Although I have been lucky enough to have plenty of leisure time to explore Auckland, my main purpose in coming to New Zealand is to student teach. While I assumed that schools in New Zealand may vary from schools in the United States, it quickly became clear just how different the schools are.
On an average day in the United States, a student in fifth grade can be found sitting at their desk with the direction of being quite and listening to the teacher. When the students enter, many teachers give the students work to do immediately. The student may leave their desk two or three times a day to work in groups or meet with the teacher. They will leave the classroom once, maybe twice for a special (art, computers, music, language, physical education, etc.) The student will leave the classroom for a 20-30 minute lunch and many will have just a 20 minute recess. Students will go through teacher direction lessons in all core academic subjects such as math, reading, English, writing, spelling, social studies/history and science. Generally, they complete the same lessons and content with a few modifications if students really need it.
Now, let’s hop on a plane and fly to Auckland, New Zealand- home of the All Blacks- the beloved and one of the best rugby teams in the world (don’t ever let them know you have no idea about the All Blacks!). Students enter the school grounds and go into one of many buildings where their classroom is held. They check in with the teacher and let them know they are here. For the next half hour, students are free to wander the school grounds- catching up with friends or finishing up work they didn’t complete the previous day- until the bell rings at 9:00am. The students then gather for morning meeting where the teacher greets them in their native language (Japanese, Afrikaans, Korean, Maori, English, Chinese, Samoan and Spanish just in my class). The students then have a quick maths lesson- no more than 5 minutes before they are sent to complete individual work. Many students get through their work quickly. Those students go on their iPads or the school computers and find a youtube video and teach themselves a math skill of their choice. Then the students gather back and move onto writing. The teacher gives a topic and the students write about them. The creativity that I have seen from my students (9 and 10 year olds) is like nothing I have every seen from a child before. If I read it without knowing it was theirs I would have thought it came from a published novel. The students go to Morning tea- pretty much what we would call snack but all the students in the whole school are together outside while the teacher are in the faculty room. Teachers take turns bringing in pastries and making tea for all the other teachers.
After morning tea the students finish either the work that they didn’t finish earlier or they work on learning their spelling words. Then they go to lunch- they have an hour for lunch and recess. After lunch they work on what is called “Topic”. Every term has a different topic- this term Is Recycling and Waste Management. At the beginning of the term, the students investigated the schools waste issue and tried to figure out how to help. Some students fundraised to buy more recycling bins, some wrote to the milk company asking for new packaging and others put up new posters encouraging others to recycle.
To finish our topic we took a trip to the beach and cleaned up trash. The kids were very focused and stayed concentrated on picking up heaps of trash for several hours. The students seemed very shocked that people would put so much trash on the beach and are currently brainstorming how to help the problem.