By Joseph Robertia
Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Gavan and Margaret Brown of Victoria, Australia, take a dogsled ride in Kasilof before leaving Alaska. The two spent a year here on a teacher exchange program. Gavan taught at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary, while Margaret spent time in numerous central Kenai Peninsula schools as a substitute teacher.
In terms of teaching and exploring the world, Gavan Brown, of Victoria, Australia, has seen a lot. Not only has he been an educator for 30 years, but he’s taken part in three yearlong teacher exchanges around the world — in Birmingham, United Kingdom, British Columbia, Canada, and most recently in Soldotna. Despite this long career and his diverse travels, he said he still learns from each experience, and his most recent one was no exception.
“I didn’t know a lot about Alaska, other than it was a really cold place,” he said.
That’s exactly why he came, though. To Brown — and his wife Margaret, who came and taught in several schools around the district as a substitute while Brown was spending the year as a fourth-grade teacher at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary — teaching is about more than just imparting knowledge. It’s about exchanging thoughts, ideas, customs and cultures.
“Education should be a social experience,” he said. “The 45 kids I’ve had here at K-Beach, plus the others who’ve come in the room for presentations, they haven’t just benefited from my years of teaching, they’ve acquired a different view of the world from the experience, which will also shape those kids, and that’s priceless.”
In terms of how the U.S., and Alaska, specifically, compare to his other teaching posts around the world, Brown said that times have changed since he first became an educator, and a lot of the changes he’s seen are the same from country to country. This isn’t always a good thing, he said.
“We all want kids to be the best they can be, but it seems like we’re all headed toward a more centralized view of education. When I started, education was good for its own sake, and it used to be OK to be an individual, and be OK at math, but really excellent at art or something. Now, there’s so much emphasis on standardized testing, so we all have to jump through the same hoops as educators,” Brown said.