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Lessons learned abroad shared through blog

A group of 14 graduates from the Queen's Faculty of Education are living and teaching abroad and, in order to share their experiences amongst themselves as well as with others, the group has created a blog, aptly name 14 Beds (for Bachelor of Education or BEd). The organizer of the project is Laura Skellett (Ed’14) who is currently teaching in Karlstad, Sweden. The Gazette spoke to her about the blog as well as her experiences teaching and living in another country.

[Laura Skellet]
Laura Skellett (Ed’14), who is teaching in Karlstad, Sweden, is seen here during a recent visit to Budapest, Hungary. (Supplied Photo)

Gazette: Why did you and the other members of 14 Beds decide to teach abroad?

Laura Skellett: One motivating factor for teaching abroad is that there is simply limited job availability for teachers in Ontario. If hired by the Catholic or public board, new teachers often have to supply teach for a year or more before securing a long-term placement. After being in university for five or more years, many of us were thirsty for our own classrooms and our own students. We were eager to teach. Moreover, many of us want to continue our learning by seeing schools outside of Ontario or outside of Canada. We wanted new experiences, and we wanted to challenge our own ideas of education by being exposed to new cultures and ideas.  

G: What do you bring to the classroom as a teacher from Canada and specifically from Queen's?

LS: This is a tricky question, and one I believe my students could answer about me much better than I could. Being a first-year teacher in an international environment allows you to learn from and with your students. In a new and foreign environment, I find that I often learn much from my students, both about my own culture and beliefs, but also about their own. For example, on the last day of school before the holidays, students in the classroom had brought in candy to eat during our class get together. Based on my own experience in school, students often share food when having a class party. However, when I suggested this I received many strange looks – students in Sweden typically just eat what they bring in themselves. This experience allowed me to understand a little bit more about Swedish culture. I also find it very humbling to be learning to speak Swedish while I am here – it allows me to understand the challenges that my students' face every day in my classroom. More specifically, I believe that Queen’s has taught me to be a critical, reflective and innovative teacher in the classroom and to continuously challenge myself.

G: What are some of the life and professional lessons that have been learned by the members?

LS: In both the personal and professional sphere, I think the biggest lesson that our contributors have learned is to be adaptable. Whether it’s learning a new technological platform at your school or figuring out how to use the laundry machine in your apartment, things don’t always go as expected. You quickly learn to problem-solve, to ask for assistance, and to be open to new ideas. Accepting that things will not always go as planned is important. Creative problem-solving becomes a skill that you quickly develop. 

G: You are teaching in Sweden. What has been the biggest transition for you?

LS: Having studied abroad at Herstmonceux Castle (Bader Insternational Study Centre, BISC), and having traveled throughout Europe, I found it relatively easy to adapt to the social nuances of Sweden. I think the bigger challenges have come in the professional sphere in adapting to the Swedish curriculum and classroom. At Queen's, I was in the intermediate-senior stream (grades 7-12) and I did the majority of my placements in high school. However, in Sweden I teach art to 200-plus students in grades 4-9. The fact that many students are just learning English is another challenge. Moreover, the curriculum and in particular the assessment is very different in Sweden. For example, grades in Ontario are based on your average performance throughout the semester, with some exams or projects weighted more heavily than others. However in Sweden, students are assessed based on different skills in a subject. Once you reach an A level in a skill, you do not have to prove yourself again in that skill. Instead students are asked to focus on other skills for that subject. Adapting my teaching to this system (and its accompanying computer tracking system) has been a work in process. Since I only see my students for one term, I am excited to switch up my assessment strategies for the new term based on what I have learned in the past five months. 

G: Does this blog help the 14 Beds members with their experiences and keep in touch?

LS: In the past five months, the blog has allowed our contributors to stay connected throughout our new professional and personal experiences. I believe that the blog has provided an outlet for our contributors to discuss and compare. When posting photos online, contributors have commented on photos saying – “that’s similar to something I’ve done, that would be a great topic for a post!” It has allowed us to connect and understand each other’s experiences of teaching abroad. While many of us decided to teach abroad to learn about other cultures, the blog has provided us with another tool for understanding other schools and cultures. Contributors have shared that they enjoy seeing what others are up to and to learn about other international experiences. We hope to showcase the diversity of our international experiences in our spotlight posts, which focus on one topic such as assessment or what our classrooms look like.

G: What are your plans over the short and long term?

LS: In the short term, we plan to expand our types of articles that we produce. The winter term is a busy recruitment period for international schools. To complement this, we plan to produce articles about why we chose to teach abroad, how we found our jobs, advice for interviews and applications and more. We hope that this will help our readers who are considering teaching abroad. In the long term, I am unsure how the blog will continue to develop. Some of our contributors are on one-year contracts, while others have two-year contracts. This is something we will continue to think about in the future.

See the blog at 14beds.com.