There and back again
As I look out the window at the snow falling, it’s hard to believe that only three months ago I was living in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. I like to think back to my first and last day at school because I felt a change from when I had my first introductions to my final goodbyes.
The first day of my placement felt almost like being the new kid at school. I compare it to being the new kid because you know what to expect with the classes, but you don’t know who will be your friends or if you will even fit in with everyone else. On my first day at the school, I was working with a substitute, also known as a relief teacher. Vicki Hay, the relief teacher, was a wonderful educator who guided me through my first day. However, I still felt out of sorts that day because I was being introduced to the students and the staff without Jane, my cooperating teacher and host mom. I didn’t necessarily know when the kids were to be sent out for play (students looked confused at me when I called it recess), what to do during morning tea, or when I was to head over for lunch in the staff lounge. As the days progressed, I became more familiar to the routine, and it became second nature to me after week two.
Each week taught me different lessons. I learned the importance of clear, simple instructions before sending students off to start their work during math. After a week of reading and writing instruction, I recognized the importance of holding students accountable for finishing their work. Throughout my placement I had the opportunity to co-teach with Jane Murray, my cooperating teacher, and Jenni Adams, the Year 4/5 teacher who shared a classroom with our class. During my teaching I had to teach myself certain skills. Such skills as the Charleston Dance (for our Production) and Printmaking (for Art). At Kelson I also realized the importance of laughter, kindness and honesty with the students to build a relationship with them.
The weeks became months, and somehow that first day had led all the way to my last day. There were some tough days while I was teaching, but the toughest day was my last. I didn’t do any teaching that day. The only thing I had to accomplish that day was not crying. I am alright with saying that I did not accomplish that. The tears began as I said goodbye to the Kelson Staff and they each had words of encouragement and/or congratulations to share. Judy Pemberton, the Kelson principal, told me that if I ever returned to New Zealand to teach, there would always be a place for me at Kelson. The next goodbye was to the Senior Syndicate, which included all the students in Year 4 and Year 5. They gave me a gigantic hug before they returned to their classroom. Finally, the true waterworks came when I said goodbye to my Year 6 students. My Year 6 students presented me with a piece of their printmaking as a patchwork. I was also given a book with Maori folklores. Inside the front and back cover of the book each student had written me a note wishing me good luck and goodbye.
Two months after I returned to the United States, I was able to Skype with Jane and the Year 6 students. It was amazing to hear what they were learning about, how they were all doing, and how excited they were to be be finishing up their school year. They also were so excited to hear about my life, my new student teaching placement, and meet my family.
My time at Kelson taught me a lot about myself as a teacher and as a person. Now I’m almost done with my student teaching in Wisconsin, and will be able to begin my career as a teacher. My original reason to student teach abroad was to see if I would like to teach abroad long term. As I look back at my original reason for this journey, I have realized that I could not teach overseas long term. I loved my experience, I met wonderful people, and I lived in a beautiful and magnificent place. However, my three months showed me how much I missed my family and friends. I am so happy I took this opportunity to learn more about myself. My plan is to continue to travel around the world, but I will continue to return back to my home in the United States.
I believe everyone should take the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone because you are able to learn so much more about yourself. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be as far as studying abroad, but it can also be attending college an hour and half away from your hometown. Do not let these opportunities pass you by. Everything I learned from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, my placement in New Zealand, and my placement in the United States has prepared me to enter the world as an educator. I’m excited that my next journey is just about to begin.
Cierra Bartol-Byers, a senior elementary education major at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, is blogging about her study abroad experience in Namibia and New Zealand.