner from the East End! I also have links with the Olympic Park – who I am sure would be happy to stage a seminar while you are here….what do you think?

  10. HelenMulligan
    July 2, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    How exciting – lucky you. I’m an Brit living abroad (Cambodia) but have just been back in the UK for my school holidays. Loved it. There is so much for kids to do in London, and a lot of it is free. And lots of the museums and galleries have excellent educational activities your kids could get involved in (check out their websites – the Science Museum; The Natural History Museum; Tate Modern and Tate Britain; British Library; National Portrait Gallery).

    For the reading list:
    Montmorency by Eleanor Updale
    The Phillip Pullman novels
    Our Island Story – A History of Britain by H.E. Marshall
    The Dark is Rising Series by Susan Hill

    These are ones I know (and have taught with kids that age) but I also found a link on Tripadvisor which has loads of suggestions:

    For places to go:
    I’m presuming you have Cambridge, the Cotswolds, and the Lake District.

    My favourite place in the UK is a place called Rhosilli Bay in the Gower, South Wales – a good campsite is Hillend Campsite; or for self-catering cottage try Stormy Castle; closely followed by St David’s in Pembrokeshire.

    Have a wonderful trip.

  11. Katy Main
    August 11, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    If you get a chance to go over to Visit Northern Ireland I would recommend it. Belfast for some History and then further up the Coast to the Giants Causeway which is stunning.

    Portmeirion is marvellously quirky, and you could easily fill up a day or two there. In fact there are a number of good castles in North Wales well worth a visit, as well as some traditional seaside towns (would recommend Llandudno for general beauty – some of the other towns are a little worse for wear sometimes). Near to the Welsh Border is Chester (my hometown) which is marvellous for a sense of History in a small town.

    You’ve already got York down so I can’t say anything more there. I love York one of my favourite places to visit. If you carry on up North you can find many more castles throughout Northumbria. You’ve also got some wonderful Cathedrals in this part of the country – Durham is one of my favourites.

    Brighton is a lovely day out if you have the weather. Plenty going on in Brighton. Royal Pavilion is marvellous to look at and the museum is well worth the visit

    A visit to Oxford or Cambridge is lovely to see the architecture of the colleges. This is a good chance to go punting. Bath is also a beautiful city (although a little pricey at times)

    Whilst in London a trip to the Globe gives a great feeling of Shakepearean theatre. You can also do a tour of the globe I think – it is bookable on their website. The Tower of London is doing a great exhibition of poppies which is looking for volunteers at the moment – this will be continuing until remembrance day ( At the tower of London you can also apply for tickets for the ceremony of the keys which happens every night, which is a bit of a hidden gem (although it does book up quickly), I went to the Tower of London again last year for the first time since I was a child and I remained there until closing time. If you are interested in WWI the Imperial War Museum has had a refurb recently. I’ve not yet been but I’ve heard good things about it. I also enjoyed the Tour of the Houses of Parliament which can be booked, found it informative and inspiring.

    Bill Brysons Notes from a small Island is a good read, a little dated now but still a lot within it.

    Enjoy your trip

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