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December 1999

Opening Your Eyes
to the World of Teaching

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Most teachers love to learn and there is no more thorough learning experience than immersing yourself in the culture, language and customs of another country.

Moving half way around the world for a year is a luxury few people can afford, but an organization in southern Ontario is helping dozens of teachers – and students and principals – realize this adventure every year.

The non-profit Canadian Education Exchange Foundation (CEEF), based in Barrie, matches educators with counterparts in other parts of the world – and in other parts of Canada – who want to both break their routine and embark on the ultimate learning experience. The exchanges for elementary and secondary school teachers are for one year, but the foundation
also helps arrange short-term job shadowing for school administrators, school partner programs for groups of students and six-month exchanges for individual students.

"It will revitalize you and your teaching, expand your world vision, provide you with opportunities to learn and practise new methodologies, give you an opportunity to meet new friends and to see new places," promises Dennis Nolan of CEEF. And based on the enthusiastic comments of participants, it does just that.

"If anything, I got more out of it than I expected," says Sheila Capperauld, who spent 1997 teaching Grades 2 and 3 in Waikerie in South Australia. Capperauld, now principal of Uptergrove Public School in Orillia, says it was "an extremely enriching experience, both professionally and personally."

Betty Hamilton, who spent a year in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia teaching mathematics tells the same story. "It was a wonderful experience." Hamilton left her job at John Fraser Secondary School in Mississauga for all of 1995. "Australia was wonderful to me. I’ve made life-long friends."

Under the CEEF program, a teacher here exchanges their job with a teacher in another country or province, remaining employed by their school board, which continues to pay their salary and benefits. Seniority also continues to accumulate. Normally, the two teachers also exchange homes, with only rare exceptions.

To be eligible for an exchange, a teacher needs five years of successful teaching experience and the endorsement of the school board that employs them. The initial matching process is, in some cases, done in Ontario; in
others it is done in the partner jurisdiction. CEEF warns teachers that the matching process can be complicated, but many teachers find it very straightforward.

"I filled out my application in the fall and they did the rest of the work. I was offered an exchange the following spring, and I left for Australia at the end of the year," says Hamilton.

Once a potential match has been identified, applications are exchanged between the schools and the exchange must be approved by the principals and the school boards. There are then questions like travel costs, accommodation, or what will be put in storage that have to be worked out. More and more teachers are relying on e-mail to establish communication with their counterpart and prepare themselves for their new experience.


CEEF has links with the official exchange authorities in a number of European countries, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Many of the destinations are English-speaking countries, but even so, teachers find language differences can produce some howlers.

"The word ‘root’ is a common mathematical term in Canada," says Betty Hamilton. "But in Australia, it’s slang, meaning ‘to fornicate’. The first few times I used the word, I stunned my students. And the older they were, the funnier they found it."

Capperauld also had to adjust to the Australian accent. "I tried to test my students on their spelling levels, and I would say ‘pet’ and they just looked blank – they weren’t sure if I was saying ‘pat’, or ‘put’, or ‘pit’."

Nevertheless, Australia and New Zealand are among the most popular destinations for Ontario teachers. Exchanges to that part of the world take place during their school year, which starts around the beginning of February and runs until Christmas. Ontario secondary school teachers in semestered schools exchange at the end of the first semester or sometime in January. In unsemestered schools, the exchange would begin in January. In elementary schools, the incoming Australian teacher takes over a class on the first day of school in January while the Ontario teacher begins in Australia about February 1.

Europe is also a popular destination, but exchange teachers must be totally fluent in the language of the country – even when they plan to teach English – to communicate with administrators, other teachers and parents. France gives preference to francophones. At the elementary level, the students are the equivalent of Grades K to 6 in Ontario. In France there are two secondary levels – college and lycée. The college level begins at roughly the equivalent of an Ontario Grade 7. Lycée is senior high school.

Exchanges to Germany, Spain and the Netherlands are limited to secondary schools. The Dutch have some bilingual schools (Dutch/English or Dutch/French) where all subjects are taught in French or English, similar to Ontario’s French immersion program. A basic knowledge of Dutch is still required, however.

Switzerland is the most popular destination in Europe, but primary teachers may apply only for the French-speaking areas of Switzerland. Secondary school exchanges occur in all of Switzerland’s language areas – French, German and Italian. Switzer-land accepts exchanges in all subject areas as well as languages, although the most successful matches have been with teachers from French schools or French immersion programs.

The United Kingdom is a good choice for Ontario teachers who speak only English. Catholic teachers working for an Ontario board that hires only Catholic teachers stand an even better chance of an exchange to the Republic of Ireland. Exchanges with Ireland are in their first year at the elementary level and some exchanges will be offered at the secondary level for the year 2000-2001.

CEEF has exchanges available every year for the U.S., including American dependencies such as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
A central agency in Washington co-ordinates all exchanges to the U.S.

Interprovincial exchanges can also be arranged. Quebec does not currently participate in the exchange program, but there are French immersion programs in other Canadian provinces for which educators may apply. CEEF has organized exchanges between teachers in British Columbia and the Maritimes.


The advantages of an exchange extend beyond the travel experience. Betty Hamilton also gained from meeting other exchange teachers in Australia, who got together regularly to provide each other with professional and personal support. "I met teachers from all over the world. It was really interesting to hear how things are done in other countries." Her experience led her to remain involved once she came back to Canada and she now organizes many events for exchange teachers here in Canada.

One of those teachers is Robert McDougall, from West Barns Primary School in West Barns, Scotland. McDougall learned about the possibility of teaching in another country from a circular sent around by the League for the Exchange of Common-wealth Teachers (LECT), Scotland’s counterpart to CEEF. "I had been thinking of doing something different and this seemed like just the thing."

Like a lot of Canadian teachers, McDougall’s first choice was New Zealand or Australia, but he had applied too late for their school year and was offered Canada. "I wanted a different kind of school than I had been used to, and I got it," he says. John Fraser Secondary School in Mississauga has 600 children; his home town has a population of 400. It’s different, but he loves it, he says.

McDougall spent the few weeks before teaching began on a trip to Vancouver Island and the Rocky Mountains, enjoying the breathtaking scenery. And he’s spent many weekends since visiting places like Ottawa and the Haliburton area. "In Scotland, we would never think of driving five hours for a weekend visit," he says. He spends a lot of his spare time socializing with other teachers and so far, he says, "It’s been the best year of my life."


Teachers offered an exchange almost always have a few months to prepare for the move, and an important item to check on is the difference in cost of living. Canadian teachers have to pay their own travel costs and also like to take advantage of other travel opportunities available during the exchange year. Some countries – such as Switzerland, where the cost of living is very high – provide a subsidy, but most do not. Financially, the exchange can be uneven, where a teacher’s salary doesn’t match the expenses of living in another country and taking advantage of travel opportunities. But there are a number of factors involved, and you have to look at the whole picture.

McDougall is paid less than an Ontario teacher and his native Scotland has a much higher cost of living, but the exchange rate is to his advantage. "We get $2.50 Canadian to the pound, and a lot of things are cheaper. I would pay the equivalent of $1.80 for a litre of gas in Scotland. So financially it’s not been a problem for me at all."

His students in Scotland and Ontario are also being enriched by his adventure. "LECT requires that you do a professional project, so I had my students in Scotland do profiles of themselves for my students here. And my students here are really interested in Scotland now, and want to go there."

As part of the project, McDougall’s Ontario students are researching Scotland and coming up with questions that the West Barns students must answer. "I hope my students here will produce a document on Scotland that they can send to the students in West Barns," says McDougall.

Exchange teachers – whether they are Canadians heading overseas or teachers arriving here from other countries – get help with adjusting to cultural and professional differences from the Canadian League for Educational Exchange (CLEE) which holds seminars and workshops three times a year.

Jim Palsetia, president of CLEE, has been on exchanges in the English midlands and Sydney, Australia. "Personality is a big factor in making it a success. I always tell people that in terms of the amount of energy you put into it, it’s just like your first year of teaching." But he, too, found the experience "fantastic" and spends part of his summer holidays in England every year visiting friends he made on his exchange.


Exchanges for principals and vice-principals have been tailored to suit the professional demands of school administrators. They can seek exchanges with elementary and secondary school administrators in the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom for much shorter periods. Exchanges to other countries can be explored upon request. The timing for these programs is arranged to be mutually convenient for both parties and usually involves a total of four weeks, two weeks in each location. Rather than an exchange like those for teachers, administrators work together and have opportunities to explore each other’s schools, organizations and culture.

Student exchanges offer individual students from 14 to 17 years old an educational experience that takes them beyond the scope of their text books into the global classroom. CEEF matches students from Canada with students from schools in other countries. Participants live with their partners’ families and attend school in the host country. Each phase of the exchange lasts for three months, with the foreign exchange student arriving in Canada in mid-August and staying until mid-November, and Canadian students going to their partners’ homes and schools starting in February and returning to Canada in May.

The goals for the students are to enhance language proficiency, increase awareness of other cultures, promote personal growth and develop and foster global awareness. The exchange year is an adventure for the whole family as well as the schools.

Teachers agree that having exchange students in their classes opens up a new and rewarding experience for all students. The growing number of exchange participants is the result of increasing awareness. "A lot of it is just getting the kids to find out about it. It’s like anything else – you have to market it and you have to talk about it. There are great advantages for everyone," says Nolan.

In addition to individual exchanges, CEEF offers teachers the opportunity to provide adventure and excitement as part of the integrated curriculum through its small group or class exchange program. Each program involves a class, school or board group, including a teacher, participating in a two to four-week exchange with a school partner abroad. The program is available for secondary students and for elementary students in Grades 7 and 8. Teachers who have participated in this program often repeat the experience with the same partner, year after year.

What students learn is not limited to the curriculum. As William Purkey says in Self Concept and School Achievement, "No printed word nor spoken plea, can teach young minds what men should be. Not all the books on all the shelves, but what the
teachers are themselves."

For more information about the Canadian Education Exchange Foundation, call (705) 739-7596 or toll-free at 1-800-899-8367.