K-Beach teacher headed to Australia for year-long exchange

Jason Daniels teaches a math lesson to his class at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School on Wednesday morning. At the end of this month, he and an Australian teacher will swap jobs for a year.

When Jason Daniels told his wife, Heather, he would be teaching in Australia for a year, she kept waiting for him to finish the joke.


There was no punch line.

Jason is a fourth-grade teacher at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary -- but will be teaching a third-fourth split class in Australia as part of a teacher exchange. It is an exchange in every sense of the word -- the Daniels will be exchanging residences with Gavan Brown, Jason's exchange partner, and his wife, Margaret.

"(Gavan)'s got a nicer house than I do," Jason said. "So I score on that -- he's got a swimming pool.

"With 90-degree temperatures, I'm thinking that's not a bad deal, not at all."

The Daniels will embark on their adventure Dec. 26, stopping in Los Angeles and Fiji along the way. The stopover in Los Angeles is crucial because they will be able to meet Gavan and Margaret for a rare in-person meeting before taking up each other's residences.

"We're staying in the same hotel before we go in our separate directions," Daniels said. "Which will be great to be able to shake hands face-to-face."

Brown garnered the chance to meet the Daniels on the way up to Alaska.

"Naturally, this is a rare opportunity to live for a year in someone else's shoes so to speak," Brown said. "He'll be living in my house and we'll be in his -- it's not so often that you share such an experience with someone else.

"So it's important to me that we get on well and everything goes smoothly."

Daniels, 39, will be teaching a third-fourth grade split class at Wodonga South Primary School in a town called Wodonga, in the state of Victoria. Daniels said the whole school is divided into split classes, something Daniels has not dealt with in his 14 years of teaching.

"I have not taught a split class, I have taught third grade, and I'm teaching fourth grade," Daniels said. "So that is my sweet spot on comfort level and knowledge base."

Brown, who has taught for 31 years, has completed exchanges in Canada and the United Kingdom -- coming to Alaska was a chance he couldn't pass up.

"(It was) a case of opportunity and luck of where there was an appropriate match," Brown said.

Both Daniels and Brown are looking forward to the opportunity to teach somewhere so far away from home, but with that, both teachers will face challenges. With his three decades of teaching in Australia, Brown will have to adjust to a whole new way of doing things, not to mention a completely different climate -- Brown will be coming to Alaska during the middle of winter, and Daniels will be arriving in Australia during their summer season.

Brown said he is not fazed by the change in the climate.

"(I'm) not daunted," Brown said. "It will be warmer than the (negative) 35 degrees Celsius that greeted us in Canada.

"I'm prepared for long periods of darkness and the inevitable putting on and removal of coats."

Daniels is looking forward to arriving during Australia's summer, while the students are coming up on their summer break.

"Their school year is different than ours," he said. "They go from February to December -- so coming up in a few weeks they'll go on their summer break, it's 85s and 90s right now."

Aside from the seasonal change, the two teachers face challenges within the classroom. Although both countries speak a form of the English language, there will be certain words that both teachers will have to spell differently.

"The word 'color'," Daniels said. "I just realized the other day, I have a feeling the kids are going to be correcting my spelling over there -- and I think the kids here are going to correct Gavan's spelling."

'Color' is spelled 'colour' in Australia, and other words have different spellings. Daniels will also have to adjust to some of the differences in the schools.

"The kids have uniforms, which is different from here," Daniels said. "The kids are going to call me by my first name.

"So I've already heard some hinting of things that will be different. But it's all good, it's all part of the experience."

Other challenges ahead of Daniels include the metric system and driving on the left side of the road.

On top of driving on the right side of the road and using yards instead of meters, Brown will have to get acclimated to the United States and Alaska education system.

"The biggest challenges are adjusting to the subtle variations in culture, expectations and language," Brown said. "My perspective on teaching is colored by 30 years of Australian educational development and priorities.

"I will know very little of this context in Alaska and so clarifying expectations and processes will be important."
Both teachers feel their experiences on the other side of their worlds will be invaluable when they return to their home countries after the fall term of 2012.

"One goal would be to come back and use some of the things I've learned in my teaching (in Australia), hopefully it will make me a more well-rounded teacher," Daniels said. "I'm sure they have teaching strategies and methods over there that I can learn from and apply here."

Brown feels the same way, he hopes to gain an insight into the way of life in Alaska and the educational priorities for the system, he said.

"Hopefully I can leave something of my own expertise when I go home again," Brown said.
For both men, it's not just about the teaching aspect of the exchange. Each place has its own culture, history and lifestyle.

"One of the main things I'd like to accomplish, besides learning about how they teach and learn in Australia -- is the traveling and the learning about another culture," Daniels said. "And learning about the Aussie lifestyle."
Not having taught in America before, Brown is excited to learn about American and Alaskan culture.

"What I know of the U.S. and Americans is based on the limited experience of a few friends and a couple of brief visits," Brown said. "So I'm looking forward to fitting in the community and experiencing the lifestyle first-hand."

For Daniels, this might be his only chance to do something of this magnitude.

"I will call it a once-in-a-lifetime (experience)," he said. "I don't know if I'll ever do this again in my career, so I really do need to live it up -- and explore and do."

Logan Tuttle can be reached at logan.tuttle@peninsulaclarion.com.


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