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Switching countries

"Broad View Elementary School teacher Kris Bishop's fourth-grade students wrote down a few words of advice for the woman who will soon take over for Bishop and become their new teacher. Sean, for instance, wrote, Remember the weather is not as hot here. Valerie added, Remember to drive on the right side of the road. And Zachary noted, Make sure to use American dollars or else you can't buy anything.Lyn Veall has been taking the advice to heart, though she admits that the one about driving on the right side of the road is taking some getting used to. Veall, a teacher from the small rural town of Kerang in Australia, is trading places with Bishop for the next 12 months as part of an international teacher exchange program. The exchange will be nearly total and includes not only their classrooms and students, but also the teachers' homes, cars, family and friends.We feel like we've known each other forever, said Veall in an accent that effortlessly conveys her down under upbringing. Truth be told, the two teachers met for the first time last week. Prior to that, they mainly communicated through e-mail. Veall spent her first day in Bishop's classroom Tuesday getting used to local school procedures and meeting students. Bishop will leave Whidbey on Friday for Kerang, which is located about three and a half hours northwest of Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria. The Australian school year begins at the end of January and runs until mid December.Both teachers look at the exchange program as a learning experience for both their students and themselves. I've never been to Australia before, said Bishop. It's an opportunity to learn about someplace uniquely different.For one thing, Bishop and Veall have to adjust to teaching at a different grade level. When in Australia, Bishop will teach Veall's composite class of fifth- and sixth-graders instead of fourth grade. She will also teach swimming and do yard duty, which is Australian for recess supervision.Bishop said she is particularly interested in Australia's reading and writing programs. The country is noted for its high literacy rate and for literacy at an early age she said.Veall toured the western U.S. in 1999 and particularly requested the exchange assignment on Whidbey. She said Broad View's 470 students make it much bigger than her Kerang school, which has an enrollment of about 140. Her Australian students also wear school uniforms, and hats are mandatory apparel during certain times of the year.It's called a sun-smart policy, Veall said, noting that it's summer in Australia now and temperatures can easily hit 38 degrees Celsius or 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It's very hot and we're known for our droughts.The fact that both teachers will have to adapt to different measurement systems is pointed out in a few more words of advice from a student named Brandon. He wrote, In the United States they go miles per hour, not kilometers per hour. If you do kilometers, you can get caught by the cops.The teachers say that in at least one area they won't worry about doing the complicated conversion between the metric system and the standard English system.We both packed our own measuring cups for cooking, said Bishop.Bishop's students are still getting used to the idea of switching teachers part way through the school year, but they're excited about some of the possibilities.I already learned some of the Australian language like g'day mate,' said 10-year-old Melissa Rice. I know some songs and a couple animals they have.Bishop said that generally speaking, Australian children have a better understanding of the U.S. than American children have about Australia. Veall said the movie character Crocodile Dundee is the most well known image of an Australian, but it's not really very representative.It's not like I have crocodiles in my backyard, or kangaroos in my backyard, or koalas, she said. Instead, she describes Kerang as an area of farms and ranches where people enjoy sports of all kinds and family barbecues.With 13 years of teaching experience each, Bishop and Veall expect their respective classroom transitions will go smoothly. I'm leaving (the students) in good hands, said Bishop. ------------------ Oak Harbor will have two teachers in Australia this year. Fourth-grade teacher Kris Bishop of Broad View Elementary and third-grade teacher Terri Smithey of Hillcrest Elementary are both participating in a teacher exchange program that will put them in Australian classrooms from the end of January through next December.Smithey, who has been at Hillcrest since it opened in 1989, said that aside from short visits to Mexico and Canada, this will be her first real trip outside the U.S.. She is exchanging classrooms and homes with Chris Newell, a teacher from McMasters Beach, a town a couple hours outside of Sydney. Newell and his family arrived on Whidbey over the weekend and spent his first day in his new Hillcrest classroom Tuesday. Smithey plans to host a pot luck luncheon Wednesday so that students, parents and Hillcrest staff can get to know Newell better. She departs for Australia Thursday.Once in Australia, Smithey will teach first grade. She said she is taking along some good conversation starters for the kids such as an American flag. U.S. money, books on historical figures and local wildlife and some pins and pictures featuring Whidbey Island.The two teachers hope to keep their classes in touch using the Internet.Newell said McMasters Beach is similar to Oak Harbor in that both cities are on the water. Unlike Oak Harbor, McMasters Beach features nearby surfing beaches. Newell said teacher exchange programs have played an important part in his life. In fact, he met his wife while she was on an exchange program between Canada and Australia a few years ago. "

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