US: the benefits of job swapping

I’ve been on two exchange programmes; the first was based in an elementary school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a year, and the second was 17 years later in Newark, Ohio based in elementary school but working with a different age group. I chose the Fulbright Teacher Exchange programme because it sounded like a very exciting opportunity to learn about another education system and experience a different culture.

On my first exchange, I really just wanted to go for the experience of teaching in the US whereas on my second visit I knew I wanted to set up a sustainable link with American schools. This has been incredibly successful. We now have pen pal links with most classes and I am involved in a project to link the two neighbouring archaeological sites; Stonehenge in Wiltshire and the Native American Newark Earthworks. I attended the Newark Earthworks Conference in May 2008 to talk about the educational link.

What struck me most about teaching in America was that teachers are under less pressure to do lesson plans due to specialist teachers who plan for the different subjects, such as PE and art. Also the biggest convergence has been that both countries’ education systems now heavily rely on testing whereas 17 years ago we did not test so heavily in England.

The most delightful moment of the whole experience was meeting up with my exchange partner and her family for Christmas after 17 years. We share a close friendship. What I enjoyed most was taking my daughter on the second trip and finding that her enthusiasm for the whole experience was so infectious that even during the inevitable difficult times, it helped me to stay positive.

I would say that the experience will change your life, but to get the most out of it be open to all opportunities. It’s given me the impetus to put the global dimension agenda at the centre of all that I do in education. I am proud to say that my school now has links with schools in America, Zambia, France, Norway, with Japan on the way.

My tip to making the teaching exchange successful? Make a joint plan with your exchange partner that includes a big idea you want to achieve together.

Ray Picton is deputy headteacher of Greentrees Primary School in Wiltshire.


Useful links

Fulbright teacher exchange programme
League for the Exchange of Commonwealth Teachers
ISC Research

For more advice on working abroad, visit Teaching overseas