Across the Pond

By Michael Rothberg

Among her many new experiences she encountered while teaching abroad, Kate Hutchinson had to learn that, in the United Kingdom, casual dress did not mean flip flops and a T-shirt she said.

After months of teaching physics in foreign schools, physics teachers Joe Dangerfield and Karen Hutchinson have learned from and noted the many differences and similarities between the educational systems, cultures and people. This year, Harvard-Westlake swapped teachers with Eton College, a boarding school in Windsor, England, sending physics teacher Hutchinson abroad and hosting Dangerfield to fill her position.

“There are a lot of superficial differences between the two schools,” said Dangerfield, who taught Physics and AP Physics B this year. “Eton is a boarding school, it’s all boys, it looks very stuffy and old fashioned, but the academic culture and the relationships between students and teachers are very similar.”

Dangerfield, head of the physics department at Eton, said that because the physics content taught at Harvard-Westlake was similar to that of Eton, teaching the different curriculum came naturally.

Both Hutchinson and Dangerfield said they saw the stark differences between the general education systems of the United States and the United Kingdom.

“I think the most significant difference that you might experience as a student is the grading culture,” Dangerfield said. “It’s much more reliant on external exams in the United Kingdom and less significance on internal grading within a school.”

The cultures within Harvard-Westlake and Eton also differed greatly they said. Hutchinson, who wears a suit to work every day, and whose students call her “ma’am,” said that the overall atmosphere at Eton is much more formal and old-fashioned.

Throughout their experiences, both teachers said they have learned new approaches to teaching, which they plan to take back to their home countries.

“Eton is an academically rigorous place without being too stressful,” Hutchinson said. “Boys work hard and have time to play hard, and I hope to bring back some of this balance to my teaching at Harvard-Westlake. I really appreciate the repetition that is present in science teaching in the UK. Hopefully I can replicate some of that in a one-year course.”

Hutchinson and Dangerfield will return home and teach at their original schools next year.