Mary Lindsay-Hughes, a Year 7 teacher at Westmount Taranaki campus, spent the first term of 2016 teaching at Westmount’s Argentina campus.
The campus has three locations - Rosario, Bahia Blanca and Buenos Aires - and Mary spent most of her time at Rosario. Each school caters for students from Years 3-13. Years 7-10 follow the NZ Curriculum. Senior students mostly take Cambridge courses, but NCEA is being phased in. The school year is similar to New Zealand’s.
The students are bi-lingual in English and Spanish, though they often flick to Spanglish when thinking and communicating with one another. For the wider community, Spanish is their native language.
Anticipating the experience, Mary says was a little daunted. “I knew that I had 20 students and that they were spread amongst the three campuses. But in terms of the teaching, I had no idea what to expect.”
She arrived one week before the start of the first term, to a classroom that was still in shutdown mode with bare walls and desks stacked. She invested time to transform it. “I wanted the students to be in a warm, vibrant and inviting classroom from day one. I think this is really important as it sets the tone for the whole term/year.”\
A typical day
As well as her teaching role, Mary is the lead teacher for Self-Directed Learning across the Westmount campuses. She had an opportunity to embed the approach with students while she was there, and says they took to it well.
“It was vital for students to have a good understanding of what being self-directed means and how to work on building the characteristics of a self-directed learner. I was really surprised how quickly the students adapted to it. I was so impressed with how they were so willing to try and give things a go.”
A typical day would see the students checking Moodle for any class notices/work, coming into the learning space and logging into the VC. From there they would normally have a number of classes depending on the weekly timetable – Maths, Writing, Reading, Integrated Studies, Spanish, PE, Art and Technology.
The students were quite free to move in and out of learning spaces and go to where they needed to be to be in their optimal learning zones.
A typical day might also see students having issues logging into the VC and having to be self-directed and continue learning in their campus group.
On two occasions, a power cut meant no one could log onto VC – two great opportunities to further develop as self-directed learners.
Mary says she enjoyed the entire experience of getting to know the students, the teachers, the community and another culture. “Being able to work with teachers and students from another country and develop fantastic working relationships with them helps to cement a bond between NZ and Argentina. I made some wonderful friends and colleagues whom I can keep in contact with and we can help each other.”
She also enjoyed the challenges.
“You learn so much when you are put out of your comfort zone in another country and have to make things work.
“I also really enjoyed the challenge of teaching over VC. I had never done it before but I came to understand very quickly that organisation is key. Having resources, student work and assignments loaded early was the way to avoid any issues that may arise due to poor VC connections.”
Mary says she has become more reflective as a teacher. “I developed the habit of writing daily reflections as a way of keeping track of my VC lessons and the student involvement. I have transferred that back to here.
“I am also more organised than I have ever been. I think having to be VC-ready has made me more organised in a face-to-face class. I am now confident teaching with VC as a tool.”
The experience has also developed new knowledge and understanding of different teaching styles and Mary says she is fusing these to develop her teaching practices.
“As we are all learners, an opportunity like this helps us to continue to grow and develop. I have a deeper appreciation for my school/class in NZ after working in Argentina (as the campuses have very limited resources) and I really value the Argentinian students’ resilience and willingness to persevere.”
Mary acknowledges the support of school leadership in Argentina and Taranaki, and her colleagues, for making it all possible. She’s also grateful to have had safe encounters with spiders, snakes and uncontrolled intersections, and to be back beneath the beloved Mt Taranaki.