Part 4 Blasts from the past

Looking out over Chapel-le-DaleMonday was strange as I returned to QES to say hello to former colleagues and also to sort out a letter to prove that I have actually worked as a teacher in the UK for the last 17 years! It’s crazy the detail required by the Salaries Assessment Unit in New Zealand so that they can actually work out what pay scale I should be on. So far I have been paid on the basic scale of $27,000 which is just peanuts. At least when they sort it out it will be all back dated which should be good.

How weird though, being back in the staffroom at QES – most people did a double take when they saw me – walked past and said “Hi, there” and then looked again and realised that I shouldn’t be there anymore and stopped to ask me how things were etc…. Going into the Dining Hall for lunch was the strangest though – I was mobbed by hordes of my ex-pupils which was lovely – made me feel missed, quite sad really! Shame I didn’t get to see any of my wonderful form though as they were all on Study Leave, some of them keep in contact via Facebook which is great so I do hear occasionally what they are up to!

On Tuesday I had a hair appointment booked at Tangles in Ingleton but before that I surprised my friend and co-Windermere Lake swimmer Liz by inviting myself in for a coffee! In the afternoon, as it was a wonderful day I decided to walk up Ingleborough. It was quite breezy and as usual was pretty chilly on the top but the views were fantastic if a little hazy. I felt quite sad as I walked up there thinking that it may be the last time I see the familiar views of my beloved Dales. However there are lots of new places to discover on the other side of the world and I have had the good fortune to live in and explore a beautiful part of the world for 20 years so I mustn’t complain! It is time to look forward!me on top of Ingleborough!

Late afternoon and evening was hectic as I met up with Jo to catch up with all her news and then over to the B & Q’s for tea. Seeing all our friends is lovely but having to say goodbye again is hard – quite an emotional rollercoaster really. In fact I am starting to feel quite tired as I have moved around from place to place – a few days here and night or two there … being in one place for a few days will be good though there will be plenty of things to do, I am sure!

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The first term over!

Well the boys have made it through to the end of their first term at school. Lachlan seems to be coasting quite a bit and finding the standard of the work easier than in the UK. Of course he doesn’t mind not having much homework because he finishes everything in class but has intimated that he finds some of his lessons boring because he isn’t really challenged. He is also still quite disorganised – lost his school planner already so doesn’t write anything down (not that he used it anyway!) Whilst he doesn’t have much to remember it’s not a problem but he isn’t getting into the habit of using a planner for when he will have more to remember. (Sorry QES but the good habits he was encouraged to have there have just gone out of the window now there is no pressure from school here!) There is a Parents’ evening after the holidays so we will address those issues then! It may just be the case that the first term is slow because all the students are new and have just come from the different Middle Schools. However having started to study the French scheme of work in readiness for my new job I think it’s more the case that the standard here is just lower than in the UK! There has also been quite a lot of discussion in the staffroom about the low standard of the NCEAs, (external National Exams) which were introduced/revamped relatively recently, being too easy. The idea being that everyone succeeds and so has higher self esteem – where have I heard that before?! The reality, of course being that most kids find them too easy, aren’t challenged and so just doss around in class because they know they can gain credits without putting themselves out too much! Balance is a wonderful thing! That, of course is a crassly simplistic explanation of a complicated educational ethos but one that, I think, has some merit.

Aonghas is enjoying school (though claims he doesn’t as always!) and he is positively challenged. A balance does seem to be achieved in the Primary School although if we had any complaints it would be that he has too much homework! He certainly has a more structured program than Lachlan and spends more time “studying” at home. They have a program called “Have a BALL” (Be a Life Learner). They have a grid of activities that they should do over a two week period which include maths, spellings and reading, as you would expect, but also has activities that involve the whole family in an attempt to encourage parents to take some responsibility for their children’s progress and also to create a healthy work-life balance. Activities include doing a 10 minute task to help out in the house each day (fine by me!), playing a game with a family member, trying out a new activity, relaxing (he’s good at that one!), doing some exercise, using a computer to do research work and so on. All activities which you would expect to do in your everyday life. In theory the children do the activities at their own level but Aonghas does get quite anxious and thinks he has to complete everything so we have had some tears!

The two week blocks tend to be topic related and obviously linked to the topics they are doing in school so last time all the work was to do with birds as they have just had a trip to Maungatautari. For example, there was some research to do about how fantails build their nests, they had to draw a bird and write some notes about their chosen bird, they had a poem as a stimulus and had to write a similar poem about a bird of their choice – all that on top of 10 minutes reading everyday, learning spellings and maths activities! Quite a lot of work and in fact there was some discussion in the playground from other parents about how much there was and how much time parents as well as children were having to spend doing it. Aonghas is quite bright and relatively well motivated – surprisingly! He comes home most evenings and gets his maths book out to complete his maths, though he is less keen on writing activities. We also have time to sit with him but families where the children are less bright or who have little brothers and sisters and parents don’t have the time to sit with them are finding the whole program quite onerous and stressful. Anyway, they have a break over the holidays – all the activities on the homework sheet are just having fun, eating healthily, helping round the house, and doing physical activities to challenge themselves. We can cope with all of those! One of them is to climb your nearest mountain so hopefully we will get out this weekend and do that! We have a few to choose from!

I mentioned Aonghas’ school trip to Maungatautari – Maunga is the Maori word for mountain. Aonghas was delighted that I could accompany him and his class – he has always wanted me to come on school trips and I never could before because I was working full time. Maungatautari is a forested volcanic cone which unfortunately over the last 200 hundred years or so since the European settlers arrived has been decimated of it’s native species – both plants and birds. This is a huge problem all over NZ. The threatened native populations of NZ are mainly ground dwelling birds such as the Kiwi which had no predators until the early settlers introduced rabbits, and then stoats, weasels (to control the rabbits), mice, rats, possums, goats etc. The trees were felled, especially the Kauri, for building which inevitably affected other species in the bush. Anyway the upshot of it is that the Department of Conservation has created an Ecological Island at Maungatautari. It is an amazingly ambitious project to clear the area of all mammalian pests and predators (non-native species) and to encourage native species such as the kiwi and other birds as well as regenerating a healthy diversity of fauna and flora in the forest. To that end they have erected a predator proof fence around the whole area and spent years tracking and trapping all the predators from within the area so that they now are pretty certain there are no predators left. In the last couple of years they have introduced several pairs of kiwi as well as other birds and just this year a kiwi chick hatched. The fence really is impressive – there is a space like a sort of no mans land either side of the fence so that creatures can’t use the tree branches as bridges and there is an alarm system in place in case the fence is breached by, for instance, a tree falling.

We had a lovely time – there were 5 parents as well as two teachers so we had responsibility for a group of 4 children each and of course Aonghas was in my group which he was thrilled about. We met a volunteer from the Maungatautari Trust who told us all about the aims of the project and then took us up to the fence and explained how it worked. The children had already done some work on the project in class so knew some of the information which meant that they didn’t have to take in too much at once and were able to ask really good questions and answer her questions too. We then walked through the forest and tried to keep the children quiet enough to hear the birds! We spotted lots of the predator tracking boxes – these are placed every 20 metres or so throughout the forest so that they can make an accurate survey of what is around. Even though they are pretty certain hey have eradicated the pests they continue the survey to make sure none get in. Just yesterday there was news that on a similar ecological island in the Hauraki Gulf a predator has killed some birds so vigilance is vital. There are Weta houses dotted around the forest too which gave us an opportunity to see these normally nocturnal spiders.

The best part of the walk was when we were entertained by a very cheeky little Fantail. These are delightful wee birds which flit around from branch to branch, chirping as they go and this one led us a real dance! I’ve included a short video I shot on our camera – not very high spec and definitely not professional quality but hopefully you can get an idea of what we saw.

Fantails are quite tame and have been known to come in to people’s houses. This is the poem that Aonghas wrote for his homework (with some parental help – but not much!) about the Fantail.

I’m a little nosey native with a big showy tail

See if you can follow my trail

Spot me in your garden, the park or the bush

I’m never still, always in a rush.

Hopping from twig to twig, flitting all around

My black and white stripy tail bobs up and down.

I love to follow visitors, tell them all I know

Scratching under my wing and squeaking as I go.

WHAT AM I?

Wooden Tower MaungatautariIn the middle of the bush there is a wooden tower which the kids had been talking about the whole trip and it didn’t disappoint. It is a huge structure which is pretty impressive, it sways in the wind and as it is wood it also creaks but the view from the top is stunning. You can look down on the birds’ nests and the crowns of the trees and we had a great view of a couple of very fat looking Wood Pigeons. Unfortunately the sway of the tower added to the number of children running round the top platform and the distance means that the photos are not the sharpest but you get an idea.

If you ask Aonghas and half the kids what the highlight of the trip was though they would say it was that one of the buses broke down on the way back and they got to play on the playground whilst they waited for it to be fixed!

A busy week

fun on the beachplaying frisbeeIt’s really strange that you don’t realise what you’ve got until you can’t find it! It goes something like this “It’d be really handy to have one of those – didn’t we have one in England – oh, it’ll be in a box somewhere – but where?!” We spent Saturday working through the boxes to try to at least locate everything and create some order from the chaos. Hot, sticky, dusty work, though Nigel was a little lighter as he managed to lose his shaggy look by finding a barber – there is a face under there! The boys have decided to go for the windswept surfer look for the time being! (I think Aonghas is secretly aiming for dreadlocks!)

Well, the inevitable has happened – my relaxing, work free lifestyle is drawing to a close! This week I did my first three days relief work at Hillcrest High School and have another week booked in a fortnight’s time. I have also submitted an application for a maternity leave contract at the same place. It will be for 3 terms starting 5th May if I get it. Hillcrest is the school that Lachlan is going to though I haven’t had him in a class yet. My first class was a boys Year 11 PE group – apart from the multicultural element they were no different to a Year 11 boys PE group at QES, well, why should you expect anything different – boys are boys the world over! Pleasant, lots of banter, worked hard on the whole, a couple who tried it on (I had to confiscate a plastic cutlass that one boy had brought in and then hidden down his shorts!!) And in the adjoining gym another relief teacher had the girls – reluctant on the whole to do anything, PE kit issues, needed lots of chivvying! I know which I prefer! The staff all seem friendly and helpful, though there is little in the way of induction, I have had no tour of the school or “package” which explains any of the workings of the school etc – just straight in! Anyway, armed with a map and a board marker, off I went! By Friday afternoon I felt like I’d been there forever! Found the ex-pat contingency – there are two other Tykes working in the school so we had a bit of a “Yorkshire” reunion! Also managed to find the end of the week drinkers – Friday 3.30 and the bar in the staffroom opened for business! No work booked for this week yet but the phone could ring at any time…!

Another win for the Hillcrest Smashers (Aonghas’ cricket team) this Friday, that’s 3 wins out of 4. Aonghas is not a natural cricketer. it has to be said, but enjoys being part of the team. Might try and do some practice over the next week to help Lachlan in the Steeplechasehim improve his skills! Lachlan competed in the 2000m Steeplechase on Saturday afternoon at the Waikato & Bay of Plenty Championships – he went straight through to the Regional Champs after coming 2nd in his schoolthe final hurdle! sports because as there are not many entrants for the event it isn’t run at the Zones. He was realistic about his chances as it was an open race against students of all ages up to Sixth Form. Indeed, he came last but he ran a PB and it was good experience! It is only the 4th time he has run that distance in a race and only his 2nd Steeplechase, so we think he did brilliantly – as it was an open race the hurdles were at full height which meant he had to vault them! And it’s a long drop off the water jump!

surfer boy!The weather has been fantastic for the last couple of weeks – we’re hoping it will last over the Easter weekend – so we decided that a beach day was a must. Yesterday we headed off to Mount Manganui (known round here as “The Mount”), we had a lovely day body boarding, playing on the beach and generally relaxing in the sun. It is a beautiful beach, golden sand, good surf, surprisinglyMum heads for the waves! quiet. It is about a one and half hour’s drive from here but the roads are not busy either so no stress! Just trying to decide where to go next weekend for Easter – back to the Atlas …. and the Rough Guide… and the internet…

Sorting Schools

Went for a tour round the local schools. It was easy for Lachlan as we are about 150 metres from the local high school, Hillcrest High. It seems OK and has a reasonable reputation. The folks living next door to us actually moved here so that there kids could go to it.

For Aonghas, there were two options. Silverdale primary was at the end of the road, about 5 minutes walk away. We went there first and met the deputy head in charge of his year range. Aonghas has just come out of a UK Year 3 class and we were a bit non-plussed when it took her several minutes of leafing through a booklet to work out what class he would be in. She wanted him to start year 3 again, in a mixed class with year 2’s. Seemed a bit strange to us but we carried on and let her show us round. The school seemed alright-ish but perhaps a bit dated. The telling thing for us, though, was the fact that she never talked to Aonghas the whole time that we were there. She never once said anything to him, she never asked us his name and she just said “He will do this” and “He will do that” all the time.

In the afternoon, we walked over the park at the back of the house to Hillcrest Normal School. It’s a bit further away but we timed it as a 12 minute walk. As soon as we walked in, the receptionist asked Aonghas what his name was and when his birthday was. “You’ll go into year 4 then” was her comment, as she continued to talk to him while we arranged to see the deputy head. We walked away with little decision to make!

One thing that we did discover is that state education in NZ is, on the face of it, more expensive that the UK. We have to buy all exercise books as well as pens, pencils, glue sticks, scissors etc, etc, from a fixed list, plus contributions for photocopying, computing, the school in general and various other bits and pieces. Fixed uniform for Lachlan too and that’s only available through the school. Makes a request from QES for a £10 or £20 contribution pale into insignificance.