Differences between New Zealand and the U.S.
November 17, 2019
During conversations with teachers, students, and new friends over the past couple of weeks, I am constantly surprised by how much they know about America, and Wisconsin in particular. When I tell them where I’m from, many people are quick to reply with a pretty accurate description of my home state, typically saying it is the place with cheese, heaps of snow, and the Green Bay Packers. I have to admit, other than knowing it was a relatively new country with a strong passion for rugby, I didn’t know much about the culture of New Zealand or its school system prior to applying to student teach internationally. As my fourth week at Takapuna Normal Intermediate School concludes, I have a more developed understanding of education in New Zealand, the differences between an American and a New Zealand school, and the perceptions of the U.S. from both children and adults.
I want to write this blog as neutrally as possible, and everything I write is purely based on my own observations and interpretations. With that being said, there will be generalizations and assumptions, but I have done my best to write purely from my own perspective. This is just what I have seen and noticed over the past couple of weeks at one school in New Zealand.
One of the most striking differences I’ve noticed at Takapuna Normal Intermediate School is the amount of choice, freedom, and trust given to students and teachers. For example, there are two major breaks throughout the day: a half hour tea-time at 10:30am, and a full hour for lunch between 12:30 and 1:30pm. During these breaks, a majority of the teachers congregate in the staff lounge for coffee and conversation, while students eat their snacks outside, play with their friends, and enjoy the weather with minimal supervision. There are about five teachers who roam the school to keep an eye on student behavior, but students are free to sit on the decks in front of the classroom, play in the courtyard, or run around in the field behind the school. Such free range and trust, I think, would be almost unheard of in today’s American schools, where we have such a need to control students and push teachers to fill every single minute of the day with learning. With true breaks during the day, (none of these twenty-five minute so called lunch breaks and recesses I’ve seen in the U.S) students are able to freely play (with their phones locked safely away in the classroom), and teachers are able to connect with one another in a relaxed atmosphere. It creates a culture focused on interpersonal relationships, a balance of work and play, and trust; traits I believe are lacking in many American schools.
I love hearing the students’ perspective of schools in the U.S. When I talk to the students, they are fascinated by the idea of lockers and of getting a large “A+” written in dark red at the top of a test. Many schools in New Zealand require students to wear uniforms, and they ask what it’s like to choose your own outfit everyday, and if I liked it. When I talk to the teachers, they ponder the differences in curriculum, standardization, and the work-life balance for educators. From what I’ve heard, TNIS is rare in its support of creating a healthy relationship between work and home. The administration at TNIS is very intentional in their requirements from teachers in ways that I have rarely seen in the schools I’ve been in while in America.
One of the most striking conversations I’ve had so far has been a discussion about school shootings. It was during one of my earlier weeks here, and many students in one of the classes were researching about school shootings as a part of their Exposition Projects, and they asked if I could offer my perspective on the topic. I cannot even begin to describe the feeling of discussing school shootings with the students, clever and informed students, who have read the articles and seen the news and had very complex questions to ask. I found myself embarrassed to talk about our American laws and systems in regards to gun control and the measures our schools are taking to protect students. Many of the questions were focused on the frequency of school shootings, as well as what the government was doing to stop it. One student even asked if I had been in a school shooting.
I don’t want to focus solely on the negative differences between schools in New Zealand and the U.S., especially because there are some incredible schools in American doing amazing things for their students and staff. There are certainly lessons I am learning here that I want to take home and use throughout my future career, and I know have insights to offer to TNIS about the way education works in a much larger country. I am looking forward to such conversations in the coming weeks in New Zealand.
Caleb is from Madison, Wisconsin with a major in education and English and a minor in civic engagement.