Posted by: scribe9 | April 22, 2010

School days

When school started in February, I signed up to tutor at the local secondary school. Finally the police cleared me—it took so long that I wonder if they sent snail mail to the US to check my record there—so I began today.

The playing fields are in the front of the school, so I walked past a PE class, and all of the students were barefoot. It’s no longer track season, but one can still see the lane lines burned into the grass.

I was introduced to the faculty at their tea break of thirty minutes. They were astonished to learn that American teachers just get a planning period on their own and a thirty- or forty-minute lunch time. All but a few were quite dressed up, which may go along with all the students being in uniform—girls in white blouses with black shorts, pants, or skirts, and boys in blue shirts with gray shorts.

One of my assignments was in a year seven classroom. Roll call included a greeting: the teacher would say, “Kia ora [Maori for “Hello”],” and the name of the student, who would respond, “Kia ora, Mrs. X.” How civilized. One wonders whether starting an American class that way would help set a less frenetic, more respectful tone.

I was given a group of four students to work with on a writing project. They were all very polite, and I don’t think it’s because they were intimidated. One boy’s name was Hamish. There are zillions of males named Hamish (the Scots form of James) in New Zealand. All four students wrote with pencils made without erasers. One of them had a battery-operated eraser. When I said I’d never seen one before, they were astonished. Had I seen an electric pencil sharpener? Yes, but obviously I’m far from the cutting edge of writing technology.

A bit of technology the teachers would rather that the students did without is cell phones. They’re allowed so that the students can use the calculator function, but not the text function—although of course they do.

New Zealand schools are very highly ranked internationally, but there are of course a fair number of low achievers. Some argue that, essentially, no child should be left behind, while others point out that some children will simply never be high achievers and social issues which teachers can’t solve impede education for a lot of them. There’s talk of imposing national testing at various grades, and protests that there’s far too much testing already. Sounds like home.





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