Olivia Rush shares her insights on teaching in Australia versus teaching in California. Olivia is an Australian teacher who worked with anzuk and Scoot to secure a teaching position in Los Angeles. 

My experience of teaching in private preschools and elementary schools in Los Angeles has been very positive overall. There were moments that I stood out with my “Australianisms” that not everyone understood and I didn’t quite fit with the school culture, but with time and searching with the help of Scoot, I found my dream school and love where I am.

Private v.s. charter

In the private school system, the classes are generally smaller compared with charter schools. I will have 13 children in my class next year which is particularly small. On average, class sizes would range between 15 and 20 students which is similar compared to private schools in Australia. 

Charter schools are very similar to public schools back home, but they are not regulated by the government. To work at a charter school you need a California Teaching Credential (CTC). When I first started working in LA I didn’t have a CTC which meant that I could only work at private schools.

However, I later obtained a teaching credential and I would strongly recommend doing this for anyone coming over to LA to teach. Having a CTC not only provides you with more opportunity for substitute work but it also makes you more desirable to schools if you are looking for more permanent ongoing work. 

School culture

The private schools I have worked at are very culturally similar to the private schools that I worked at in Melbourne. However, my initial experience of working at an LA private school, unfortunately, was not very positive. The preschool philosophy and culture did not fully align with me, so I made the decision to leave the school and pursue work as a substitute teacher. This was the best decision and led to me finding my dream school. 

My school over here is very similar culturally to the school I worked at back home. Both schools are heart-centered and value community and relationships. This is something that is really important to me as I believe that exceptional educators not only foster children’s academic success but also support their holistic wellbeing. 

Happy children learn best! This is something that my new school does very well. They believe in supporting children’s social and emotional wellbeing. Every morning, the children do a mindfulness meditation session which is a part of the daily schedule. 

When looking for a school over here, you might not get the school you want right off the bat and it might take some shopping around. This is the beauty of working for Scoot as a sub as it really gives you a taste of different school settings so you can discover the best fit for you. 

I knew the first day that I walked into my school that it was special. It really was a feeling, I loved the positive energy in the community, the welcoming reception from the staff (they really love Aussies over here!) and being in the classroom with children who are intrinsically motivated to learn. 

My advice would be to stay open for the first few months and keep exploring your options and in time you will find the school that best fits you. 

Different terminology and language 

The teaching terminology used in the classroom is similar to that used in Australia as a lot of “teacher talk” is universal, such as “1,2,3 eyes on me” to get the children’s attention. But American teachers ask the children to “sit crisscross applesauce” on the rug which is a little different. 

The biggest difference is language and semantics. The other day I was discussing two children and I referred to them as ‘chalk and cheese’ which no one had heard of. I sometimes get looked at like I have two heads when I drop common Australianisms, but it’s always fun teaching the staff common Australianisms.

I have always found the people I work with to be so warm, welcoming and interested in learning more about me and my culture. The longer I am here though, I feel like I am assimilating and I now find myself asking the children to pick up their “sweaters” and put their “trash in the trash can”. Another main difference is the terminology for the different school types, as you can see it's similiar but a little different!

What the US curriculum looks like

Curriculum is a very broad term and looks different for different school systems and schools. The private school that I worked at in Australia has a very similar curriculum to the private school that I work at in Hollywood. The children learn core subjects such as math, English and science with the classroom teacher and they have specialist teachers for art, performance, library, PE, technology and Spanish. The subjects are very similar to the subjects offered in Australian schools. One noticeable difference is that Spanish is taught as a language in LA due to the demographics here whereas Spanish is not a common language taught in Oz. Working at a new school, I was required to learn a whole new math and language program but this would also be the case if I was working at a new school in Oz.

When I first began teaching over here in the preschool, I noticed that the curriculum was very focused on teaching children the alphabet and formal literacy. I worked in a toddlers room with two year olds and noticed that the whole-group learning sessions were not age appropriate or engaging. This is a fundamental difference to preschools back home as generally preschools in Australia are more play based and the philosophy is that children learn through play and social interactions. I am not sure if this is common practice over here or if this is an isolated example. 

Assessing student performance & behavior management strategies

Student assessment is very similar. However, I have noticed that the assessment style at the school I work at in LA is more ongoing and is used to inform point of need. At the end of every math lesson, the children do an exit ticket which is an assessment to test the children’s understanding of concepts covered during the lesson. This data is then used to plan for the next lesson and work out the children that require additional one-on-one teacher support. I really like this type of assessing as it actually leads to better student outcomes. 

Again, very similar behavior management strategies are employed such as positive psychology and reward systems for good behavior. Teachers have clear expectations and guidelines for children and consequences for poor behavior, etc. I think the private school system in the US and Oz generally have really strong support systems in place for students and have resources such as a school psychologist which really helps with behavior issues that cannot always be managed within the classroom. Working in conjunction with a school psychologist is a great way to learn new and effective strategies to best support the students. 

Once you find the right school, there are no major adjustments. 

After working in different school settings both in the US and Oz, surprisingly I don’t feel that there are any major differences between our school systems. In my experience, the biggest difference in schools exists within the different school sectors. There seems to be more major differences between private and charter (public) schools in terms of resources, behavior, class size and culture. 

My school has been a really grounding place for me and I quickly made connections with people. In fact, I feel very at home in my school here and honestly it is the most aligned school I have ever worked at. 

I think the biggest adjustment for me has been just getting used to living in a new city independently away from my family and support network. While this has been my biggest  challenge, it too has allowed me to really go outside of my comfort zone and grow.