Professional exchange programs that offer rigorous, meaningful professional development opportunities have the greatest potential to raise the status of the teaching profession.

Public investment in high quality teacher exchange programs is rare and decreasing. Long-standing programs have been de-funded in the US and UK, and other countries fear future cuts due to austerity. A union-operated teacher swap program between New South Wales, Australia and other countries is a valuable example of proactive union engagement to offer professional exchange opportunities to members, but such efforts are not a substitute for government investment in international teacher exchange.

Characteristics of the Professional Exchange hiring model

  • Teachers benefit from exposure to different pedagogical methods and curriculum.  
  • Students benefit from teachers’ expanded world view and improved teaching skills that come from experience working in different educational settings.
  • School systems and administrators benefit from the diversity international teachers bring and from exposure to global best practices in teaching. 

In the highest quality professional exchange programs, international teachers work side by side with peers from the host country to instruct local students. This gives teachers the chance to fully immerse themselves in a different educational environment and maximizes the impact on teachers’ professional practice. These opportunities are of a fixed duration, helping to align program design with participants’ expectations, usually to expand pedagogical practice. A predefined duration provides governments in  sending countries greater assurance that they will benefit when teachers return. Likewise, clear understanding of terms and expectations protects teachers from manipulation and allows them to plan for life and career events.

Rigorous candidate qualifications are an essential element of professional exchange programs. High quality teacher exchange programs require applicants to have completed a minimum number of years in service or to otherwise demonstrate teaching competence.  

Well-regarded programs are often government-sponsored professional exchanges in which countries sign official and, sometimes reciprocal agreements. Such programs are usually publicly funded and the direct relationship between educational systems helps to minimize overall costs. Bilateral agreements between governments often come with

  • Security: government support tends to ensure greater protection of teachers’ rights
  • Quality: government support legitimizes programs in the eyes of teachers  
  • Rights of re-entry: for returning teachers by recognizing teachers’ years of service abroad in salary advancement and pension calculations.  

Unfortunately, recent austerity measures have threatened many high quality programs. At least two countries– the United Kingdom (British Council’s teacher exchange programme) and the United States (Fulbright teacher exchange program) – have de-funded the programs.

Survey Highlights

Teachers overwhelmingly have positive feelings about professional exchange programs and report that working abroad is as much personally fulfilling as it is professionally stimulating. The opportunity to participate in an exchange can also serve to retain skilled teachers in the profession. Some teachers report feeling as though they had reached a plateau in their careers. A new professional challenge reinvigorated their passion for teaching.  

“It was time for a change in my career.  Either move up or move away.” 

–Survey Respondent, from United Kingdom, taught in United States

Upon returning, teachers who have worked abroad report that they blend the most effective teaching techniques from their home and host countries to hone their own instructional practice.

“Mi experiencia como docente en otros países me enseñó a reflexionar y a seguir aprendiendo, sobre todo a ver el mundo desde un caleidoscopio, en el que las visiones y las actitudes de cada sociedad no son estáticas, sino que van evolucionando.” 

(“My experience as a teacher in other countries taught me to reflect and to continue learning, above all to view the world as a kaleidoscope in which the visions and actions of each society are not static rather they go on evolving.)”

--Survey Respondent, Spanish teacher who had taught in the United Kingdom, Egypt, and Jordan