What is it really like to live and work in America? Formerly a junior school teacher in West Yorkshire, Helen Thorogood packed her bags, said goodbye to friends and family and flew out to take up a post at the British School of Washington that she landed through Eteach. We last spoke to Helen as she was preparing for her big adventure, now we have caught up with her again to see if living and working in America has been everything she dreamt it would be.
Has the post and the place been what you expected?
Washington DC lives up to its expectations. There is so much to see and do, it has a great atmosphere and is very cultured. The British School of Washington (BSW) is exactly as I’d seen on the website – clean and bright. It has a pleasant atmosphere and small classes with children from fifty different nationalities and some very welcoming and supportive staff.
What was it like settling in?
Two weeks before term started, work organised tours, outings and time in school to help new members of staff settle in. A busy and fun time was had preparing my classroom, seeing the sights and getting to know one another over a nice bottle of red and some good food. This meant that I had little time to feel ‘sad’ about those I’d left behind. I was excited and nervous about the time ahead, hoping it would be a very rewarding and memorable experience.
The first official day back for teachers was the 18th of August. The day began with a welcome breakfast – blueberry bagels with blueberry spread – yum yum! It was there that I recognised a teacher from Leeds – small world! For the remainder of the week time was spent on INSET: Health and Safety, Child Protection, meetings and classroom preparation.
When we spoke previously, you said you wanted to seek out new challenges and experiences of living and working abroad, sight see and sample new cultures and customs. Have you been able to do that so far?
I have been sightseeing – Whitehouse, Capital Building, Washington Monument, Lincoln memorial and Arlington cemetery to name but a few.
Having not driven in the US before I thought I’d take the plunge and join a car rental. So far, so good!
What are the great things to see or do that perhaps aren’t in the guidebooks? What should people look out for – and indeed avoid?
A great way to start the day is by going to a diner – a Silver Diner. It has booths with your own juke box and a delicious menu.
For the baseball fans out there, have a go at the batting cages. Soft balls and baseballs are fired out of a machine and you attempt to hit them if you can.
I would also avoid travelling at peak times as the traffic is bad.
What’s enjoyable about living in America generally? Have you done much travelling around?
It’s good to eat out because there is a wide variety of diners, cafes and restaurants. In some restaurants the portions are so big that you can box up the left – overs and take them home. You can even take home your unfinished bottle of wine.
The shopping malls and outlets in and around DC are great. There are lots of bargains to be had and big savings.
I have travelled to Harpers Ferry which is a quaint little town in West Virginia.
We all want to know, did you get your walk-in wardrobe and what’s the food like?
I am living in Lenox apartments, Silver Spring, Maryland which is a 20-45 minute commute to work and 20 minutes on the metro into DC. I live on the 16th floor and it is a spacious one-bedroom apartment. It has an open plan kitchen/living area, bedroom, a WALK IN WARDROBE : ), bathroom and views overlook Rock Creek Park.
Silver Spring has an Einstein Bagel, Starbucks, Borders, cinema, supermarket, gym, bars, restaurants, bus station and metro.
What are the downsides, compared with living and working in the UK?
Being away from family and friends and losing touch with the education system and up to date teaching methods in England.
Can you tell us a bit more about the school?
The British School of Washington belongs to a group called World Class Learning (WCL). It is a learning focused school which caters for children from 3 – 18 years. The Primary School follows the National Curriculum and an International Primary Curriculum (IPC). I teach Y5 and I’m very fortunate to teach 11 delightful children – American, English, Italian and Danish. I teach Y5 English, Maths (set groups) and IPC (science, ICT, history and geography). Art/DT, PE, Music and languages are taught by specialist teachers. Resources are limited.
How does it compare with the UK?
The international feel is different as is the IPC. The tornado, hurricane and ‘lock down’ drills are like any I haven’t experienced before.
My colleagues come from the UK – from up north near Newcastle to as far south as Brighton.
Any thoughts about the future at this stage?
I came to the US with an open mind. In terms of my professional development, I am keen to gain as much knowledge, skills and experience as possible. Having taken on the role of KS2 Coordinator in my previous school, I do hope to gain more management experience through the Middle Leadership Programme (MLP) at the BSW.
The contract is for two years (6 month probation period), then after on a yearly basis. So who knows where I will be. I guess it all depends on how things go here in Washington DC. I have always had a passion for travelling, visiting other countries and experiencing their cultures and customs. My home will always be England though.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to tell other people considering doing something similar?
Research – find out as much information as possible about the area you will be living in and the school in which you will be working e.g. the curriculum, resources, assessment and reporting systems.
I hope this offers fellow teachers with similar interests as me a hint about what life is like at the BSW and DC.