This map was used to track the Alberta teachers who were on exchange in Australia during the pandemic.
When a pandemic hits, you catch the first flight home and hunker down.
That’s the general rule that emerged last year at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but 38 teachers from Alberta and Australia decided on a different approach. In the early stages of a year-long exchange when the pandemic struck, all the teachers decided to remain in their adopted countries and see their exchanges through to the end.
“It was an exercise in patience and also flexibility,” said Carolyn Freed, the ATA’s exchange liaison. “I was just amazed at how resilient our teachers are and were throughout the pandemic, for them to continue teaching, for them to flex to that country’s expectations.”
A collaboration between Alberta Education and the Alberta Teachers’ Association, the Education Exchange Program includes both short-term and long-term exchanges. The long-term or year-long exchanges are reciprocal, where exchange partners trade jobs and homes for an entire year. Australia is the most common partner for long-term exchanges but they’re also available to the United Kingdom and Germany.
When the Alberta teachers were scheduled to come home, Freed created a string-art map to track each family’s location in Australia and their home in Alberta. Starting in December 2020, each time a family returned home, their string came down. After many pandemic-related cancellations, the last family arrived in mid-January and all the strings were finally hanging.
“It was a huge learning experience for everyone,” Freed said. “We had such a resilient crew that just created a real cohort and a sense of family while they were over there. I think they really just demonstrated the professionalism of Alberta teachers abroad and really represented us so well.”
Freed is not sure when the in-person exchanges will resume. That will depend on the pandemic, she says. Once the pandemic eases, the exchange programs will approach their partners in other countries to determine whether they want to resume. ❚
EXCHANGE PROGRAM DETAILS
Teachers who are interested in participating in an exchange should have at least five years of teaching experience and the written support of their principal and school jurisdiction.
Additional information on the programs is available on the Association’s website at www.teachers.ab.ca > Public Education > Teacher and School Leader Exchanges.