Australian teacher Natalie Ellis (left) and Tiana Harker of Red Deer ham it up on Friday, Jan. 15 at Barnett House. The pair delivered a presentation at an orientation session organized for this year’s contingent of Australian teachers who are beginning one-year placements in Alberta schools as part of an exchange offered by International Education Exchange Programs (IEEP).
If they had stuck to the original plan, Tiana Harker and Natalie Ellis would be getting settled back into their own homes and lives right about now, having completed a year-long exchange between their respective schools in Red Deer and Casino, Australia.
Instead, both teachers are beginning an unprecedented second year as participants in the Alberta-Australia exchange program offered by International Education Exchange Programs (IEEP), administered by the Alberta Teachers’ Association. Both teachers were interested in staying with their placements for another year and were able to complete arrangements with their respective school boards and immigration authorities.
“The best thing about having a second year is that all the challenges are out of the road,” said Ellis (the Australian). “This is the year where we fully can focus on the PD part of the teaching.”
Harker said she’s fallen in love with Australia and is glad to be staying for another year.
“At the end of the first year, you just feel comfortable. You just start to feel like everything’s chugging along and working,” she said, “so it’s nice to have that second year.”
Both teachers have noticed similarities and differences between teaching in Australia and Alberta. Both jurisdictions have similar approaches to math, social studies and reading, whereas the Australian system is more data-driven at the moment.
“It’s more child-focused here [in Alberta] than results-focused,” Ellis said. “[It’s] given me a lot more freedom with how I present the curriculum, depending on the students that are in front of me.”
“There’s more paperwork in the Australian system, with programming and testing. That was a bit new, having so much paperwork,” Harker said.
Both teachers say participating in the exchange has been transformative.
“This is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life, after having my kids,” Ellis said.
Harker said she’s overcome so many obstacles, both large and small, that she now feels like she can take on any challenge.
“You can’t help but grow. You grow as a teacher; you grow as a person,” she said. “You can come home and put that back into your teaching. It’s just the best PD opportunity you could ever ask for.” ❚