I have always been interested in ways that policies influence the daily lives of teachers. This grew from a childhood on-the-move in the United States and South Korea. My father was a pilot, a computer engineer, and an orthodontist while my mother taught in each locale. My early experiences as a student – in and after school – were tempered by my mother’s experiences as a teacher. Over the past eighteen years in my professional life, I have maintained what my spouse likes to call my family’s “itchy travel feet.” So when I saw that Norway offered an on-the-move Fulbright grant, called the “Roving Scholar in American Studies,” I jumped at the chance to apply.
I knew that living in Norway, a country known for work/life balance and gender equity, would provide a priceless opportunity to experience education and education policy differently. For the 2014-15 academic year, I served as a “Roving Scholar” in upper secondary schools and teacher training colleges across the country. I conducted workshops and teacher professional development sessions while also learning about the culture and what it means to teach in Norwegian schools.
From the minute I arrived in Oslo, I was asked by Norwegians and Americans alike: “So, what do you notice about both systems of education?” As this unique Fulbright grant progressed, my pauses lengthened while I reflected upon where to begin with my responses. In fact, now that I am home in Minnesota, I find it impossible to start with details from inside of classrooms. This is certainly not due to a lack of valuable time in schools.
In Norway, I taught thousands of insightful students and met hundreds of generous teachers while I traveled by train, bus, airplane, and boat to new destinations each week. Yet, what became immediately apparent – in every part of the country last year – were the policies that supported the health and well-being of teachers and students when they were not in school. To name a few examples: Norwegians benefit from generous parental leave for child birth, national health care, and free college tuition.
My time as a Roving Scholar allowed me to learn, first-hand, how very much these contextual factors mattered in relation to perceptions of schools. The factors that frame Norway’s public education system actually translate to a different way of life for teachers and students as they walk through the doors each morning. This was a valuable lesson from my Fulbright grant that I will take with me as I continue to teach and work with policy in the years to come.
In fact, I know that my life will now be different. There are the small, daily differences like craving waffles with sour cream and taking long walks no matter what the weather (with a matpakke!), but there are significant changes too. The connections between Minnesota and Norway have transformed my growing international understanding and my professional network. I am honored to say that colleagues in Norway are now my friends - as we remain in touch to exchange resources for teaching as well as presentations and publications. Better yet, we are friends who have travel plans and continued collaborations in our future, collaborations that will always be marked by careful listening, thoughtful questions, cups of coffee and, perhaps, a waffle or two.