by David Colarusso - May 27th, 2007
The following is an abbreviated version of the final narrative report I submitted for my Fulbright Teacher Exchange. I have taken the liberty of adding hyperlinks where appropriate. For those of you who didn’t know, I am currently on exchange from Lexington High School in Massachusetts to Broughton High School in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Over two years ago I decided to apply for the Fulbright teacher exchange. Having taught for several years and already holding a Masters in Education, I was looking for new ways to improve my craft. Absent a clear predictive model of human learning, teaching remains more art than science. So I’ve come to believe that beyond a mastery of ones subject and minimal educational training, collecting diverse professional experience remains the surest path to improved teaching. We teachers learn by doing. I applied for an exchange confident teaching abroad would improve my professional skill set, expanding both my experience and perspective. I am happy to say, the exchange has exceeded my expectations.
The most pleasant surprise has been the ease with which I found both social and professional acceptance. Excepting the occasional behavior problems and technical headaches present in all schools, I would be tempted to call my exchange experience ideal. This is not to say it was all smooth sailing, only that I faced the same challenges as my colleagues. Some of these were new to me, and I can’t say that I was always the teacher I would have liked to be. However, I know that upon my return to the States, I will be at least three times the teacher I was. Making this possible was the support and understanding of my exchange school and its highly capable and professional educators.
Among the highlights of my year has been the discovery of a vibrant and innovative community of tech-savvy and web-present UK educators. Since arriving in Edinburgh, I have attended many talks detailing innovative and exciting uses of technology in the classroom, conferences and unconferences alike. At the suggestion of a colleague, I have started blogging and now produce a modest science video podcast. With the aid of educators from both sides of the Atlantic, I launched a global science video competition via YouTube, and am currently in the early stages of collaboration with a set of science podcasters in Manchester to produce a physics recruitment video for UK students entering university. I have had the pleasure of addressing my school’s faculty, writing an article for the British Council, and serving on the Global Citizen’s working group at Broughton–developing a day of cross-curricular activities around the issue of asylum seekers. To date, I have visited Boroughmuir High School, observing a cross section of science classes from one of Edinburgh’s wealthiest catchment areas, and I have plans to visit Castlebrae High School before year’s end to contrast this with the experience of Edinburgh’s financially underprivileged.
It is pleasing now to recognize that the professional benefits of this exchange extend well beyond my original expectations. Encountering a student population unlike those in my past has taught me much about classroom management, and working within a national curriculum has presented insights into the motivations behind state-run education. However, the professional contacts and crosspollination of ideas has proven far greater than I ever expected. Somewhat serendipitously, my most engaging involvement has been with a “connected” community of educators. Thanks to the global reach of the Internet, I intend to continue talking and collaborating with these new colleagues. I would, however, like to expand these relationships, perhaps seeking funding to grow this year’s video competition.
On a personal note, I have forged friendships that are sure to please the airlines. I would like to think that I have helped in some small way to realize the goals of Senator Fulbright’s individual exchange, fostering international understanding and helping to personalize those who populate foreign lands. The number of times people have expressed pleasant surprise at my ability to both accept and inflict humor are a testament to the fact that I am breaking down some of the less flattering American stereotypes. I have had my first haggis and worn my first kilt (photo above), all in the shadow of a castle. I live in a part of Edinburgh known as “New Town,” despite being built in the years of America’s birth. Yes, I have gained perspective, but more importantly, I have gained friends.
For readers of my blog: I was asked in this report to suggest improvements for the program, and honestly I have a hard time thinking of any. However, funding is always a concern. If you are a US resident, please tell your elected officials that you value such exchange. You can do so HERE by writing a letter.
General Observations, Society At Large