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Ahtough she has said "Cheerio!" to her students in England, Brooke Vonasek finds her teaching experience there is staying with her now that she's back at UW-Superior.
Teaching at a private school in Hull, England, 200 miles north of London, forced Vonasek to up her professional game, even as she adjusted to daily life in a new country and to a language that's English but not quite her mother tongue.
"Shopping was difficult because I didn't know where anything was," she said. "And I had to read my money so I was really slow at the checkout."
Although Americans and Britons both speak English, "Little things would be different," Vonasek said. For example, one day she showed up for work in her in semi-formal work attire, only to realize it was a casual day and her colleagues were wearing jeans.
"I said 'Oh look, I came here in my dressy pants,' and then a guy looked at me funny and walked out of the room," she recalls. In England, the word "pants" refers to underwear, and trousers are what you wear over them.
Vonasek took part in Educators Abroad, an international program offered by Study Abroad/Study Away that arranges student teaching experiences in foreign countries. Study Away interim director Cherie Sawinski said students are nominated for the for the program by their department.
Before her teaching abroad experience, Vonasek had taught a few classes at Superior Middle School, which is quite different from Hymers College, the private middle and high school where she taught. Tuition there is nearly $14,000 a year students must pass entrance exams to attend.
FORMAL, YET FUN
Vonasek wasn't prepared for the formality of the relationship between teacher and student. "When I got there, the kids were just very structured. They would stand by their desks until I told them to sit down," she recalled.
In the U.S., teachers are trained to employ multiple teaching strategies, including collaborative learning, while in England the style is more traditional and lecture-based.
Vonasek found herself studying up on World War I, an area of European history that's a big focus in English schools but gets less emphasis in the United States. "I needed to prove that I was on top of it and that I belonged there," she said.
Teaching a creative writing class of Year 7's (6th graders) about the American "tall tales" tradition, Vonasek started with the classic fish tale, in which the size of the fish caught grows with each retelling. "I had to explain to them what a walleye was," she laughed.
Being a northerner, she tried to interest them in mythic Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. "But they seemed more interested in Pecos Bill," she said.
Although classroom instruction was quite formal, Vonasek, also a coaching minor, found the children did cut loose when she taught a physical education unit on volleyball. And on her last day of school, they went barmy (crazy) for Jolly Ranchers, the hard sour candy that she brought as treats.
"When it comes down to it, kids are still kids," she says.
Vonasek is completing her student teaching experience in Superior.
For more information about the Teachers Abroad program, contact Cherie Sawinski at (715) 394-8020, stop by her office at 337 Old Main, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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