Feature

Exploring Scotland on Exchange: An Opportunity for Professional and Personal Growth

Michelle Richardson

As I walked out of the Edinburgh airport on July 30, 2013 and felt the Scottish wind on my face, my dream of doing a teaching exchange became a reality. A year of planning and anticipation of bringing my family of four to Dundee, Scotland was finally unfolding. The regular Skype “dates” with Judith (my exchange partner) and the many hoops I had jumped through had brought me here; I was driving through the beautiful rolling Scottish landscape to my home and the place I would be working with a teacher I had only met “virtually” up to now.

Regular communication with Judith set the tone for a positive relationship and exchange experience. Our conversations, which at first were awkward due to different accents, phrases and unfamiliarity, soon became easier and built excitement for the adventure ahead. Many teacher exchanges don’t begin with this level of communication, and I appreciated it. I also felt fortunate that Judith, who wasn’t leaving for my home in Ottawa until after our arrival in Scotland, took the time to give me a “wee” tour of Dundee and my new school, Ballumbie Primary.

School began within a couple weeks of our arrival. In addition to setting up my classroom, planning lessons and meeting with my stage partner (same grade teacher), we were also faced with the logistics of getting our mobile phones up and running, purchasing and insuring a car, opening a bank account and registering our daughters for school. Early trips to the grocery store took much longer than usual as we figured out products (Haggis-flavoured crisps anyone?), brands and currency. Since we didn’t have a vehicle right away, early trips to school involved navigating public transit, which, though efficient, took time to figure out.

Ballumbie Primary School opened in the spring of 2012. It boasts large windows, skylights and lots of open indoor spaces. A beautiful fused glass installation created by the students for the opening of the school greets visitors in the front entrance area.

In contrast to this inviting welcome is  a fence surrounding the entire perimeter of the property, with a locked gate to discourage use of the grounds by the general public. All outside doors are locked during the day, and the only way for parents and visitors to get into the school is through the main locked door. Visitors need to buzz the office to get into the building and are only allowed as far as the reception area (the office). Several doors between the office and my second floor classroom required a security card in order to pass. All of these measures are the residual effects of the Dunblane school massacre of 1996. This high level of

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