The Decile 1 school
CHRIS MARKS, Pt England School.
I teach year 5 & 6 in a 1:1 device open learning environment with two other teachers. I’m now in my third year of teaching.
When I decided to become a teacher I had no idea what decile level I wanted to teach at but I was adamant I only wanted to teach at the primary level. I wanted to teach across all curriculum areas because I enjoy having variety in my day and I am interested in more than one area. After completing three practicum while at university I found I enjoyed the diverse cultures of lower decile schools and was being drawn towards these schools and that is one of the reasons that drew me to Pt England School.
I love teaching at the school because it feels like one big family where everyone supports each other and we are all on the same wave length. I love our Pasifika and Maori cultures and the joy the kids bring to everything they do. I also love that our school is very innovative and learner focused and provides an education that is relevant to the future our kids have ahead in terms of being computer and internet literate. In my class every student has their own netbook as well as access to iMacs, iPads and cameras. The school is also very supportive in providing possibilities to extend and improve as a teacher as well, so it is a very dynamic place to work.
The biggest frustration I have encountered so far is the admin and paperwork that teachers are required to do. Luckily I have come from a business background so I am used to doing this type of work but it is very time consuming and seems excessive at times. I really don’t like that my focus at times turns to assessment and reports when it should be on the students and their learning. Assessing and reporting to and about the kids is important but I’m not sure the balance is right. I feel like it’s not always done for the kids and it should be.
I absolutely love teaching at the school so couldn’t imagine being anywhere else but who knows what the future holds. I think I would prefer lower decile but to be honest this is all I know and have experience in. I am also in the unique position of only ever having taught in a 1:1 device environment so I would find it very hard working in a class with only four computers in the back. If I was to move to another school it would need to be a place that has a dynamic learner focused environment that is not accepting the norm and is looking to the future to make sure education is relevant and for the students.
The Decile 10, single-sex school
LISA MAVE, Head of History, St Cuthbert’s College
When I trained to become a teacher I was philosophically opposed to the idea of teaching in either a single sex school or a high decile or independent school. I had attended a low decile co-educational school which had a poor academic record and my experience there was a miserable one. I felt that it was really important to make a contribution to schools of this nature and intended to only apply for teaching positions in low decile co-educational schools. During my teaching practicums at schools like this I found that the challenges students faced were beyond what I was capable of dealing with as an inexperienced teacher. It was by chance that I took my first job at a high decile state girls’ school and it completely changed my teaching philosophy.
I didn’t set out to teach in a faith-based school. I made a commitment to teaching in girls’ schools and then made the decision to come to
St Cuthbert’s because of the profile of the College. As I don’t have any faith of my own I had to consider the appropriateness of me working in faith-based school and whether or not I could effectively participate in that aspect of the College. Since coming to the the school I have come to value the added dimension that being faith-based adds to the culture of the school especially the ‘By Love Serve’ motto and the influence it has on active staff and student participation in service.
I find it rewarding to work with girls who, unlike anything I had experienced myself, are comfortable and confident in their learning environment and who do not exhibit the reticence in the classroom that I felt girls in co-educational classrooms often do. I particularly enjoy being able to tailor the subject matter and activities of my Social Studies and History lessons to suit the interests and learning styles of female students. I value the opportunity that I have to make a contribution towards the development of our students into confident and successful young women.
It is fantastic to work at the school because a strength of these schools is that there is a strong synergy between the aims and expectations of the girls, the students, their families, their teachers and the school itself. This singular purpose makes it possible for teachers to create unique and enjoyable teaching and learning opportunities for students. It is rewarding to work in an environment where the majority of students, no matter what their background or academic ability, set high academic and non-academic goals for themselves and work enthusiastically and diligently to achieve them. One of the biggest challenges of being a teacher is keeping up with how much students want to find out from you and the pace at which they want to do it.
It is also important for me as a social scientist to be able to contribute to the understanding that St Cuthbert’s students have of the diversity of New Zealand society given the fact that so many of them will go on to hold influential positions in our society. The level at which I can engage with my students about historical and social issues and their capacity to take these ideas on board, adapt them to fit their core beliefs and then go on to do something useful with them always amazes me.
After a number of years teaching in this environment it is still surprising and satisfying to be able to discuss and debate issues with the girls as if they were twice their age and engage in entertaining banter with them as if I was at least half mine.
The rural school
Teaching at a rural school is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had. It’s fantastic! The students are amazing, all down to earth and willing to get involved with everything they can. It’s like a big family really. The community all come together and help out with everything and anything and are extremely supportive. When you have supportive parents and families it makes the teaching easier. The students are all involved with their own learning and it’s a really awesome thing to be a part of.
Professionally it’s great too. We only have five staff and the benefit of this is that you get to know everyone’s strengths really fast so that you know who the best person is to ask for advice from for different areas. One positive aspect that has come from my first few weeks is that working as a team is essential, especially in a small rural school; everyone needs to do all that they can to work together for the needs of the students.
I applied for a huge amount of jobs in all areas of the North Island so I was open to teaching at any school in any area. However teaching in a rural school has always been a dream of mine. It’s what I set out to originally do and was confirmed after my first practicum at Walton Primary. I loved the tight knit feel where you have the opportunity to not know just your class but the whole school and I believe that’s a huge benefit of rural schooling. In saying this, I also loved my opportunities working in city schools and I would definitely love to teach there again. I want to have the experience of teaching in all types of schooling: private and public, rural and city. I believe it will make me a better teacher.
So far my experience has changed a bit from what I expected when I was studying. When I began my study I always knew it was going to be hard work and each teaching practicum I undertook was a great experience of what was to come. However I didn’t realise the stress you take on when it’s actually your own class. You don’t just walk in the door at 8am and leave at 3pm; it’s more than that. The harsh reality is that as a teacher you are going to work hard and that has definitely been set in stone. You have to be prepared for the late nights and the early mornings but when you see those students succeed it makes up for all of those sleepless nights you spent planning.
I’d have to say what I enjoy the most is the whole experience. It’s my first ‘real’ job and I’m still in the honeymoon phase. The kids are amazing and I’m extremely lucky to have such a supportive community to guide me. The most challenging thing would be having to fit so much in a day and also having to change lessons in an instant because things just may not work or something else could pop up. It’s all been such an amazing learning experience and I’m so excited about what this year still has to bring.
The model school
JENNY AUSTIN and BRIGID CONAGLEN, co-principals, Clifton Terrace Model School
Clifton Terrace Model School (CTMS) is a, small, full primary school (Years 1-8) situated about a 10-minute walk to the Wellington central business district. The size of the school means that pupils are known throughout the school, and the teachers are resourced to ensure every pupil receives an education focused on quality. The staff strives to be innovative, versatile and successful in all that they do, from the warm, welcoming environment, to the teaching and learning approaches and the family and wider community partnerships.
CTMS is one of the only primary schools in New Zealand that runs a Co-Principal model. Being teaching Co-Principals, we are hands-on and are able to initiate management decisions and respond effectively to student learning needs and wider school community opportunities. Our shared decision making and shared management are fundamental philosophies of our school. Aligning with these philosophies fosters an environment of teamwork and collaboration, a learning environment that values, encourages and celebrates innovation. This approach extends to the students where they are involved in making decisions about their learning, their environment and future goals.
To support this collaborative decision making model that drives the school philosophy, the staff and students work collaboratively on developing a ‘School Agreement’ that guides the school’s thinking, decision making processes and actions throughout the year. This Agreement is fundamental to the operation of our school.
Another key operational structure of the school is the integrated principles and values of ‘whakawhaungatanga’. Being a small school, the values and practices of working as a wider whānau are deeply ingrained in the ethos of the school. We have embraced and embedded a number of Māori cultural values and practices. For example, whānau groupings and tuakana/teina working relationships operate regularly across the school in a number of curriculum areas. We have daily hui where students actively engage and contribute to the school’s daily agenda and provide feedback about the school’s activities. In addition to this, our Te Reo Māori curriculum is further supported by weekly Kapa Haka lessons for each home group.
At CTMS students are encouraged to realise their own intellectual, social, physical and creative potential. Students are supported to take responsibility for their own behaviour and learning. Inquiry learning places a focus on developing self-confidence, leadership and group co-operation skills. Much of the learning takes advantage of what Wellington city has to offer and there is an emphasis on integration of the curriculum through the arts particularly in waiata, visual arts and dance. Students have regular access to unique and stimulating learning opportunities beyond the classroom, responding to their interest and topical issues.
This unique approach to learning provides further opportunities for the Year 7 and 8 students, who are extended in their learning and their responsibilities as learners through completing a series of independent activities in Wellington city. Once they have demonstrated a high level of independence and competence they achieve their ‘Year 7 and 8 City Passport’. The City Passport allows them to independently access city resources and programmes to support their learning. We hold clear aspirations for our Year 8 students and believe through our community based programmes, and access to high quality learning experiences within authentic learning contexts, we provide them with the necessary tools to prepare them well for secondary school.
To develop a wide learning base of school programmes and learning opportunities, the school works in partnership with the local Wellington community. People from the wider community are regularly invited into the school to share their knowledge and expertise. Further to this, the personal experiences and expertise of individuals or group members strongly support the school’s programmes. For example, we place strong value on environmental education and developing sustainable practices in our school environment. We therefore, regularly engage community members from the Wellington City Council, or community groups such as, ‘Sustainable Coastlines’ to speak with our students about the reality of situations and their place as students and as community members in helping to create solutions to wider community issues. The school’s commitment to environmental education, is also evident in its participation in the ‘Schoolgen’and ‘Enviroschool’s’ programmes.
Being a small school has its challenges. However, working within the framework of our school’s philosophy, the challenges and rewards are shared through the support of a team of hard working staff, Board of Trustees and community.