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How international teacher exchanges can refresh a whole school

A teaching career can get locked into repetitive cycles: as another year starts, the same old textbooks, jargon and exams loom yet again. Some things get done simply because they’ve always been done.

Hosting a teacher from foreign climes can jolt you out of that deadening loop. Philippa Seago, who takes charge of psychology at Littleover Community School in Derby, England, saw for herself how a school might benefit.

“One year, there was a breath of fresh air in school, with a funny accent and strange ways,” she recalls. “Her name was Gale, an exchange teacher from the US, here to teach biology but providing an education to us all.

“Gale asked questions about everything. Having had something explained she would often tilt her head and say, ‘Why is that?’ or ‘How does that work out?’ I often didn’t have an answer, and was forced to reconsider what I taught and how – something all teachers should do from time to time.

“The students knew Gale as ‘The American Teacher’. They were fascinated by her, which was useful when I drafted her in for Q&As with my tutor group. ‘But why don’t you want to stay in Derby?’ they always asked, ‘What will you miss most when you go home?’ They listened to her, genuinely interested to meet someone who could teach so much more about a culture they thought they knew.

“The benefits of an exchange programme for the teachers involved are self-explanatory – new surroundings, friends and teaching opportunities – but the benefits for schools are also considerable.

“The students enjoyed having their horizons widened, and they weren’t the only ones. Those teachers who stayed in touch with Gale continued to benefit from a new source of ideas. Even across different subjects, schools and continents, there is always commonality in teaching.” 

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