Beginning in the mid-1980s, the Independent Education Union (IEU) of New South Wales, Australia acted as the coordinating body for teacher exchanges with partner organizations in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and with European international schools.  For the duration of one school year, teachers from the two countries directly swap jobs and homes and return to their original classrooms upon completion of the program.  Teachers are required to have a minimum of five years classroom experience and, in order to complete a match, teachers must be fully qualified to instruct their partner’s grade or subject. While abroad, each teacher retains employment status with their home school and continues to earn the same salary and benefits that they would in their home country. 

The union, in partnership with overseas organizations, reviews outgoing and incoming teacher candidates to find matches for similarly qualified teachers. Once a match is identified, the union serves as the visa sponsor of the incoming teacher.  IEU hosts an orientation to acclimate visiting teachers to the Australian educational system and organizes a pre-departure meeting with recently returned alumni for Australian teachers who will be going abroad.  An important benefit of the teacher swap program is that participants retain affiliation with the IEU while overseas and, through agreements with unions in partner countries, teachers have complimentary representation in the host country should a problem arise.  Likewise, the IEU is committed to representing foreign teachers while they are in Australia.    

Though matching teachers’ qualifications, location preference and housing needs can be complicated and time consuming, the union has found that the program is highly beneficial to teachers and to the union.  The union reports that offering teacher swaps as a member benefit has helped to grow and engage the membership.  Participants tell the union that the program helped to refresh their passion for teaching and both teachers and principals find value in the program.  

“My family and I did an exchange to the USA last year (2012). The union was instrumental in supporting the process and providing us advice we could trust. As a long time union member with limited interaction with the union, it has given me an opportunity to see the union in action, supporting its members. Without the guidance and support of the union, I may never have had such an opportunity. Also, providing such an opportunity to members encourages collegial discussion about the value and necessity of union membership, helping to recruit new members and reaffirm existing members.”  

--Ben Arthurs, returning teacher

Teacher swaps offer teachers the opportunity to change their environment for a short period of time, while guaranteeing job security upon their return and this type of professional challenge can go a long way to help retain mid-career teachers in the profession.  By their reciprocal nature, swaps avoid resource depleting effects that may be present in other types of teacher migration.  The balance of human capital and financial resources between sending and receiving countries offers a sustainable model for teacher mobility.