By Natalie Johnson
For Methow Valley School District teachers Tyler Slostad and Hana Baker, the Methow Valley has been a great place to put down roots, start a family and grow their careers as teachers.
But when a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream comes along, you can’t let it go. They’ll spend the next two school years teaching at an international school near Trondheim, Norway, before coming back to the valley.
“I have a lot of family there. We have relatives near Oslo and a little further north,” Slostad said. “It’ll be great to run into them again.”
Baker and Slostad will bring their children Tova and Haakon, in fourth and first grade, respectively, with them. The children will fit right in, their parents noted, since their first names are Norwegian. The kids are more excited than nervous, Baker said.
“The whole idea of them seeing how small the world is. … I think that’s just a really important part of our philosophy of life,” Slostad said. “There’s so much of a wonderful world to see.”
Slostad and Baker got married in 2003 and have taught at the Methow Valley School District since 2007. Baker teaches second grade and Slostad teaches sixth.
Slostad briefly taught in Guatemala before the couple moved to the Methow, and they’ve long wanted to teach at an international school.
“It was something we always wanted to do,” Baker said. “We were waiting for our kids to be a good age to do it. … We’re super excited. It’s something we wanted to do with them.”
They started looking for positions at international schools just before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Last spring when the whole country shut down, we were interviewing with this school in Norway … but we basically withdrew our applications,” Slostad said. “We were worried we had kind of burnt that bridge with this school.”
But in December, the school contacted them again and asked if they’d be able to teach from the 2021-2022 to 2022-2023 school years.
“It’s an opportunity we just could not pass up. (I’m) Looking forward to taking a big bite out of life and growing a lot and being able to come back to our friends and this amazing valley we have lived in for the last 12 or 13 years now,” Slostad said. “(There are) a lot of kids and a lot of families we’re going to miss and we hope for a lot of visitors.”
The Fagerhaug International School teaches about a 50/50 mix of local Norwegian students and international students and has teachers from all over the world. Baker and Slostad will teach the same grades they do now.
“The teacher that’s leaving from the second grade position Hana is taking is actually from South Africa,” Slostad said.
The teachers will finish this school year, then pack up their belongings, rent their house out, and head to Norway.
Commitment and support
The international school requires a two-year contract from its incoming teachers.
Slostad and Baker are able to commit to making the trip, then coming home, partly because of a supportive environment at the Methow Valley School District.
The district is in its fourth year as an authorized International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program, for kindergarten through sixth grade, and a Middle Years Program, for grades seven through 10.
“What we have not wanted is to find ourselves limited by our geographic location,” Supt. Tom Venable said.
The program makes the district attractive for teachers interested in international opportunities. One position recently attracted 50 applicants, he said.
The Fagerhaug International School is also an International Baccalaureate school.
“That network supports our ability to design and implement highly engaging units of study that cultivate the development of students that can think critically, with an open mind, take on the perspective of others and engage with a world that’s broader with the Methow Valley,” Venable said.
As part of that, The district allows teachers to take up to a two-year leave of absence to teach abroad.
“You’re guaranteed a position back with the district,” Baker said. “We feel so, so lucky to be in a district that supports that.”
Slostad and Baker aren’t the first to take advantage of the program. Kelly Wiest, a first-grade teacher and now the district’s coordinator for its International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program, traveled to India to teach several years ago.
“We’re super appreciative of the board and the administration for providing this opportunity for teachers,” Baker said. “ … We’re excited to go and have this adventure and experience this different culture with our family and then come back to this community we love.”