Crossing over; English teacher takes over at Unionville school
How does a teacher from England make it all the way to a small elementary school in Unionville? Mary Singleton, a second-grade teacher, did that recently when she arrived in this country in July and started work at Unionville Elementary School in August.
Singleton is part of the Visiting International Faculty program, a Chapel Hill-based organization which is the nation’s largest teacher exchange program. The Visiting International Faculty program is one part of the Union County school system’s current focus on globalization, innovation, and graduation.
Singleton comes from Preston, the largest city in Lancashire County, England, about a three-hour drive from London. She applied to the exchange organization because she “was looking for a new experience and … wanted the opportunity to work in America,” Singleton said.
Once she arrived, her options were North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia.
“My brothers had traveled in the states and said that North Carolina was the ‘friendliest’ state they visited, so I chose it,” Singleton said.
Sharyn VonCannon, the principal at Unionville Elementary, saw Singleton’s VIF video then interviewed her via Skype.
“Mary was my first choice. She was enthusiastic and seemed like a good fit,” VonCannon said.
Singleton accepted the position because she had a “good feeling about it.” After sitting down with VonCannon, she didn’t feel the need to interview with any other schools.
Part of the family business
Teaching appears to be in Singleton’s genetic make-up. She comes from a family of educators; both her father and aunts were teachers.
“My father taught language in Brazil for years,” Singleton said. “He’s always been an explorer and world traveler. He’s really been my role model,” she said. “I take after him.”
Singleton earned a Bachelor of Science with honors in primary education and a specialty in physical education from Leeds Metropolitan University in Leeds, England.
“I had worked with children while in high school and had always wanted to be a teacher,” Singleton said. “If I hadn’t been a teacher, I probably would have been a coach.” Singleton taught in England for three years before coming to America, arriving here on a three-year visa. Her contract comes up for renewal each year.
The American school system is a bit of a departure for Singleton, a change from classes in the United Kingdom. For one thing, students go to school from 9:00am to 3:30 p.m. in England. For American students, it’s 7:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Class sizes are smaller here, typically 20 to 25 students versus 30 to 35 students in the United Kingdom.
Singleton also describes the U. K. system as cross-curricular.
“Lessons in the United Kingdom … usually link to a theme each [semester], for example, if the theme is ‘space and the solar system’ each subject will link to that theme.” She says the American school system focuses mainly on reading, writing, and math, with a much stronger emphasis on reading.
“Here we have readers’ workshops 45 to 50 minutes every day,” Singleton said. “At home, there aren’t specific reading lessons,” she said.
In England, however, students take more physical education classes, typically two hours per week unlike the 45 minutes per week at Singleton’s school.
Students at Unionville Elementary have more technological resources than those in England, she said. “We have a media center here which you don’t find at home.”
Unlike the August through June schedule in America, in the United Kingdom, students attend school for seven weeks, and then have a week or two break, with a two week holiday at Christmas. American students have a three month summer break, while students in the United Kingdom have a six week holiday.
And unlike the American system which classifies students into grades, in the United Kingdom, they are referred to as “years.” Kindergarten in America would be Year 1 in England. So “primary” school in the United Kingdom includes years 1 to 6, then “secondary” school covers years 7 to 11. After that, students in the United Kingdom attend “college” for two years then “university” for three or four years.
When asked what she likes most about North Carolina, Singleton noted the southern culture.
“People are really friendly here,” she said. She also enjoys the weather. “It’s freezing at home.” She does miss her family though. “At home, they were right around the corner. I could go over for Sunday dinner,” she said. “I Skype with them almost every night, however.”
In her spare time, Singleton enjoys exploring new places, visiting historical landmarks, reading, playing tennis, and going to the gym. She is single and lives in Matthews.
What does she miss the most about England besides her family? “I miss drinking cups of tea. You don’t serve tea like we do at home!”