From Wellington to Waxhaw: one Kiwi’s American dream

July 2013

 

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Education Review chats to former Wellington teacher, Ula Lologa, about the differences and similarities teaching at an elementary school in North Carolina.

 

Q What or who inspired you to teach abroad?

Ula: I had always wanted to travel and work overseas but never got around to doing it earlier in my life. After working at Kilbirnie School in Wellington for almost nine years, I decided it was time to do something different. My friends and work colleagues encouraged me to go abroad as many of them had lived and worked overseas.

 

Q Why the United States?

Ula: After a recent trip to the US, it made me look into what overseas teaching opportunities were offered there. I read about the Visitors International Faculty, an organisation based in North Carolina that recruited international teachers to teach in American schools. A friend of mine who I was working with at the time had worked in the US on the same programme and inspired me to apply.

I was accepted back in 2008 but due to the recession at the time, there weren’t as many jobs and the dream to teach in the USA was put on hold. In May 2011, I was interviewed via Skype and offered a teaching position in North Carolina.

 

Q Tell us about your job.

Ula: I am currently teaching at New Town Elementary in Waxhaw, North Carolina. It is part of Union County District, with the closest city being Charlotte, NC. I currently have 24 students in my class. They range from seven to eight years. In my grade level there are six other second grade classes. My role is a general classroom teacher. I teach literacy, maths, science, and social studies. Other subjects such as art, music, technology, media/library are taught by specialist teachers.

Q What are the main differences and similarities between teaching in New Zealand and the US?

Ula: The structure of the school day is very different from my previous school back in New Zealand. School begins at 7am and finishes at 2pm every day. Each class has a scheduled lunch time and you supervise and eat with your class every day. There is only one interval/recess a day and you supervise your own class.

In terms of assessment, the focus is more on summative test than it is formative. Students sit end of year grade tests exams as soon as they enter third grade (Year 4). Parents expect graded papers to be sent home, often with a number or percentage grade on it. Report cards are given out every six weeks.

The school’s management and policy decision making is controlled externally by the county.

Education Review chats to former Wellington teacher, Ula Lologa, about the differences and similarities teaching at an elementary school in North Carolina.

The similarities would be the students themselves. Kids are kids no matter where you are in the world. I forget sometimes that I’m in America because I feel like I’m teaching children back home. The only difference is their accents.

 

Q What has been the best part about your experience so far?

Ula: I love travelling and visiting cities and places here on the East Coast. The USA is a huge place and there is so much to see. I recently went to New York in the Spring Break (Easter) and had a fantastic time there. I’ve also been to Nashville, Memphis, Atlanta, Washington D.C, Alabama, and even down to New Orleans during my time here. I’ve also made lots of great new friends in my school, as well as other international teachers who have come here on the same cultural exchange program.

The students I teach are definitely another highlight of my time here. They are so enthusiastic and absorb so much of what you teach them. My students love everything about New Zealand, and in a recent international evening, I taught the class Māori waiata and dance to perform in front of an audience. The students are now teaching the whole school basic te reo Māori words everyday through the morning broadcasts before the start of the classroom instruction.

 

Q What have the most challenging or frustrating aspects been?

Ula: I think the most challenging for me was learning a completely new system and adjusting to a different way of teaching reading, writing, and maths. The school provided literacy support for me, and I would observe my colleagues as they would model a lesson in reading and writing.

The low pay unfortunately is probably one aspect that I had to get used to. We are paid very well in New Zealand compared to teachers in North Carolina. Though it is only a minor thing, I have learned to adjust, adapt, and make the best of the experience.

 

Q How do you think it has enhanced you as a teacher?

Ula: There is always something you take away when you come across new experiences. I am definitely learning a lot from teaching here. There are some practices that I would consider implementing when I come back home.

 

Q What are your long-term plans – do you intend to return to teaching in New Zealand?

Ula: I’ve signed up for another year at my school, but at the end of my contract, I plan to move back to New Zealand in June 2014.


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