By Allison Hamburger
The head of the physics department at Eton College traded places with a physics teacher this year as a part of the school’s first teacher exchange.
Joe Dangerfield is teaching Physics and AP Physics B here, while physics teacher Karen Hutchison spends the year in Windsor, England at Eton, a prestigious all-boys boarding school.
“One of the reasons that we’ve never done it or even thought about it is that a teacher who comes to this school really has to be good at what he or she does and has to be able to fit into the culture of the school right away,” Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts said. “That’s difficult for anyone coming to this school, much less someone from another country.”
Another issue for the teachers is ensuring that the subject matter will convert effectively in each country.
“The nice thing about teaching physics is that physics is the same everywhere in the world basically,” Dangerfield said. “The laws of physics don’t change, but to learn about different course structure will be quite a lot of work for me.”
Dangerfield approached Eton Headmaster Tony Little in April 2010 with the idea of teaching in the United States. Eton has done teacher exchanges before, Dangerfield said, but they often involved schools in Australia or New Zealand. Little connected Dangerfield to Huybrechts, who brought the exchange idea to Hutchison.
The exchange is sponsored by the Fulbright Program, which has been particularly helpful in organizing immigration paperwork, Dangerfield said. Hutchinson and he applied to the program last fall, and the exchange was confirmed in March.
“My initial feeling when we eventually learned that the exchange was a reality was a mixture of relief, elation and panic, as we had only four months left to organize relocating our entire family to a new continent,” he said.
Since Eton is a boarding school, they provide housing for Hutchison on campus. In return, Dangerfield currently lives in a school-owned house adjacent to the upper school campus with his wife and two children, aged 3 and 5. The teachers’ current schedules also vary from each one’s home jobs.
Eton’s schedule includes a half day of classes on Saturday. The term begins tomorrow, so she has yet to experience the culture of an all-boys school.
“I imagine that the culture of the school will be different than that at Harvard-Westlake, but I’m not sure how yet,” Hutchison said. “Superficially, the boys wear uniforms and call their teachers ‘beaks.’”
One factor in Dangerfield’s decision to come here was a desire to learn more about the U.S. college admissions process. Some Eton students expressed interest in travelling abroad for university, so Dangerfield hopes to bring home knowledge that will help prepare such students.
While Hutchison traveled to England briefly in high school, Dangerfield had never been to the United States .He said that he and his wife are trying to keep an open mind.
“I expect to find it challenging to adapt to new courses and new ways of doing things, different structures, but I’m trying not to make assumptions,” Dangerfield said.
Hutchison and Dangerfield both arrived in their temporary countries at the beginning of August. They have communicated by email for almost a year to describe what to expect during the school year.
“The support at Harvard-Westlake generally, as well as from Karen, has been phenomenal and has made a huge difference to how settled we feel,” Dangerfield said.