Hailing from ‘across the pond’

INDIAN TRAIL – Ever since she was a child playing “teacher,” Melissa Creamer knew she wanted to work in the classroom. But the Manchester, England, native had no idea her job would take her “across the pond” to Indian Trail Elementary.
After visiting the U.S. several years ago, Creamer knew she wanted to return to teach in America. She spent six years teaching elementary-aged students in Manchester before joining the Visiting International Faculty (VIF) program last year.
“I decided that I needed something different in life, a challenge,” Creamer said. “I knew I always wanted to come to America, and the thought was exciting, so it was the right time in my life.”
Creamer spoke with several friends who previously taught in the U.S. and began exploring her options. She researched several different international teaching programs before settling on VIF, what she calls the “most supportive and welcoming program.” After a series of interviews – phone, Skype and in person – she was hired to teach third grade at Indian Trail Elementary.
Coming to America was exciting, Creamer said, but it was far from a cakewalk. She had about a week to find a car and a place to live, and she arrived in the U.S. with just two suitcases – one that was full of school-related material. She had no furniture and had to sleep on a futon bed and use the futon bed’s box as a dining room table.
“I think that was a big learning experience … just completely made me develop and grow within a week, you know. It’s a lot of responsibility,” she said. Luckily, thanks to donations from “kind people,” Creamer didn’t have to live long without furniture.
The biggest adjustment to teaching in America, Creamer said, was adapting to the schedule of the school day. In England, class started at 9 a.m. and ended at 3 p.m. Here, school starts at 7 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. She also had a lunch break away from students in England, whereas she has to accompany her students to the cafeteria daily at Indian Trail.
But she doesn’t mind the changes. The earlier dismissal gives her “almost half a day” to do whatever she wants or needs to do. And she enjoys the interaction she gets eating lunch with her students.
“I did look at the lunch time, and I was like, ‘I don’t know about this,’ but when I did it, it was really nice to sit with the children,” she said. “That’s the time that you’re not teaching them, so you get to sit with them and actually speak to them about their life, and that’s when you do, really, a lot of the culture exchange.”
Cultural exchange is heavily emphasized by the VIF program, and Creamer tries to incorporate cultural learning into all of the subjects while also learning about American culture, which she said is essential to do before teaching about her own country.
Recently, her students compared landscapes in England with those in the U.S. and got to choose their favorite landscape, which she said not only educated them about geography in England, but also in America. “It’s not just them learning about my country, it’s them learning about their own,” Creamer said. “They have to know about their own before I can teach them about my country, so it’s a lot of compare and contrast.”
One of the things Creamer loves about education here in the U.S. is the emphasis on reading. In England, reading is not its own subject; instead it’s incorporated into other lessons, she said, so she likes the fact that American education focuses specifically on that area of learning. “That’s something I will take back (to England),” she said.
An element of English education she thinks students here would benefit from is something called “letters and sounds.” The program helps students develop reading and spelling skills by emphasizing phonics, which she said worked really well with her former students.
Creamer’s favorite thing about being in the U.S. is getting to travel to various places. Since she’s been here, she’s voyaged to the mountains, Wilmington, the Biltmore House and California. “It gave me a more rounded perspective of America,” she said.
But, of course, she misses her family back home and Skypes them every weekend.
“I knew it would be have to be a sacrifice,” she said. “It’s hard when you first come … but it comes in waves. I get a moment of pure ‘Oh, my gosh! This is amazing, what I’ve done in life!’ You just get these little sparks, little glimpses where your heart lines up and you’re like, ‘This is amazing! Look at my life!’ and I think that’s really
important.”

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