Sunday, December 31, 2006

The New Year

Hmm... let's see what it brings.

Do you remember when you were in college and people would ask you 'What are you going to do when you graduate?" And if you were like me, you were really annoyed at that question because you really didn't know for sure.

Sometimes I feel like that here as well. At home, at work, with friends...
"So, how long have you been here?" (Although I do know the answer to that question...)
"How long are you staying?"
"Do you like it here?" (A pretty broad question)
"What are you going go to do next?

And I know that many of you don't know what I am going to do because I haven't told you yet. So, in case you are wondering what my new year will bring, it's a matter of choice.

As I mentioned before, I am not going to stay for whole year of teaching.

In the past three months I have been offered two jobs through my hiring agency and have been informally encouraged to apply for an open position by the principal at Richmond Road for the 2007 year. For me, though, teaching here for a year is something that I have a hard time committing to. It's just not the right fit for me, and especially not right now. Each day I teach makes me excited to teach in a full classroom again. Just not here, and just not right now.

I looked into staying through one term of full-time teaching this year (commencing in February 2007 and lasting 10 weeks) so that I could immerse myself in a full classroom and have the experience of learning the curriculum, but every job I applied for (33) needed long-term relievers for the entire year, not one term.

I have applied (and am continuing to apply) for teaching jobs in Europe which will start next fall. I have registered my name and information with two highly recommended overseas teacher staffing services. I have also directly applied to schools including The American School in London and The American School in Switzerland. And although I haven't yet, I am seriously considering applying at some American schools (in America) for more unique experiences closer to home. Either way, my current overseas experience paired with two years of classroom work and excellent recommendations (thanks Wendy, Tamara, and Randy!) make me feel very qualified and confident for any job I apply for.

Because I'll have about 7 months to continue to apply and prepare for a teaching job, I have the opportunity and time to leave for a few months to try something else abroad. So, just for fun and giggles, I have applied with Imperial Nannies, which is a high-profile company out of England that places nannies with families all over the world. Again, highly qualified and available immediately, and it pays EXTREMELY well. The only downfall is that I'd only be available for about 5-6 months, which might be too short of a time to suit many families.

Now, in the past, I would have called and called and called the nanny service to find out the status of my file, and would be trying to work my way into a family with the utmost urgency. But this time, I'm sitting back. To be honest, completely honest, I LOVE living in Auckland right now. I'm not going to sweat staying in New Zealand for the next few months, and I would actually welcome the opportunity to do that as much as I would to leave and see more of the world. I LOVE relieving, as the money and experiences are GREAT, and I know I'll have plenty of work on a daily basis. I love, love, love my flatties and my house, I'm making incredible friends and connections, and doing the most amazing things that I could have never dreamed of.

I feel very fortunate that EITHER staying or leaving is going to be a win-win, excellent opportunity for me to have amazing personal experiences as well as the chance to learn and grow professionally in educational, child-filled settings. Because don't both support my entire reason for coming this far in the first place?

New year, schmew year. Bring it on.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Kiwi Christmas

Christmas here is weird. Er, I mean different...

For starters, it's warm.

Nobody puts lights on their houses.

TV programming has NO commercials (on any station - it's not allowed).

They set fire to the christmas pudding.

When you sit down at the table your plate has a Christmas cracker (not an eating cracker, but a toy cracker present). Before eating, everyone joins hands and pops thier Christmas cracker to reveal a surprise inside. Mine had glue, which I traded for Damien's tweezers.

Boxing Day (the 26th) is a 'national statutory holiday', meaning that everyone doesn't work. And if you do, you get paid extra. Because it's a national statutory holiday.

Oh, and I think the queen needs a new stylist. During this year's Christmas message, she was wearing a lime green suit.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Easter.

Merry Christmas to all of my friends and family!

I truly, truly hope you are all enjoying every minute
of the food, festivities, and family.

I am spending the holiday with Mary at her home. We
cooked dinner and caught up last night on Christmas
Eve, and today on Christmas day we're going to treat
ourselves to Season 3 of Grey's Anatomy, which I have
downloaded on my laptop. God bless I-tunes.

When Christmas Eve turned into Christmas in New Zealand, Mary and I were at mass like good little
girls. It was great. Not great in a spiritual way,
but in a way that one can only experience when being
exposed to new cultures.

Let's just say that if you really want to be serious
about the reason for the season, don't go to Christmas
Eve mass in New Zealand with Mary and I. It turns out
that we can't help ourselves when we're in situations
that make us laugh uncontrollably.

Mass was great. Full of memorable moments...

My favorite part wasn't when we walked in as two of
the only 12 white people in the place. It was a
variable Polynesian party with elaborate dress. Note
to self: next year, don't wear jeans to the Polynesian

My favorite part wasn't the odd spelling of the night:
nowell. Which sounds phonetically correct, but looks
odd on the big projector. Nowell, nowell, nowell,
nowell, born is the king of Israel.

My favorite part of the night definitely wasn't when
they sang Away in a Manger, as the words were right,
but the song was wrong. We almost took the mic and
tried on our own, except if you've seen the genetic
size of a Polynesian, you'd understand why we chose

My favorite part of the night wasn't even the priest,
who was at least 137 years old. We had trouble
understanding him, and thought maybe his mouth was
full of cotton or he had drunk too much communion wine
earlier in the day. Nor did we find relevance in most
of what he was saying. This next part was (NO JOKE)
part of the homily, and worth repeating as best as I
can remember (and if you don't believe me, please,
please confirm with Mary...):
"...I know many of you are reminded of the old
American story. [long pause] Once there was a drunk
man and a little boy. They were both at a restaurant.
[pause] The little boy couldn't stop staring at the
man, which was an embarrassment to his parents. He
was drawn to the [pause] flotsam and jetsam of this
[long pause] human existence. [pause] That's what
it's like between us and Jesus, as we are drawn to
And as I turned to Mary and said "did he just compare
Jesus to a drunk?" she was already looking at me with

My FAVORITE part was the at beginning.

After walking in to 'O Come All Ye Faithful' the
priest took a large breath and said (with many
pauses), "May the grace of the Lord be with you. We
welcome you on this glorious Easter morning..."

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The last few days...

As the end of the NZ school year drew to a close this week, I cherished my final moments in the schools. And because each moment is such a fun experience, I want to share it with people who can identify what I am doing, and how I'm doing it.

Tuesday 12 December:
Receive the following text (yes, text, on my cell phone). 'W - can you work for Mareta tomorrow? -D' (where W = Wendy, Mareta = Y1 teacher at Richmond Road, and D = Donal, the deputy principal here). I replied that I would be glad to. This is how Donal and I communicate for EVERY relief job I do. Via text message.

Wednesday 13 December:
Show up at Richmond Road early (like I always do). While resting in the lounge before starting, I speak with Di, the teacher who will be in the room next to me, and I casually say, 'Di! Wanna watch a movie this afternoon?' Di agrees, and it's a plan. Except, just then, Mareta shows up. And I'm supposed to be Mareta. (Flashback to one week earlier when Donal asked me to relieve for Mareta and when I showed up, Mareta was already here). Deja-vu. Fortunately, though, Di isn't feeling well and opts to go home so that I can stay. But before she leaves, she hands me two worksheets to fill the first and second blocks. Cool. A little later I casually say to Mareta that I had mentioned to Di about watching a movie in the afternoon, and Mareta replied (no joke) 'Yeah! Of course! We watch movies every afternoon for the last two weeks of school.' I find out that they have watched The Lion King and The Sound of Music, as well as many Warner Brothers cartoon DVDs. ('Copyright law? What's a copyright law?)

Thursday 14 December:
Di is keen knowing that I need some extra cash, and was willing to stay home sick an extra day, so I was her again. There was supposed to be an assembly for the first block and then the students and I were to play Chritsmas bingo for the second block, followed by a movie (shocker) in the afternoon. (I rented the Grinch). But instead, the assembly took 3 hours instead of 1.5. It was the Year 6 graduation, and all four ropu (sections), French, Maori, Samoan, and Mainstream had dances and songs planned. Luckily, the assembly was broken up in the middle by morning tea, but as you can imagine, the kids (and I) were really bored after the first hour of the first block. So, the assembly was rough, trying to keep kids seated and quiet, and I being one of the only teachers trying to do so (shocker).
To make the morning even, err... more interesting, the third ropu of year 6 students had one student who was so emotional about graduation that she started crying. Not to be overdone, the next student cried, and then every student afterward. The effect was contagious, and within 5 minutes most of the school was in tears. It was dramatic and very over the top, and annoying after about 5 minutes. So, when I got all of my kids back to the room, 63% of them were crying. For no reason. Arrgh.
We never got to Christmas bingo, but we sure as heck watched The Grinch!

Wednesday 20 December:
I head to school on this morning because it's was last day of term. I haven't relieved at all this week, with it being the last three days, but I wanted to thank the kiddos for all of the learning they have allowed me to do while teaching them. Plus, I need to pick up The Grinch to return to the video store. When I arrive, my ropu of kiddos are in an assembly. I didn't realize that it was a half-day, and so coming at 12 I missed my opportunity to speak to the kids all together, as they left immediately after the assembly. I still got plenty of hugs, though, which was nice. I was also able to say goodbye to my favorite teaching friends, who I'll likely see again in February. Plus, the principal, who recently informally asked me to stay around and teach full-time next year, offered me a part-time position for as many months as I want (as she knows I have no intention of staying for a year) in February if I'm still around.

But the shocker was the presents that the parents brought the kids. It was almost seemingly mandatory to bring the teacher something. And the number one gift? Bottles and bottles and bottles of wine. Which was promptly opened once the kids were gone. Maybe even a bit before...

It's vacation time!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Odd facts from abroad

If you're a Pulp Fiction fan, you'll be glad to know, that in spite of the use of the metric system in this country, a quarter pounder with cheese is still called a quarter pounder with cheese. Although, in the famous words of John Travolta, I am not sure many people realize what a quarter pounder really is. Technically they should call it a 'tenth of a kilogramer'

Have you ever received one of those e-mails that has odd facts about the world? Well, in alignment with popular myth, toilets in the southern hemisphere DO flush the opposite direction. I remember checking on that promptly upon arrival in Fiji.
Also, the toilet bowl itself is nearly empty. Not like in the states. Here, there's a cup, maybe two, of water in the bottom. I guess water conservation or something like that? When I mentioned the difference to Diane, she replied, "Yeah, your toilets in the States are like swimming pools!" She's seriously right.
Lastly, the toilet itself has two buttons to flush. One is a continuous flush, and when pushed, will flush as long as you're holding it down. The other is a regular flush. Kiwis are apparently serious about their waste removal choices.

As you've heard me say before, shoes are not required most places around here. I am inferring that it's kind of a trend from Maori culture, in which you are not allowed to enter a Maori residence with your shoes on. But Maori and whites alike tend to walk anywhere and everywhere without shoes. Now, most people wear shoes, this isn't an uncivilized country or anything, but it never fails that when I am at Foodtown, there is ALWAYS someone without shoes just walking around. And many of the kids at school never came with shoes. It's just perfectly acceptable. And perfectly disgusting. Like the other day when I was at the food court at the mall and people weren't wearing shoes. Uh, hello! That's not ok.

Instead of saying 'How are you doing?' people say 'How are you going?', to which I always want to say, 'On foot,' or 'By catching the bus.' Because isn't that really what they're asking?

They don't have Jell-o. Well, they do, but they call it Jelly.
Bacon here is actually ham. Real bacon is labeled 'streaky bacon' at the store (at first, I thought Ian was being a jerk by calling American bacon 'streaky').

Kiwi pronunciation of the year: aluminum
American: uh-LOO-min-um
New Zealand: al-you-MIN-ee-yum

And when someone says gare-aj they are really trying to say garage.

When I want to make the guy at the food shop mad, I say I'll have my food 'to-go' instead of take-away. Or I ask for my coffee with 'skim' instead of 'trim'. They've got no clue what I'm saying, and I laugh secretly to myself as I exit...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Teaching a cultural lesson

I've shared with you how I love doing the 3 comment / 2 question letter with kiddos whenever I can. It's now a staple in my day with kids 9 and older. I've done it 5 times, and I am starting to be able to predict the questions that the kids will have.

it is interesting how the questions and comments vary from the kids aged 9 to the kids aged 11. I had the 11 year olds (Year 6, we'd call the 5th graders) this week, and my lesson went according to plan. Their letters were VERY well written (I only asked for 5 sentences, for God's sake, they better have been written well). They were very interesting to read, more interesting than the younger kids' were. They had good grammar and thoughtful insights. Mostly.

Kids at this age have a natural tendency to want to be funny. Or repeat what they've heard without understanding why. It's how they learn about the world. Often they listen to it from their parents, then try it out their opinions on their friends (or substitute teachers) to cull out what is real and what is not. Unfortunately, though, they can be a bit offensive, insensitive, and opinionated about things in which they have little conceptual understanding.

So today, instead of sharing the lists of comments and questions, I'd instead like to share a few answers I shared to the questions they asked in their letters, and how I was (hopefully) able to change a few opinions.

1. "No. To be honest, I really don't care for President Bush. I did not vote for him, and I wouldn't vote for him. But, I have to respect him as my leader, because he has a really big job to do. It's very much how many of your parents do not agree with Helen Clark or many of the things she does, but they still have to respect her, as she is the Prime Minister. Really, no politician EVER has 100% of public support, and he/she has to do the best job possible, usually against all odds and opinions. So please keep that in mind before you speak poorly of a public official, of any country, in the future."

2. 'John, I know you were trying to be funny when you used the word 'kamakazied' to describe the fall of the Twin Towers, but I want you to really think about that. Many thousands of people died when the Twin Towers fell, and I doubt that any of their families would consider kamakazie to be an appropriate word for the destruction of buildings and lives that took place. I was not personally affected by the event, but as an American, or as a human for that matter, I was hurt that people would ever think taking down two buildings full of innocent people would be the answer to a solution, and I think the event deserves a little more of your respect than using the word 'kamakazie.' Please be more considerate in the future."

3. "Alice, you are very opinionated, and I respect that from you. I think it's interesting that you wrote 'I don't think it's America's fault, I think it's George Bush's fault.' You seem to be very knowledgeable about the world and what is going on. But I would say to you that in every case, when a big country goes in to help a smaller country, their intentions are always the best. But, that role of helper is a complicated one, and your efforts do not always go as planned. Nobody, not even George Bush, wants lives to be lost, but at the cost of winning something greater, and potentially making the world a better place, a good try is necessary. Thank you for your thinking, though, you obviously are a well thought out individual. Nice work."

4. "Yes! I DO love Reese's Pieces!"

5. "Felix, I am barely going to waste my breath on your paper. Your fast food restaurants in New Zealand have picture menus on them. It has NOTHING to do with how stupid people are. It has to do with advertising and marketing, and helps people who speak different languages understand what they might be looking for. And to be honest, I have been in Auckland long enough to see that there are just as many obese people here, probably more. The only reason it seems like Americans are fatter is because there are more of us to fill that role. But I see heaps of children each day after schools at the dairy and chippie shops buying lollies and pies to eat as an after school snack, which is NOT something that happens in America. Please think more carefully about your own environment before you try to be the joker and offend mine." (In response to the following comment: 'In America there are lots of big, fat people and the menus for some fast food places have pictures because heaps of people are stupid and cant read. And George Bush is stupid and will blow up the world...')

6. "No, we don't paint the inside of ketchup bottles red so that people think they're full all of the time (laughing). But we do have 57 varieties of Heinz ketchup. Can you beat that?"

My favorite line of the day:
My sister wants to go to America because she says she wants to meet Avril Lavigne. I think even if she did go there she probably wouldn't know where Avril Lavigne was.

Please tell me I'm making a difference here?

The Gay-mobile

(but don't tell Christian I called it that...)

He (Christian) is one of my favorite friends at work. He's cute, Danish, and gay (obviously, right?). He has the most adorable little accent, and he is a cutie-patootie.

Christian drives a little 'Barbie' car. It's a little red convertible, tiny, cute, gay. Perfect for the likes of Christian. His partner bought it for him, so if you can imagine Christian being the 'trophy wife' for his partner, you can imagine the car. Only, in a tribute to an old friend, I call it the 'Micro Machine' instead. (The car answers to both). It's pretty cool.

Christian headed to London a few weeks ago. As we were working together one night right before he left I said, "Christian, are you going to miss the Barbie car?"

Christian (in his cute, gay, Danish voice) replied,"Oh Wendy, why don't you drive it while I'm gone? Last time I went away for three weeks it wouldn't start when I returned."

So I drove the gay-mobile, Micro Machine, Barbie car for three weeks.

Now, with experience I can FINALLY say that driving on the left side of the road is not only not right... it's wrong. I haven't crashed yet (although I have hit a few curbs), but it's hard to adjust to driving on the wrong side of the car AND road. I always reach to the wrong side for my seatbelt. Plus, the turn signal and windshield wiper switches are switched, so I am always cleaning the windshield when I want to turn left.

My tip for new drivers: just watch the car in front of you and hope they're going to the same place as you want to go.

But it's safe to say that I am now, finally a New Zealand driver.

Thanks, Christian.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A day in the life...

...of an American teacher in New Zealand.

I teach, mostly every day, and I work as a waitress at night. It's nothing new. It's a busy job to do both, and very tiring, but I do get to see and do a lot because of my work. So, all and all, I don't mind.

I LOVE relieving. I mean I LOVE it. I can't think of a better way to be exposed to heaps of different schools, classrooms, and learning styles, all while challenging myself in the effort to find my way through a day full of kids who are completely different than I am. The pay is INCREDIBLE (better than in the States, even after the exchange rate), and the hours are flexible. I can take a day off whenever I want (which I never actually do).

Teaching itself is different here, for sure. After four weeks of relieving on and off on a near-daily basis, here are my initial impressions:

*Schools, and the kids in them, are (surprise!) very laid back. The kids' lack of discipline is a compliment to the parenting style of a laid back society. And for Miss Foreman, control freak extraordinaire, some days get pretty rough (learning, learning learning...).

*Speaking of... I have yet to be called Miss Foreman in any classroom. It's straight up Wendy each day.

*Kids don't have to wear shoes and that's o.k. (shocker, right?).

*Class sizes are far too large (but I guess that's nothing new either).

*The teacher's lounges are all equipped with a 3X2 box of boiling hot water mounted to the wall for morning tea time. Also, mugs, spoons, milk, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and often biscuits are provided as well. Daily. At all times.

*Kids in some schools are moved around and shifted to different grades during the year. This is part of the domino effect of making room for the new 5 year-olds in the Year 1 rooms who start on the day they turn 5.

*It's o.k. for children to say the following words out loud: damn, damn it, damned, and hell.

*When the bell rings for playtime to end, teachers usually sit for 4 or 5 (sometimes up to 10) more minutes in the lounge while students line up outside.

*Schools don't use textbooks. Teachers have curriculum guides with links for activities, but most of the lessons come from the teacher and other resources (researched by teachers). So it's a much more involved process for teachers, and more work as well, in my opinion.

*Kids don't go elsewhere for special classes. There's no art teacher, no PE teacher, no media teacher, and no music teacher. It's all taught in the classroom, by the classroom teacher.

*The school day is only 6 hours long, with only 4 hours of actual teaching. The other 2 hours is spent at lunch, play, morning tea, roll taking, or daily fitness.

*Teachers don't generally leave lesson plans for relievers. One day, my lesson plan said 'Have a great day!'

Each day I take a set of lessons to each classroom. I have books from the library paired with activities for all grades. I am a lesson recycler, and have actually been teaching for the last two months with a recycled set of about 15 lessons. It's amazing what you can do with chalk, m&m's, and the American flag. Again and again and again.

Even trickier still is the fact that Richmond Road has four units of students. One unit speaks and learns in French, one in Maori, one in Samoan, and one in English. I have had a chance to work with all age levels in all of the units. Although I sometimes don't agree with the teaching practices and philosophies in these units, it has been amazing to work so closely with such unique cultures. And I can now say hello in two new languages that most people don't know.

I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to be needed almost daily in the same school as I get to know the kids, the teachers, and the routines (which is nice when nobody tells you what in the world is going on). And, since my school is in my neighborhood, I even get kiddos at the store who are able to say hello and call me by name. Which is almost like being at home at a Warrior game. Except without the football and all.

Now, having said all of that, I have a confession to make...

I have made a decision not to teach for a full year in New Zealand as I had originally expected.

But you'll have to wait until another e-mail for more details on that.

Well, I've gotta go. The bell to end playtime rang 8 minutes ago, and I still need to make a cup of coffee before heading to class. There's a line of teachers at the water box, so I've got to get my place...