Thursday, 17 October 2013

Adventures of a Kiwi Supply Teacher - A Wee Fishy in a Biiig Pond

This post is about the lessons I learnt from supply teaching and is aimed at other teachers planning on making the move over to London.

I trained to be a primary teacher in 2010 and started work as a Year 2 teacher in 2011- in a lovely Auckland school. I worked hard with my classes for the next two years, gaining plenty of experience with the New Zealand curriculum. I was fortunate enough to gain comprehensive professional development, especially in the literacy area. A lot of teachers at my school had spent time teaching in London and the idea of doing the same thing started to brew in my mind as I neared the end of my two year registration. The idea grew stronger and stronger until I had decided it had to be the next step in my teaching career and life journey. My mentor teacher (the New Zealand registration process has a ‘buddy system’ in place, where the newly qualified teacher is coupled with an experienced teacher, to assist  in a wide range of ways), who I looked upon with great respect, had experienced it just before she ‘took me under her wing’. She stressed to me that it was a good idea, not only was it beneficial for her career but also for her own personal development. London offers you something that our small country simply can not. This is purely due to the difference in population.

Over here in London you become so much more “Mr or Miss Anonymous” than at home. I quickly realised how lucky I was to have been educated in a country of such small numbers. The experience, education and professional development I had gained in New Zealand was truly a blessing! The registration process I had been through was so increadibley thorough and I did not truly appreciate this until I was put into the London schools. I realised our (kiwis) education was very highly sought after in London and that I would not have a problem finding work.

I spent the next six months supply teaching. This was an irreplaceable and highly valuable experience. I won’t lie, there were mornings that I felt very nervous, the anticipation of not knowing what to expect of the class I was about to enter, often lead to a few butterflies fluttering in my stomach. I learnt to embrace this feeling and told myself  “this is all good character building Erin”.  I taught in areas all across London. Not only was this good for my confidence, by being placed out of my comfort zone (do one thing every day that scares you-right?) but it was the perfect way to get to know the structure of London itself, and the tube system. Victoria, Paddington, Oxford Circus were suddenly a lot more to me than just a monopoly game. My knowledge grew quickly of where the Northern Line connected to the Victoria Line and so on. I felt a feeling of being a wee bit of a small fish in a large pond. Something that New Zealand did not really have the capacity to offer me. Something that is truly good for the soul!

A few things that supply teaching taught me are….

Children are children -  They may  look and speak very differently to the ones in my class at home, but they are all still children. Strategies that had worked for me at home, also worker here.  This helped me with my own teaching philosophy – children are people, people have the right to be respected, once respect is gained -effective teaching can then take place.  I guess I had to learn to vary the ways in which I gained the respect from the children and I had to learn to gain this respect quickly. This think and act fast requirement was so incredibly valuable to my teaching and to me as a person.

If I didn’t like a school, I didn’t have to go back -  Coming from New Zealand and having a good work ethic meant that I was able to be picky, as will other teachers who are tripping over from across the equator. If I found the school to be unbearable, I simply got on the phone to my consultant and told them it was not for me. I left the school at the end of the day feeling satisfied to have made it through the day, to have come out with more character building experience but also knowing that I would be off somewhere nicer the next day.

Everyone only has a certain amount of energy – don’t waste this on attempting to change the world (or a class) in one day– I will be the first to admit this and I am sure most teachers will be able to relate; I do have a perfectionist personality. I think it would be difficult to be a teacher without one. I learnt, over my supply teaching period, about my own personal energy. Energy is something I am fortunate to have a lot of but perhaps something that needed to be managed more efficiently. Note well; I am still working on this one. I got very sick when I first started supply teaching. This was likely due to two things; new foreign bugs and me wasting my energy on trying to change the world in a day. Every school has a different way of doing things. This varies immensely across the different schools and may be different to the way that is blindingly obviously, the right way.  I learnt to go with it, to let go a bit and do things their way. A maths lesson may have been left for me which seemed almost a complete waste of time – just let go and go with it. An English lesson could have been left for me which suggested teaching something in a way that I would never have previously considered and perhaps even contrasted to the way in which the New Zealand curriculum suggests to deliver content. Just go with it and accept that, again, it’s all character building and in fact broadening personal knowledge of teaching strategies.

I could actually write pages and pages about the lessons I learnt whilst supply teaching. I could talk for hours and hours about the experiences I had – amusing, challenging, enlightening and random! I hope to meet with many of the other teachers travelling from overseas so that I can comfort you when you need it, laugh with you when something funny happens and remind you to just look forward to tomorrow, when you need it. Supply teaching in London is in irreplaceable and valuable experience for any young teacher travelling from overseas! I am so grateful for the way it has developed my career, my personal life experience and knowledge of myself. I can not recommend the experience more. 

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