As soon as Major Ballachey teacher Andrew Campbell put away his books and school supplies at the end of June, he took them up again in a world almost 4,000 kilometres away.
Campbell was one of about 60 Canadian teachers selected for Project Overseas and one of five sent to the Caribbean island of Grenada where he and his colleagues participated in professional learning workshops with Grenadian teachers.
“We learned very quickly that things there are very different,” said Campbell.
“We had teachers in the program who had been high school students in June and are going to be teaching this year in September because you don’t have to have a degree to be a teacher in Grenada.”
That leaves both fresh and seasoned teachers hungry for education and resources on the beautiful island.
“The time they spent with us is the only professional development time they have. Those who attend the program are clear that teachers talk about it for years to come.”
The Canadian Teachers’ Federation has been running Project Overseas for decades in partnership with other teacher federations and those in the host countries.
Campbell was off to Ottawa at the beginning of July to take part in training with about 60 other teachers who were to be scattered across the globe during the month, helping to improve public education in developing countries.
Some of the topics covered range from reading and math to gender equity and developing leaders in and out of the classroom.
“I’ve always been really passionate about public education and I love to travel,” said Campbell. “I spent some time teaching in Kuwait but came back home because of young kids. Now that my kids are semi-launched, it provided me the opportunity to go back out again.”
Campbell applied for the highly competitive program last year but didn’t make it. He was finally selected this year.
While the difference between a Canadian and a Grenadian classroom may be vast, Campbell said his team of five and the 120 local teachers immediately bonded over similarities.
“My first day in a class with 20 other teachers from Grenada, no one knowing each other or talking much and then one asked ‘In Ontario, what’s your policy about homework?’ and suddenly, organically, we were in a big discussion about whether kids should do homework and how much homework. The fact we were from different countries melted away.
“We were just teachers and that felt huge to me professionally. It was a realization there’s much more that we have in common than our differences.”
Campbell also found almost everyone he spoke to was a Toronto Raptors fan and most have relatives living in Canada.
“It made me think of Major Ballachey where we have children who are Syrian refugees and how problems from thousands of miles away come into our schools very quickly. The students in Grenada today could be in my classroom tomorrow.”
During off hours, Campbell couldn’t get enough of the nearby Grand Anse beach, a pristine yet busy place to walk, swim, look at starfish and “meet the incredibly friendly people of Grenada.”
Once his responsibilities to Project Overseas were done, Campbell capped off his visit with a boat trip inspired by a former student: he travelled along the Grenadines to St. Vincent at the other end of the chain of islands.
“It was a special moment for me.”
Campbell returned to Canada ready to teach both co-teachers and students his most important lesson – the position of privilege Canadians hold.
“The physical resources we have access to are far above what they have. I came back with hundreds of pictures and want to share with my students about a place where classrooms have a concrete floor and no real blackboards or projectors. We need to appreciate what we have because we’re incredibly rich.”