Charter Schools Perception series: The Teachers Part One

March this year  I was invited to visit three Charter schools, South Auckland Middle School, Vanguard Military school and West Auckland Middle School. Before I visited them I also visited a private school, Mt Hobson Middle School that has been in operation since 2003.

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The model on which two Charter schools have been based, Mount Hobson Middle School which opened in 2003 -Photo Whaleoil.co.nz

I did that because the Charter schools of West Auckland and South Auckland are based on the model that Mt Hobson Middle school established when it opened in 2003.

South Auckland Middle school was opened in 2014 but has twelve years of experience behind it because of Mount Hobson Middle School. West Auckland Middle school opened its doors for the first time this year. Both Charter schools have a ratio of one teacher to fifteen students. Mount Hobson has a ratio of one teacher to twelve students due to space constraints.

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Science class at Mt Hobson Middle School. -Photo Whaleoil.co.nz

Below is a transcript/ summary of my interviews with two teachers at South Auckland Middle school. Both teachers that I interviewed are registered and experienced. The teachers at South Auckland Middle School on average are paid 3% more than their counter parts in State schools.

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Part of the Middle school model is community service.

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South Auckland Middle school -Photo Whaleoil.co.nz

 

Teacher (A)

Teacher (A)

WHY did you want to work at South Auckland Middle School?

I liked Alwyn’s philosophy. I believe in what he is doing and the way that he is delivering the curriculum for middle school learners.

I was looking for something different. I had been in education for eighteen years and prior to that I had a career in manufacturing. I went teaching at thirty five. I worked in the State sector and I was a little bit disenchanted with NCEA. I believe in it, it’s a good system but I feel that the kids are actually getting quite tired, they are getting worn out.This was a challenge and I was looking for something new.

WHAT are the main differences between South Auckland Middle School and a State school?

The size, you can keep an eye on kids that might be a little bit lost in a State school. As a parent I felt that the teachers in the State schools are too tired, just trying to survive. Unfortunately when you are tired the focus goes on getting kids to pass their externals or NCEA.

Unfortunately a lot of these kids fall through the gaps and I have heard stories of a lot of these children leaving school and often going to Unitec to do the courses that they could have done at school because their needs are not being met. There is obviously something that is going on that is just not working, not just for a few kids but for a lot of kids.

I was horrified hearing some students referred to by teachers as numpties at the large Secondary school I previously worked at. They had put them in the too hard basket. It is quite sad.

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Art Class South Auckland Middle School. -Photo Whaleoil.co.nz

WHAT do you like most about working here?

Although I have to work within set parameters there is a degree of autonomy that I can have. With my curriculum I can be a little more cutting edge and experimental. Because classes are smaller I can trial things and see what works and what doesn’t work.

I feel like I am really a true teacher now

Before, I felt I was teaching just really to get the kids to pass. It does affect you, you become quite jaded. Then there is all the paperwork and admin.

The paperwork is definitely less here without a doubt as we have an office lady who does the roll so it is manageable and you can track the kids on a pastoral level as well as academically so you can target how to help them.

WHAT do you like the least about working here?

I don’t have any qualms I think I am the happiest I have ever been.

If you are a teacher that likes to be invisible and you’ve got any issues with your teaching ability it will be very much highlighted here. You will stick out like a sore thumb.

So I am saying if you are a mediocre teacher there is no room for you here. Seriously because your classroom management, there is an open door policy, anybody can come in. That is our policy, visitors come in, the Ministry of Education can come in with very little warning. ERO is the same so really we have to be very good at our craft.

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South Auckland Middle School has an open door policy. You can see that the doors to the classrooms are all open so that everyone can see what is going on inside the classrooms. -Photo Whaleoil.co.nz

Accountability?

We have the same level of accountability here as you have in a State school. It is the same for our provisionally registered teachers, it is the same.

Nothing is different the only thing is that it is more noticeable if you have classroom management problems everyone knows. In saying that though there is a lot of support in place, you can’t but do well here.

South Auckland Middle School grounds. -Photo Whaleoil.co.nz

South Auckland Middle School grounds.
-Photo Whaleoil.co.nz

DO you feel supported as a teacher in your role at this school?

Supported? Yes I do. If I had any issues I would feel comfortable talking about it.

I did not feel particularly supported when working at a State school, to be honest…most of my colleagues felt that the PPTA was not even there for them. Two years ago a lot of them were saying that they were going to withdraw their membership because what were they paying money for?

So what do you think the PPTA was there for?

I really don’t know

Teacher (B)

Teacher (B)

HAVE you worked in a State School before?

Yes, two in Australia and one here in NZ. I have also taught in an integrated school in New Zealand.

WHY did you want to work at South Auckland Middle School?

Because I wanted to do something different with the curriculum in order to engage  learners and never to have an end point. I found that really exciting.

When I read up about it I realised that I would have a range of learners but that my high ability will always be extended. I also liked the real emphasis on the practicalities of independent learning. State schools have independent learning but it is not built in like here where they have a hour of it every day. They actually have to practise that skill all the time.

When I worked at previous schools it might only happen five minutes a day or ten, based on their ability to be independent.Whereas now, regardless of whether you have those skills or not you are having to practise working independently.

WHAT are the main differences between South Auckland Middle School and a State school?

Class sizes is a huge difference. It emphasises to the students that they have a privileged position here as one of fifteen. Some one else will want your seat if you leave.

‘We have a huge waiting list

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English class, South Auckland Middle School. -Photo Whaleoil.co.nz

Another difference in terms of Middle schooling years seven and eight is that we are specialist teachers. I have always wanted to teach years seven and eight but I have never wanted to be an all rounder teacher teaching all subjects. I am an English and Social Studies trained teacher, I had no desire to teach Maths.

I wouldn’t have had the opportunity in the State system.

We operate more like a Secondary school in that we are subject based professionals. I have a passion about my subject and it feeds quality teaching and learning because the kids are excited that I am passionate about my subject.They also love that they come to a specialist for each separate thing.

I also like the size of the school. I am Academic leader so I am responsible for the sixty students as well as the individual subject teachers. I am responsible for their behaviour and their well being.

Instead of kind of knowing a hundred and twenty kids as you do in the Secondary system, I know sixty kids really really well.

WHAT do you like most about working here?

I love that we are not saying this is what all other schools do so lets do that, we are always asking what do we actually want to be doing and for what purpose and for what reason? From student’s attendance to the uniform, to their engagement in their learning.

We are not just doing the status quo

WHAT do you like the least about working here?

The stigma that can be attached to it.

People instantly think, you know, it’s seen in a negative light just because of the Media. At times we can be treated as another alternative education form, where parents may be sending their children because they would like us to fix them because other schools haven’t done that.

DO people assume you are untrained because you work at a Charter school?

Not of me but they do ask if all our staff are trained.I make a point when talking about our school of telling people that we have highly trained, quality teachers.

IS your teaching performance evaluated in any way?

Yes we have an appraisal system. There are different levels of it. I go through an appraisal system with the Principal. Across all the schools to evaluate curriculum we have a cluster group which keeps us all in line and makes us accountable to one another as to what we are teaching as well as looking at our assessments.

WAS your teaching evaluated in any way when you taught at a State school?

Yes once a year. It was a pretty standard appraisal system we all did it. A lot of tick boxing. I didn’t think it was robust whereas here I feel it is robust due to the size. When there is only a few of you all eyes are on you.

DO you feel supported as a teacher in your role at South Auckland Middle School?

Absolutely.

As a staff we have worked really really closely together. We have the support of our Business Manager Karen and the benefit of Alwyn’s years of experience.

DID you feel supported as a teacher in your previous roles at State schools?

In my first role I was quite isolated. I was in a rural setting so that probably contributed to it. I think it comes down to the departments you are part of.

ARE there training opportunities for you here?

More and more so. Last year we were starting so if anything the training was how to be part of the whole system. We were at full capacity, I didn’t want any additional training then. This year I have already asked for different things and straight away I have been told yes.

WERE there training opportunities for you at State schools?

Yes, there were.

 

Next week is part two where we hear what the teachers of West 
Auckland Middle school have to say about their school.

 

 

 


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