This summer holiday, my first in New Zealand, has turned out to be a little bit of a bust. One of the joys of being a teacher is the long holidays, but this summer, while I had the holiday, I didn’t really enjoy it quite as much as I should.
When I moved to New Zealand back in April of last year, I took a maternity leave contract, so I knew that my job would, one day, go away. And, sure enough, it did, at the end of the last school year, when the woman I’d been covering for, having had her baby, decided to come back to work. It’s entirely her choice, of course, but it puts all the power in the hands of the mother, and when she says she’c coming back, she’s coming back, and the teacher who’s stepped into the breech gets only a few weeks’ notice.
So the year came to an end, and, even though I’d been applying for jobs across New Zealand, I still hadn’t managed to get myself hired. I’d come close, having had second interviews, for physics jobs (the subject I really wanted to teach) at a couple of colleges in Auckland, but I just wasn’t quite sealing any deals, which was quite staggeringly frustrating. I delivered lots of CVs, made lots of calls, visited lots of schools, and, one by one, got “Thanks, but no thanks” letters back. Well, for the most part — there are still plenty of schools who simply didn’t bother to reply — some even after inviting me to go and visit. This I find quite monumentally annoying and arrogant, but there you go. There was one deputy principal who invited me in to discuss a position teach Japanese; I visited, spoke to her for an hour, and have still to hear back from her, despite phone calls, emails and letters. One day I’ll list her and her ilk, but not just yet. I even flew down to Wellington for one interview, only to, again, come in second.
As you can imagine, this made for a highly nerve-wracking summer holiday. We had talked about making a trip down to the South Island for a few days, but until I had a little more job security, that wasn’t about to happen. So we stayed at home, and I applied for every job that I found in the Education Gazette, or at least every job that I (even if nobody agreed with me) thought I was qualified for. I ploughed through a lot of email, a lot of printer ink, but got little response. It wasn’t entirely surprising; schools were, for the most part, closed for much of the holidays, and certainly for the fortnight following Christmas, there wasn’t a lot of administrative work happening, really, anywhere in the country, which quite civilisedly shut down for the most part over that period. But my anxiety, of course, stayed at high ebb. It wasn’t until about a week and a half before the start of the new term that I finally got a call from Trevor Mckinlay, the acting principal at Papakura High School, down in the southern reaches of Auckland.
I duly drove down to Papakura, noting with alarm along the way just how far into the southern reaches of Auckland it really was — about 90km, in fact. The interview went well, I thought, and I left feeling quietly confident. The interview was on a Thursday; Trevor said they’d let me know on Monday. He called me that evening to offer me the job. I accepted.
So now I’m teaching physics and general science at Papakura High. (I’m actually the head of the physics department, but then, I’m also the only physics teacher, so it’s a somewhat notional title.) The physics is a joy — one level 3 and one level 2 class, and it’s fun and stimulating and all the other things that teaching is meant to be. I also teach two classes of general science to year 9 and 10, and that’s challenging and all the other things that teaching is meant to be. My general science classes are full of a wide range of students with a wide range of abilities, needs and problems. There are bright kids and less bright ones, hard-working kids and lazy kids, polite and flat-out nasty kids. Every day one student appalls me, one impresses me, one amazes me, one terrifies me and one encourages me. It’s an outrageously hard work, challenging and frankly, at times, soul-destroying job. I go home every evening, ploughing through the hour and a half of Auckland traffic, absolutely knackered. But I know that I’ve done something pretty bloody good that day, no matter how much it’s taken out of me. Then I get up before six the next day, leave home by half past, usually in the dark, drive even longer, and do it all over again.