The overseas-trained teacher

March 2010


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We talk to an overseas-trained teacher about the adjustment to life in a New Zealand classroom

Luiza Rigutto last year returned to school teaching after a 25-year absence. But what made her career change more challenging was the fact that she did it in a new country, having moved to New Zealand from South Africa only a year earlier.

Now teaching food technology at Paraparaumu College, Rigutto prepared for school teaching in this country with a ‘return to teaching’ course at Massey University. This included a week of full-time training followed by a five-week practicum in a school.

She says the biggest challenge for her was classroom management and admits that many times she felt like she was drowning.

Her advice to new teachers is to get other teachers into their classrooms to observe and advise. Don’t see this as a threat, Rigutto says, noting that she found such observations tremendously helpful. “Outside assistance is really important.”

She also found the NCEA challenging because it is such a different system from South Africa where students only sit exams at the end of the year. She says the difference between the systems is huge and notes that even prior experience teaching unit standards in a tertiary education environment back in South Africa could not prepare her for the NCEA.

Now in her second year of teaching in New Zealand, Rigutto says she is finding it much better. “I am more familiar with the systems and I now understand the NCEA system a bit better.”

She says her ‘return to teaching’ course was a good programme and helpful, but nothing can prepare you for teaching like actually doing it. Overall she is finding teaching a lot less stressful than last year, though she qualifies her observation that she is finding teaching easier.

“I love teaching and they’re really good kids. It’s good when you see the students doing well and being uplifted,” she says.

A big change

Overseas-trained teachers can face big challenges in the transition to New Zealand’s education system.

Waikato University’s Mary Jamieson notes that many are experienced teachers, yet they are essentially put back into the position of a first-year teacher when they come to work in this country. And they may face a range of obstacles. New Zealand students might be different to their expectations, she says. Sometimes they have difficulties with language and sometimes, in the secondary sector, with the NCEA.

Accent Learning’s Libby Paterson notes that overseas-trained teachers are often highly qualified and experienced and consequently do not get the same time allowance as New Zealand-trained beginning teachers. However, she says that many of the overseas-trained teachers have a lot to learn.

“The New Zealand education system can be a bit of a shock for overseas-trained teachers, with differences including the curriculum, NCEA, and the place of the Treaty of Waitangi,” she says.

Her colleague Rosemary Christian says overseas teachers can find it particularly difficult if they believe that the New Zealand system is not as good as the system they have come from. Like Mary Jamieson, she notes that those who have already worked in several countries might also find it frustrating that they essentially have to start at the beginning of their career again.

Mike Perry, also of Accent Learning, urges overseas-trained teachers to talk with their principal or head of department to ensure they are getting any support they might need.