Canadian teacher enjoys teaching at East Elementary
Jennifer Fortnum had never heard of Monroe or Union County before coming to East Elementary last year. But ever since she began teaching fifth grade at East last fall, the Canadian teacher has fallen in love with the area, the school and the children she teaches.
Fortnum is taking part in the Visiting International Faculty program in which educators from other parts of the world come to America to teach. The program refers to this as a culture exchange.
“Jobs in the teaching profession (in Canada) are a little hard to come by, so I had to do something,” Fortnum said. “I was always the homebody, so I totally shocked my parents one day and said, ‘I want to teach in the U.S.’”
This is Fortnum’s second time as a VIF teacher and her third time participating in an international teaching program. She taught from 2003 to 2006 in Garner, North Carolina. She subsequently went to England for two years through the International Teachers Network program.
After returning to her home in Ontario from two stints as an international educator, Fortnum once again found it difficult to find a full-time teaching job. She took up subbing and eventually ended up managing a gas station. “It was something totally different, although managing staff is a lot like managing children,” she joked.
In 2011, Fortnum decided it was time to return to North Carolina. After a telephone interview with East Elementary principal Karen Anderson, Fortnum decided that Monroe was the right place for her to be.
“It sounded like the type of children I’d like to work with, the type of area I wanted to be in,” she said. “It sounded like it was going to offer me challenges to focus on, you know. I wasn’t looking for that easy job. I was looking for something that was going to use my skills.”
East Elementary principal Karen Anderson was looking for a VIF teacher to place in the fifth grade. Anderson felt that the age group would benefit the most from an international teacher. After viewing résumés and hosting Skype interviews with several different candidates, she decided that Fortnum was the right fit.
“She had experience and had taught in North Carolina before,” Anderson said. “ She has come in and become a part of fifth grade team very well. The kids seem to really love her and love learning about Canada.”
Fortnum has always been drawn to the “fifth grade through age 16” group of students. While in England, she taught middle school and high school students. And when she agreed to teach elementary school, she made sure she got the oldest group of students. “I like working with the children that you can see the difference you make in their lives,” Fortnum said.
Instead of focusing her instruction strictly on Canada, Fortnum tailors her global education curriculum to cover all of North America. On the wall of her classroom, she displays clocks for all seven time zones in North America. Underneath the clocks, she lists one Canadian city, one American city, and one Mexican city, provided there is a city from each country in the particular time zone.
Fortnum educates her students on what it means to be a citizen, as some are surprised to learn that she is not allowed to vote in the United States. She also introduces the students to various aspects of Canadian culture, such as Canadian money and the history that ties Canada to Britain. “They really thought that was interesting that (the queen of Canada) was the same queen of England,” Fortnum said.
For Fortnum, the two main differences between the education system in Canada and that of the U.S. are classroom size and the time of day that school begins. The average number of students in a class in Ontario is 28 to 32 students, whereas now she only has 17 students in her class. School days in Ontario start between 8:30 and 9 a.m. She now has to be at school at 7 a.m.
One of the things Fortnum enjoys most about teaching in the States is the fact that she gets to teach in North Carolina. Not only does she enjoy that good old southern hospitality, but she also enjoys the scenery. “I find North Carolina to be an absolutely beautiful state,” she said. “As soon as you cross the border into the state, it’s just so much more beautiful. I don’t even know how to describe it.”
In addition to the natural Carolinian beauty, Fortnum also enjoys the slower-paced life this area has to offer. Although she is from a small town, she feels that everything is a little calmer here and that she can actually breathe throughout a busy day.
Fortnum loves teaching at East Elementary and plans to continue as long as her visa allows. She doesn’t believe adjusting to her Canadian home will be difficult once her time here is through. “When I went home for Christmas, I thought it would be difficult leaving this area and my apartment,” she said. “But after I got up there and spent time with my family, I sort of didn’t want to come back.”
The other thing she misses most about Canada? “I really miss hockey!” Fortnum said.