Last week we published this thoughtful, fiery piece from Jill Wiley on what teaching in Norway has taught her about teaching in America, where she started her career. From childcare to unions to gun violence, she covers some significant differences in treatment and posits this: that American teachers are being gaslit to think that their toxic working conditions are both normal and acceptable.
We love a firebrand, and we love Jill. I reached out to more questions about what it’s teaching in Norway. Find out what she has to say about how she got her job, what she misses most from back home, and what the school lunch there looks like (it surprised us!).
How did you find your job?
My husband was doing a Masters degree in Stavanger (most grad degrees are done in English here), so we were already living in Norway. I had applied several times to international schools before moving here, but never got a response. Once we were here, I saw a posting that seemed perfect and applied one more time. They called me in about a week for an interview and wanted me to come in that day because they were trying to fill a part-time position mid-year.
What’s been the best part about teaching in Norway?
There are so many best parts, I don’t really know where to start, but I’d be in big trouble if I didn’t mention my colleagues, who are absolutely super. I teach with professionals from Britain, Zimbabwe, Spain, China, Germany, Canada, South Africa, Norway (of course) and many other countries. For a farm girl from southern Indiana, it’s kind of mind-blowing because diversity just didn’t exist in my home town in the 1980’s. Also, I teach at an International Baccalaureate school, and have tremendous freedom to create my own curriculum. It was a ton of work at first, but I get super excited about each unit. I teach a unit on Dreams, in which we use Hamilton, The Great Gatsby, and other works to discuss what makes a worthy dream. So much fun! It’s what teaching was meant to be.
What do you miss most about Indiana or America in general?
Of course, I miss my family and friends. It has been really hard for the kids to leave their grandparents and other family members behind. Even though we try to travel home every year, it’s hard missing birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. And moving overseas was a huge change for the kids. Besides that, good donuts and soft-serve ice cream. Somehow they’re just not as good here.
Besides what you discuss in your article, what’s the biggest difference in your day-to-day?
So many things, but I would say it is the transportation. When we moved here, we didn’t buy a car for a couple of years. It’s a 10 minute train ride to my school, and the train runs right along the fjord – much more relaxing than my morning commute used to be. My husband rode his bike to his university – in every kind of weather you can imagine. We walk a lot more, and take the bus. It can be a hassle, but we feel healthier. Even though we now have a car, we still try to limit driving to only necessary trips. I’m so happy not to be spending as much time driving as I did in the States.
On the other hand, so much doesn’t change. It’s not like life is suddenly perfect. You still have to file taxes, deal with sick kids, do the laundry. It seems different, and very much the same all at once.
What are some small things about teaching (or living) in Norway that our readers might find surprising?
One of the big surprises was that since we live in southern Norway, there is very little snow. Winter in Indiana is way harsher than it is here, since we’re right on the coast. And mørktid – the dark winter months – can be really cozy. We kind of love to snuggle in, light candles, and play cards or watch a movie. Even in southern Norway, you only get about 7 hours of light in December and January. You have to make an effort to get outside and take vitamin D supplements, or it’s quite easy to get depressed, but it’s also a really special time of year.
What are some of your can’t-live-without products for your teaching day?
Easy-to-read novels for language learners are a go-to in my French class. I love books by Mira Canon, Carol Gaab, A. C. Quintero and other specialized writers that I can get through Wayside Publishing.
What would you recommend to teachers considering teaching abroad?
Do it! But make sure you have an open mind and a lot of flexibility. It’s quite difficult to get a teaching job in Europe right off the bat; I really lucked out because I was already local and had all of my paperwork filed with the Norwegian government. But Southeast Asia and the Middle East are good places to get some experience. Once you’ve proven that you can live overseas and teach in an international school, you have more choice.
It’s important to do excellent research, though. While I have been lucky to teach for a supportive and caring administration, it’s a bit risky moving to a country where you don’t understand the rules, and you have signed a contract. I know of some teachers who’ve been taken advantage of and they didn’t really have any legal recourse in the country they were in. Empowering Expat Teachers with Sorcha Coyle is a great place to start. She has a website and a Facebook Group, and gives excellent information on how to get started. The International Educator is another great and affordable resource.
What does school lunch look like in Norway?
This is such a great question, because the answer is so unexpected! There IS NO school lunch in Norway! That’s right. Every. Single. Kid. brings a packed lunch because very few if any schools offer lunch. It sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but it works pretty well. Although it does happen, it’s fairly rare for kids to forget their lunch, Plus, there is a very strong societal expectation that lunches will be healthy. Kids bring cookies and soft drinks only on special days; otherwise it is a sandwich or waffle with topping, a bottle of water, and maybe some fruit.