On the hunt for teachers

MARSHALL – For some, getting thrown into the deep end of the pool might be a time for panic, but for Julie Kelly it has given her a chance to excel.

Kelly, a Southwest Minnesota State University alumna, class of 2008, dove right into administrative work after only three years of teaching at a bilingual school in Sweden.

Kelly was back in Minnesota last week recruiting potential teachers for the school system where she works, one that is growing rapidly and in need of English instructors. She works at Internationella Engelska Skolan, or International English Schools, which is mainly middle schools. In Sweden that is the fourth grade through the ninth grade.

“We have 23 schools and are opening eight more,” she said. “We need teachers.”

Teachers from Minnesota are especially prized, Kelly said.

“They are the best and can handle the Swedish weather, too,” she said, ruefully adding that this week the weather is 45 degrees to 50 degrees in Sweden, so it was considerably warmer there than in Minnesota.

She for sure wanted to include the Marshall area on the recruitment schedule because “that’s where I’m from and there are really good teachers there.”

She’s getting some positive feedback from people she has talked to.

“A lot of people are interested,” she said. “I just wanted to make them aware that there are opportunities out there if they are willing to try. It is feasible and something anyone can do. If they are willing to work hard, good things will happen.”

Kelly, who is originally from Heron Lake, said she traveled overseas in high school and as part of a Global Studies trip while she was a student at SMSU. She traveled in Europe and Costa Rica with Professors Jim Zarzana, Chris French and Diane Leslie. She studied for a semester in Sweden.

She received her degree in elementary education and communication arts and literacy. She liked attending SMSU, saying she had “great professors” and appreciated the smaller size.

“It’s small enough for people to see you, they can see your talents and encourage you – you don’t get lost in a big college setting,” Kelly said.

She also liked her student teaching assignment in Lakeview Schools in Cottonwood.

“I started teaching right away,” she said. “My time at SMSU and student teaching at Lakeview prepared me for teaching in Sweden. There was no one holding my hand at Lakeview, I just stepped right in.”

After graduating from SMSU Kelly taught fifth through eighth-grade language arts at Lynd Public Schools for six months, taking over for another teacher.

Her husband, Jeff Kelly, SMSU ’09, is the one who found the job openings at International English Schools. Even though he majored in environmental sciences, he is doing information technology work there and Julie Kelly found work as a teacher. After three years of teaching, at the young age of 25, she was asked if she wanted the position of assistant principal at a new school that was opening up in Halmstad, Sweden.

“I did hiring of teachers, recruitment of students,” she said of her duties which she had to learn on the job.

She loves her position, working with students and teachers, she said.

“I’m never at my desk,” she said.

Both Jeff and Julie learned the Swedish language.

“It was difficult at first. The Swedish are particular about the pronunciation,” she said.

Kelly said the younger students prefer that she talk to them in Swedish.

Kelly said a person can speak only English their entire time in Sweden – all the music and TV is in English – “but you don’t get a true sense of the culture unless you speak the language.”

Kelly said her school’s system is popular with parents because the Swedish system is unstructured.

“(The school system) is chaotic in Sweden, she said, “very lax. We have strict rules. Parents like that. The kids can focus on their studies.”

Kelly said the government in Sweden is Socialist and the economy is stable. Taxes are high, 30 percent of salaries, but it is a welfare state and the citizens are taken care of. Gas is four times higher, so “we do not drive,” she said. “We use bikes to get around.” She uses a jogging stroller to get home after work with her son, Liam.

Under the Swedish system she could have taken up to a year of parental leave after the birth of her son last March, but it wasn’t feasible to be at home with a new school opening, so she brought her baby to work which has worked out well.