Today was my last day in my classroom here in NZ… a tough one to get through and hard to say goodbye, though I am confident in my decision to return home. My classroom has become my home in this country, and they have become my NZ family in many ways. I have learned a lot about myself, teaching, and the world from them… for which I am so thankful!
I’ve done my own personal dairying about work here in New Zealand, but have not yet shared much via the blog about my day to day and job here yet. Thought I’d take a bit of my diarying entries and post them here- edited to not divulge much with regard to their names, disabilities, or other personal information…
I absolutely adore my students. I have six “whetus” in my room, “stars” in Maori. I used to have seven, but one was just at a different academic and social level than the others and was moved to a “Satellite” classroom that involves more mainstreaming. I enjoy catching up with her and her parents via Facebook, text, and on one lucky occasion a cupcake date. On these occasions I am awed by how observant and inquisitive she is, how overjoyed she is by her favorite indulgences like fruity scents and her parents’ smiles, and her determination to work with her friends.
Each of my whetus blow me away daily with how hard they work and how much they overcome to achieve, learn and grow.
Student A is my oldest student and also the lowest functioning. He is someone who learns on his own timeline and requires patience. He loves adults, and loves making sure you don’t forget he’s there by touching, pushing, or gabbling at you. He is startled by sudden sounds, and goes into hysterics at goofy sounds or when funny manipulatives are placed around him. He seems to be magnetically drawn to computers and other technology. Student A is also learning to control his body a lot and has made big progress this year developing his balance and control- he walks unassisted more often, doesn’t back away from a challenge like a sloping sidewalk, and is beginning to use his hands for functional purposes like grabbing a writing tool, pushing a toy car, dressing himself, or steadying himself when on a physio ball. A has wonderful, patient, enthusiastic parents, and the hair of a boy band heartthrob. I hate, hate, hate it when he cries.
Student B has probably made the most progress this year. I was told not to expect much from him – “He just swipes things off tables and pulls hair”. Not the case. B is a doll. He loves adult interaction and praise, getting close to everyone to greet them, and being where the action is. He entangles and rubs his fingers together as perseverance, but has begun to learn to control his hands to accomplish tasks. Despite vision issues, he is learning to look to make choices and using his fingers to grasp items and picture symbols. He’s even learning to use the door knob, which I have varied feelings about! He can sit in his chair for minutes before standing up, something he would not do at the beginning of the year. B gabbles at appropriate pauses in conversation to respond, and laughs when others do. His laugh should be on a radio commercial, it’s so uplifting. His innate rhythm makes me jealous- he sways and bobs to music as if it’s flowing through his blood.
Student C is a fantastic challenge. He is a very capable learner and person – he understands so much more than he lets on. When given a choice of doing something himself or having me do it, he would prefer me to nine times out of ten. Unfortunately I am not the one in school and he is, so nine times out of ten I prefer he complete the task. Thanks to all the adults in my room being on board with this, C has made great gains in completing his work and staying with the group. C is also someone who conquers challenges. Despite his disabilities, including medical conditions that seem to make him feel just plain rotten, he takes on tasks and accomplishes them. He’s beginning to explore become more social, inquisitive, and participatory- particularly at play, where he now teeters along the sidelines, watching as if he’s contemplating whether to jump in. I admire his strength and perseverance every day. C has chuckle fits out of the blue, and when he’s very excited he will hop up and down or run in a circle. This often reenergizes the entire classroom, including myself, into a cheery, happy mood. I wish every student was as interested and engaged in Circle Time as C is… he would stay there all day if he could. We’re all proud of the effort C has put in to his toilet training. This, like many of his achievements, are a credit to the strong, determined and consistent efforts his parents, grandparents and caregivers make- C is a lucky boy to have such support.
Student D steals hearts. He’s simpy adorable… and he knows it. D is learning some basic skills like toileting, sitting in his seat, walking independently, and taking in food by mouth. He works hard at this, and it’s incredible how far he has come in just the past six months with these goals. D has a great memory for song tunes and rhythms, which is helpful when I’m not sure what to sing to a (on rare occasion) quiet classroom. D is our “cheeky monkey”… because he absolutely tests your boundaries, grins wide as a canyon when he realizes he’s gotten away with something, and would select climbing as his favorite mode of transportation. The boy loves water, all items that can be flicked or spun, mulch and paper… as well as hugs, smiles, and holding hands… if we could all find pleasure in such simple things… we’d “need” so much less.
Student E is a performer at heart. She wants to be Beyonce, and often sings and dances her songs. I love watching E float around the room, replaying things she has seen, grabbing a microphone to belt out a tune, or dancing and spinning play time away. E also performs in an attempt to get her way… in a tantrum sense…and her performances can be quite impressive. Her behavior has been a big challenge this year, but it’s also good to see her cognitive ability maturing to the extent that she understands how much she can control her environment. She’s learning to communicate, wait her turn, and respect class rules. I envy E’s energy level, enthusiasm for writing, zeal for cooking, and ability to cope with a change in routine. He smile can cover nearly half her face, and is often simultaneously accompanied by an overjoyed squeal. This is the best.
Finally, Student F. F is a firecracker. She loves to be in control of her environment, and throws some of the best temper tantrums I have ever seen. Luckily, she also loves to please people. It’s when she has to give up control to please others that she struggles… which, unfortunately for her, can often be the case in a classroom environment. F has made great gains this year and has really put in a lot of effort to work with me and the other ladies in our room. When she’s working with me she appreciates praise, pats on the back, and sitting next to me… these things are reciprocated with giggles, smiles and hugs. When she’s against me I get incoherent curses, firm grasps of my hand, and a face so angry she clamps her lips together and literally shakes. We’re getting more time working with one another than against as we go. F is also very clever. She’s learning colors, numbers, and how to write her name independently. She is observant and works hard to please, and can often complete a job after it being modeled to her only once. My Little Pony and playdough are favorites- which I totally get and respect. I can’t wait to hear that she has begun to read- it seems so possible for her future.
I work with some very remarkable women in my classroom, and am lucky to have the great support staff I do. They listen, think, work hard, and voice opinions. They come to work each day because they want to help our students. They are great educators, and wonderful teammates. I absolutely could not handle work without them.
I feel so lucky to have had each of these nine people in my room this year to work with, teach, and learn from. It’s been an incredible experience. One of the best parts of it being a reaffirmation for myself that this is a profession I love- despite being in a different country, school system, and school. I love teaching in New Zealand for the same reasons I love teaching in the States… I love the kids, I love the challenges, I love working with and watching them learn and grow.
Some of the things I dislike about teaching in the States have also been the case in NZ, and that’s been good to realize, too. Things like heavy paperwork, stress, not feeling like I’ve done quite enough, pay complaints, and interpersonal issues… these won’t be absent from any school system or environment. It’s been a nice opportunity for me to reweigh the pros and cons of teaching and land again on the side of “I like it.”
I’ve learned a lot about what makes a teaching job fulfilling in this position as well. I wasn’t paid the first term of this year (due to a nationwide problem with their payment system), and that really tempered my happiness toward work. An unfortunate experience, but it did help me to evaluate why I like teaching and taught me a lot about myself… and finances. I have been reminded not to take for granted a supportive, positive, and strong school administration… and realize the value of feedback, observations, monitoring and communication with supervisors. Though these things can feel like annoyances or negative at the time, they do help to create professional relationships and development. And of course, I learned a lot as I experienced the “information coming out of a firehouse” sensations as I maneuvered my way through a new school where I didn’t know the policies, procedures, or where anything was!
I’ll dearly miss each of my students and the ladies I work with in my classroom. I have to remind myself sometimes that I only intended to come to New Zealand for a short period of time, and even if I had stayed the entire duration of my visa, I would feel sadness and like I still had more I wanted to accomplish more with them when the time came to leave. I feel lucky to have had each touch my life, and I hope I can take what they have taught me and use it in my future classrooms back home.