Monday, March 16, 2009

Montana, we have a reputation

An actual conversation I had at the beginning of class today with a very short 13 year old boy.  He called me over to his desk as the class was getting daily writing journals out for our daily 5 minutes of writing:

A: Mrs S, you're from Montana!  You'll like this.  Guess what I did this weekend.
Me: Um, you went to a movie.
A: No, I killed three turkeys with one shot!
Me: Really.  How'd you manage that?
A: Well, there was this big group of turkeys all mixed up, and I shot, and the bullet went through the neck of one turkey (insert hand gestures to clarify how a bullet might go through a turkey neck) and then went through the head of the turkey behind it, and then the bullet went into the upper chest body area of the turkey behind that.  [At this point A. is gasping and grinning from not having breathed in over a minute, having madly gesticulated all the while.]
Me: Huh.  [Blink].  Maybe you should write about that in your journal today.
A: Already on it, Miss!

I had to fight hard to not first laugh out loud, then ask him where one might find turkeys all the way down here in New Zealand outside of a poultry farm.  In the end I just had to smile.  Not only was he finally quiet and writing, which isn't an easy feat for this kid, but his eyes were shining the same way my nephews' eyes shine when they share an adventure with me.  

Good stuff.  Not a bad way to start the week, even if it did mean the deaths of three turkeys.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Wall Cometh

My last post outlined the things that bothered me last year but seem to be of little consequence to me this year.  One month on, are those opinions still solid or have they changed?

For the most part they're still holding true.  I'm not getting as frustrated with kids when they don't seem to absorb things as well as I think they should.  My school is fairly disciplined and it used to bother me when some kids weren't as self controlled as others; this year I'm rolling with things more easily and deal with the independent young people differently.  This is largely in part to the demographic I'm teaching this year.  A lot of my classes are made up of well meaning and very nice, yet loud and disorganised, youth.  Even though they want to do well, they don't always show it, and so gently reminding them to 'get back on the thought train' gets a laugh and about 8 more minutes of concentration before the next derailment.  

As one of my favourite authors so eloquently put it, so it goes.

And that wall of homework that I predicted would show up around week 5 or 6 is here, and indeed it came in structural-mass form.  One large pile from one class, another large pile from another, and Friday bore a pile of common tests from two of my senior classes.

I work in a shared office and sit in one corner of the long desk that wraps around the room:  my 'to mark' pile sits on the border between my work space and the next persons and currently looks an awful lot like a wall.  

But I've placed my pile there for a reason.  The co-worker who sits next to me is eerily fast about grading student work and getting it back to the kids.  I'm talking Jedi fast.  She claims that she can do this because she is a neat freak: she can't stand having clutter on her desk.  I think she's just good at what she does and have told her as much.  So I place my not-yet-but-almost-towering pile near her tidy, clean desk as a way to shame myself into getting things done more quickly.

Just another trick I've learned to help me get around the feast or famine grading cycle that seems to plague our department.  Is my trick working?  Somewhat.  I've adjusted my grading process to tackle small chunks of the pile every day.  I stay at work until I've done as much as my brain can handle, typically until around 5:30, and then I say enough is enough and bike home.  My desk isn't as clean as my co-workers when applying this method, but it's an improvement over last year.  I'm not taking papers home to grade (or have them stare at me from my bag when I'm not grading them), and I'm not worrying about paperwork when I'm at home.  After all, I'm working on other equally important things there as well.

I'm allowing one exception per week to account for busy days and personal appointments that need to happen between 3:30 and 5.  Today, for example, I needed to leave a bit early to swing by the bike shop and get my bike tuned up.  This was supposed to shave an hour out of my afternoon, so I brought home an hour's worth of papers to grade.  Easy stuff, fill in the blank sort of work.

We teachers need to be flexible with our time, routines and habits; it's the nature of what we do.  But seeing as time is finite, at least as we deal with it on our human scale, if we take time to do one thing, that time has to come from somewhere.  Gauging how to balance the needs of work and personal space isn't always easy, though.  I guess that's the educator's white whale: balance. 

Friday, January 30, 2009

Week 1, Year 3

We just had the first full week of school for the 2009 school year, and I'm beginning my third year of teaching here.  I'm trying to look forward as much as I look back these days, breaking the habit I was taught in college.  In my first year I was always reflecting back on the efficacy of individual lessons or units or conversations, making mental notes for how to change those individual situations in the future.  In my second year, I was looking back to my first year for lessons on how to make the current year more effective.  That period of time when "it gets easier" remained nebulous and, to be honest, I didn't have much time to think about what it would look like when it came around.

Well, it's here.  These first days were busy, productive, enjoyable, exhausting, and noticeably less nerve wracking.  The night before I met my classes I slept the sleep of the dead, and woke up to a cup of coffee and the paper the next morning.  No thoughts about potential problem students, no fears about making the same mistakes as last year, no butterflies in the stomach, and certainly no rush to get to school for that extra 20 minutes of prep time in the morning.  I simply enjoyed a cuppa joe, looked at the clock, got dressed, and hopped on the bus.

That being said, I know that the easy-breezy feel of today will turn into a tropical storm tomorrow.  But I can actually say that now because I know where the busy times of the year happen around here.  I predict that I will hit the first wall of homework grading in about 4 school days, which will be followed in about three weeks by the first round of essays from my older students.  

For all of the little snaggles that happen in the teaching profession, at least I can say that I'm keeping my eye open for when they happen instead of looking back to how to avoid them completely.  There are thing I can't control, such as the sinking feeling you get when you have that first pile of grading after summer break.  It's the same for everyone who has ever had to go back to work after vacation.  One thing I've learned is that the snaggles for educators come in waves, and they boil down to one problem that is out of my control for the most part here: time.  

My current department assigns each course to one or two teachers, who plan out the major units and objectives for the course and then pass that schedule on to the classroom teachers.  I have been told that the first two weeks of classes should encompass getting-to-know-you style activities that also introduce reading comprehension skills and introduce basic language study and analysis vocabulary.  Then I have to start either a short text unit unit or an extended text unit, depending on the course.  I've been given freedom to choose my texts and method for teaching them, but I still have to limit myself at this point to poetry, short stories, and novels.  No film, media, creative writing or anything else.  Reading comprehension should be woven in because there will be a common test for all classes in week 6.

Here lies the snaggle.  Looking at all 5 of my classes, this first unit will end for all of my classes within a few weeks of one another.  Ending a unit means summative assessment to see what the kids have learned.  Since our department's focus is essay skills (the core of the standardized testing in New Zealand), that means 150 essays to grade within a few weeks time.  That's a big time sink, and since I don't get to design my own courses I can't stagger that work load.  Time, in this case, is not on my side.

My one bit of reflection that I'm allowing myself at this point is to notice large trends: what can I control and shape, and what can I not control.  I can control how I make the writing process easier and more skills-based for my students, teaching baby steps up to the complex writing they'll have to produce at end of year.  I can't control how many final drafts of essays pass across my desk at the end of these units.  I've decided this year to optimise my grading for first drafts of essays, grading only a few paragraphs and then passing them on to the students to finish grading.  This actually worked last year.  It saved me time, halved my grading load, actually, but it also modelled self-assessment skills for the kids.  They can see that I commented on their topic sentences in the first two paragraphs, so they can check their topic sentences for the rest of the essay.

Alas, I still have to use essays as my main form of summative assessment.  Since I can't control this, I'm not going to worry about it.  I'll try to write a little less on student work by making up a shorthand glossary for the kids to have in their notebooks, and using symbols instead of words to mark up their writing.  But I'm not going to loose sleep over taking that extra day to get work back to them.  There's only so many hours in the day, after all, and that's another thing I can't control.

Maybe the "it gets easier" lesson really boils down to self-determination.  Once you stay in a profession long enough you better get at understanding what your job actually entails.  In education, this doesn't always jive with the ideals built up in teacher training programs.  Last year this dissonance caused some headaches for me.  This year, I've had to compare the two (job requirements vs social expectation) and determine what goals I can practically achieve. 

Monday, January 12, 2009

A bike ride in Auckland...

Is like an intense game of frogger: it's ultimately fun but you really have to look out for cars.  This week alone (two days into it) I've had two close calls.  That being said last week was uneventful.  I think this means my riding has been raised to a new level, to continue with the video game analogy, but I could be wrong.  There just be more congestion due to all of those drivers back into the swing of things after the holiday break.  Who knows.  The only thing I do know is that it feels good to be able to stop at a red light right next to a car that passed me about a kilometre back, and to think that I didn't have to burn any gas while the other guy did.

We're experiencing a resurgence in bike ridership in our home lately.  With the longer hours of daylight and drier weather Peter's been biking in to work nearly daily and I've recently bought a bike to toodle around the neighbourhood on.  I have to say that it feels darn good to be back on the bike, now that the obligatory and awkward "getting to know you" phase is over.  Two years of relatively low physical activity and a shiny new case of asthma have left me a bit out of shape, you could say.  The rolling hills of Auckland didn't make the process easy but after a few weeks of short near-daily rides I'm doing better.  I can now make it 14 kms without stopping (I actually feel pretty good afterward) and I only need the inhaler sometimes after I ride now.  All in all Peter and I are feeling healthier these days thanks to this long-forgotten mode of transportation.

Our readers may recall previous posts in which Peter explained the perils of cycling in Auckland.  The roads are narrow; shoulders and bike lanes (where they exist) tend to be filled with gravel, broken bottles and the odd dead hedgehog; storm drains are not always designed well and grates can sometimes run parallel to the curb.  And always the aggressive traffic.  None of these things make cycling as a commuter mode of transportation an easy choice, and those around here who choose to take the plunge trend toward the hardcore.*  I'm trying my best to fit into this category, as I'm lucky enough to live along a commuter corridor that has bike paths for most of its length.  My employer also has showers and lockers in the women's bathroom, which means that I can have a quick rinse once I get to work.  Not everyone has access to this sort of thing here, so I should probably take advantage of it.

At its heart, this change is simply the latest step in our efforts to become a bit more earth friendly.  We never drove the car all that much to begin with, but I'd say that 95% of its use was for my daily commute.  At first I didn't feel bad because I could justify it: my weekly petrol bill was half the cost of bus fare for the equivalent distance, and driving cut my commute time in half.  What's not to love?  We'll, I hate sitting in traffic at the end of the day, getting wheezy 10 minutes into a friendly ultimate frisbee game at work, that extra roll on my stomach that now pops out when I sit down, and generally being a part of the twice-daily single occupant vehicle exodus.

So we're trimming back.  My goal is to be able to bike to work come the end of the month without being too red faced and sweaty.  Peter's biking to work daily, and we're cutting back on our meat consumption.  It's all a part of our attempt to keep healthy and cut down on our carbon footprint.

I'll be taking the camera along some of my rides later this week so you can see what we're up to in our daily routine.

*A special note for Moms Jan and Char: don't worry.  We wear helmets, ride only when it's safe and get off the bike or ride on the foot path when it's not.  You've taught us well.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The drawbacks of summer break

This is what summer has made of me: a paranoid dreamer.

Part of what I love about the job is the vacation time.  Sure, it's inflexible and probably reduces my overall salary, but I love it nonetheless.  I have extended time to work on pet projects, truly relax and explore books that I may or may not use in the classroom.  I ride my bike and catch up with friends.  I'm learning scales and modes on my guitar.  My legs are now tan and sand fly-bitten because I go to the beach; life is good to us.

But at the end of the day the clock strikes 9 and I find that I'm not all that tired.  I wait as long as possible to crawl into bed and still fall asleep quickly, as is the habit I've fallen into.  It's here that I've been experiencing many a deep remorse, as Mark Twain once put it, in my dreams.  Let me explain.

Because education and kids are two of the things our culture tells us we should feel an obligation to foster, teaching carries a certain amount of moral baggage.  I've been told all of the good teachers keep their eyes out for 'teachable material' in their spare time, take papers home to grade, give up weekend and evening time to tutor or coach or cheer on the kiddies. And so on.  So in that first week of my well earned (yet obligatory) vacation, I spent my time scrounging through second-hand book shops and libraries.  I took down ideas and names and addresses in small notebooks.  Granted, I treated myself to lunches out and some new summer clothes at the skads of sales I saw in every shop window.  This blending of personal and professional time was expected, as it usually takes me a bit to wind down from the frenetic pace of work.  

Skip ahead a few weeks.  I now lay in bed, awake, and the sky is the iridescent grey-blue that appears just before the birds begin to clamor.  The alarm hasn't gone off, but I am awake.  I was wakened by those things that teachers normally dream of during the school year: loosing student assignments, forgetting class on the first day, walking into a classroom to find that your students are not the age group you expected and worrying that "I wasn't trained for this."  Schedules were ruined, I had gum in my mouth when I shouldn't have, I was dressed for embarrassment, yaddah yaddah yaddah.  But it's summer, and I'm not at work.  Why the dreams?

My suspected reason: I'm spending my summer vacation researching the job shift from Auckland to any one of 5 locations in North America.  Most of the family knows by now that my lovely husband is shifting careers, and is applying for graduate schools.  This means that I'm making plans for job change come the middle of 2009.  This doesn't worry me too much because we're, for the most part, moving back to familiar territory.  I know the ropes of applying for work in the US, I've done an international move before and I know people in nearly all of the cities we're interested in moving to.  But a move means that I'll be having two first days of an academic year, and for some reason that is picking on my sub-conscience.  

So now that I have all of this time on my hands, I have time to worry about the future.  My nightmares (they wake me up from sleep, so that's what they technically have become) almost always deal with first-sight sort of worries: first day of classes, first time meeting a department head, first time dealing with conflict in a new school.  I think most teachers have had a few classes that never quite get off on the right foot, and after having a few of those in 2007 I'm extremely paranoid about having to dodge this bullet twice in 2009.  

I guess I'll find out how long this dream pattern lasts.  It may go away once we pin down where we'll be.  It may ride right up to day one of classes in September.   Either way, I'd much rather be having nightmares about flesh-eating shrimps jumping off the barby than dreaming about gum gluing my mouth shut at a job interview that won't come for another 5 months.

I almost wish I had the eye twitch back. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Highlights of the 2008 school year

12.  Having a 20 year veteran teacher with Specialist distinction come to me for advice.  On pedagogy, even.  Gosh.

11.  Finally getting it through to my Thai student, whom I taught last year as well, how to make subjects and verbs agree.  In only took a year and half to crack that nut.

10.  During a pre-exam fun quiz one student group named themselves Obama '08! after my bumper sticker.  They later confessed to seeking favour from the judge; they lost miserably.  I gave extra candies on their way out of class, though, for their gumption.

9.  - "Whoa, Miss, nice shoes!" (Indeed, I was wearing new shoes.)
     - "Thank you very much...who are you?"
     - "_____, Miss."
     - "Nice to meet you, _____."

8.  Tape a Co-worker's Personal Effects to the Ceiling Day.  There is still a Chupa Chup stuck to the ceiling 4 months on.

7.  After weeks of hearing, "Shut up, R!" shouted when I turned my back to the class (when in fact neither R. nor any other student was talking at all), I snapped.  
-T.: "Shut up, R.!"  
-Me, without taking my eyes off of what I was doing: "Shut up, T."  
-T.: "Touche, Miss."  

Satisfying, indeed.

6.  A very Catholic, golly-goshing Media Studies teacher sat in our shared office, along with me and a host of atheists, hard-out chain smokers and a flamboyantly gay teacher with a penchant for sparkly cuff links.  One day her "bring in a magazine" lesson during a print media unit yielded a skin mag thinly disguised as a car mag.  Not knowing what to do, she had taken it off of the student and brought it up to the office wondering if she should call the boy's mother or just throw it away.  The smoker, Mr. Cuff Links, and I raced over to her desk and had a hoot over the tawdry and airbrushed stuff.  Let's just say that jokes and comments were made, which were loud enough to be heard by the Head of Department one office over, and said HOD had to come in, take the magazine away and tell us to get back to work.  He never does this sort of thing, which leads us to believe that he still has the magazine.

5.  A young Russian-born man who struggled with syntax all year, waving from the doorway on the last day of class, shouting over the din, "Thanks for the class, Miss!"

4.  This same young man striding into my office the next week, only three days before the big exam, with four essays in hand.  He thrusts the essays at me with panic in his face.  "Will you give me some feedback on these?"  They were all awesome.

3.  After yet another discussion about why John Keats, and all Romantic poets for that matter, are fixated on booze, sex and the like, I heard a brief silence followed by about four kids simultaneously crying, "Aaaaahhhhh."  The dirty euphemisms had just gained substantial meaning and they realised that sex is more than a physical thing; it's often just a conduit for other more important ideas or relationships.  Therefore, all sniggering and fun was no longer allowed in class because it would make them look immature and stupid in the eyes of their peers.  I was witness to the death of innocence in some small part.

2.  Handing a student a battered copy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest against his will, and then finding out through his speech project later that year that the book helped him better understand his relationship with religion.  He had realised not that he was an atheist, but why he was an atheist, and could articulate this for the first time.  I didn't expect this at all, seeing as Christian martyr imagery is so strong and (according to many) affirmative at the end of the book.  After his speech he thanked me for making him read the book.

1.  Hearing the guy who hired me tell me that he's awfully glad that he hired me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How New Zealand high school works: the basic structure of schools


One of the biggest challenges of taking up a new job, in your home country or abroad, is figuring out how you fit within a larger structure of the organization. As teachers, we have to take whole courses in our training programs about this topic. We study how the public education evolved, how schools are funded, various levels of governmental involvement, legal requirements at each level, etc. The US is unique in a lot of ways because of our highly stratified structure, from local up to federal levels and state-to-state variety. A lot of teachers choose to know the basics and then get down to the business of their work: giving content to students. These people have a knack for separating the wheat from the chaff and then getting on with their lives. They know how their jobs relate to politics, how their personal budgets depend on funding formulae and the rights that they and their students have within the system.  These basics are the issues that affect day to day operations in the class so most of us choose to know these and leave the rest to department heads and senior management.

And then there are people like me. We can't help but dig into details even if it means not doing anything meaningful or immediately necessary for hours on end. We're pickers of the worst kind: complete and unrelenting. We learn the basics and then can't help but learn the basics of other peoples' positions and responsibilities, as well. I've come to terms with this part of my psychology and have managed to get some use out of it. There are times, though, when I succeed in collecting nothing but mental junk that sits in my mind, the likes of which may or may not be usable in the future.

Before coming down to New Zealand I was working as a substitute teacher in my district's middle and high schools. If you or someone you know has been a substitute teacher you'll know that the work is sporadic and is prone to periods of unemployment not long enough to take on a second job. To fill in the time I decided to do a little background reading on New Zealand education. A little reading turned into a lot of reading, which turned into a full-blown quest for any and all information relating to NZ schools: I read the official information from the official sites and then dug into news article, school sites and newsletters, student projects I found on-line, and any articles on the web that included the terms "New Zealand" and "education".

One thing that I found during my search was that there really wasn't much out there for overseas trained teachers. The jargon was, honestly, pretty foreign despite the fact that New Zealand speaks English.  In addition to this, the education system had recently been revamped and included new vocabulary and names for those structures that remain the same throughout time (such as grade levels, subjects, certifications, exams, etc).  Older vocabulary was still commonly in use throughout most documents.  This meant that two different articles about the same topic could be using two different terms for the same thing. I was expecting a certain amount of new terminology but nothing to the extent at which I had just uncovered. Luckily I had the time to sift through it all and break it down. If I had been working full time I probably would have had to take the approach of the more prudent researcher and start looking for wheat amongst the chaff, and I can honestly say that that approach probably wouldn't have yielded much in the way of wheat.

This is the first in a series of posts titled "How NZ High School Works". My aim is to break down the structure of secondary education for those who grew up with the American education system. The information about New Zealand education that is published on the internet is confusing at best, indecipherable at worst, and there doesn't yet exist any information geared specifically toward an American audience. In this series I hope to explain some of the basics of the system and lay out what outsiders need to know to start their study of education in New Zealand.  The information presented here is simply what I've managed to glean from my forays into public documents and my few years of experience here.  Please forgive any misinformation that might slip into any article in the series.  I'll try to make sure that my information is as accurate as possible.

Part I: The Overall Structure

Students in New Zealand experience basically the same educational trajectory that American students experience. They go through a period of exploration and social growth at a very young age, then learn the basics of language and math with applications in social studies and science topics. They enter a period of enhanced freedom before high school where they are allowed to manage themeselves more independently while getting the support structures that they need from attentive teachers. In their final years they more or less take the reins of their own education and navigate a catalog of required and optional classes that will eventually lead them to a certification. With this certification they head off into whichever direction the magnatism of the Earth pulls them.

Within this general trajectory are subtle differences that ultimately give a New Zealand child a much different experience than that of an American child.

Children in New Zealand begin school at the age of 5. This means that on their 5th birthday they get to go to school. This could be late in the academic year or early in the year, but it happens on their birthday. According to law the NZ education system is required to provide all children ages 5-16 with 180 days of school per year.  This is changing and will soon expand to cover students aged 5-18 years.  Legally all of these students must be supervised or involved in a structured program during his/her school's operating hours.  

Most children have access to early childhood education (ECE) centres.  These are called Kindergarten and are the American equivalent of pre-school.  Many of these centres get federal funding and thus the staff who run them must hold certifications in ECE.  From what I've learned these certifications are as thorough and involved as those held by other teachers.  
From the age of 5 students then move from Kindy (another short-hand version of Kindergarten) to Primary school (Elementary School).  They are placed in a full day programme in Year 1 of the curriculum.  

New Zealand refers to class levels as years, so Kindergarten in the US is the same thing as Year 1 in New Zealand.  First Grade is Year 2, Second Grade is Year 3 and so on up the line.  These students have a school day that begins around 9 am and goes until 3 pm.  They get a 20 minute break in the morning and a 30-40 minute lunch break at around 1 pm.  These students learn the basics of reading, writing and math within the context of larger units, much in the same manner of US students.  The vast majority of these schools are uniformed and nearly all are co-ed.  They learn all of their subjects from one teacher and stay in one classroom for the full day.  They get PE regularly and rotate through optional subjects like art as the school sees fit.  Very few of these primary schools offer music; there is no such thing as a Primary or General Music teacher.

Once students reach Years 7 and 8 they enter what is called Intermediate School.  Unlike American middle schools or junior high schools, these students do not adopt the traditional high school bell schedule.  Intermediate school looks, for the most part, just like primary school.  Students are still taught by one teacher all day and stay in one classroom within a co-ed context.  They go through math hour, then a regiment of punctuation and grammar and handwriting before morning tea (New Zealand's equivalent of recess) at 10:30.  Students then come back for practice with reading or some other sort of science-based activity.  At this level they begin to study Maori language and culture in more depth and are expected to work on larger projects that take days to complete.  This is where they begin to learn independence in academics.  They don't learn time management skills at the same level as American students, however; Kiwi intermediate students work in one classroom all day and don't have to plan out which books to prepare, when to be at a different location, etc.  The social structure of the groups looks very much like upper-elementary groupings, with most students opting to spend time with others of their same gender.  Little teasing between genders is seen in the classroom, but lots of mixed-gender project work is generated from seating arrangements (also controlled by the teacher and not the students).

In Year 9 students make the jump to secondary education model.  This jump involves adjusting to bells, class schedules and the levels of responsibility and accountability that most American students learn in middle school.  Most secondary schools are uniformed and nearly half of the New Zealand secondary schools are single sex.  Students can progress through Year 13 before leaving for University, although some leave in Year 12 to pursue apprenticeships or two-year degree programmes at trade schools.  

A note here on terminology is needed for clarity's sake.  The old secondary system, Bursary, referred to Years as Forms.  Beginning at the current Year 7 age, students were categorised as Form 1 (Year 7) up through Form 7 (Year 13).  Many schools still use the Form label when referring to a students level of academic study in secondary school.  I prefer to use the Year label as it seems to be the direction many schools and teachers are heading in their choice of lingo.  It also clears up my daily interactions with other teachers surrounding one period of the day called Form Period.  This is America's version of home room and is a short period of the day dedicated to reading out notices, passing out forms, homework checks and so on.

High school is divided into two phases: Junior school and Senior school.  Junior school comprises Years 9 and 10 and covers basic academic skills in English, math, science, social studies, PE, and a rotating elective line.  This is loosely termed "technology" and can include anything from drama to media to wood working to music to food technology.  The aim of this block is to give students a sound knowledge of the basics before allowing them to specialise in Senior school.  Senior school covers Years 11-13 and is the period in which students begin to explore their options for their lives after high school.  All students have to take English, maths and a science of some variety.  Depending on their post-secondary aspirations they pick and choose which courses will get them the proper certification.  

Senior school is also where students begin taking NCEA or Cambridge classes.  Not every school offers both, but all except one offers NCEA.  The school I teach in offers both, but restricts who may enter which pathway.  These are two different curricula that give students access to a secondary certification similar to a High School Diploma.  

NCEA is a New Zealand developed system that is designed to work with local tertiary programs.  The Cambridge curriculum is based on the UK secondary curriculum and is targeted at those students wanting to study abroad after high school.  Both deliver the same basic skills, but Cambridge eventually narrows to just four core subjects (English, math, science, history) as a means of preparing students for highly academic tertiary programmes.  NCEA offers a wider range of courses including hard and soft materials, hospitality, health and physical education, business studies, economics, accounting, te reo Maori, and a host of others.  In both NCEA and Cambridge systems, students must pass certain classes in order to earn a certificate.  NCEA students earn credits and can earn a variety of certificates based on how many credits they earn at the three levels of NCEA study: Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3.  Cambridge is an all-or-nothing system like the US's: you must take a series of courses to the end of the line, and only then will you earn your degree.  In both systems, social promotion as an accepted practice and course content is catered to both the academic and social needs of the student group.  I will post other articles in the future further detailing the nuances of the NCEA and Cambridge systems.

The school day for secondary school is very similar to that of the younger Kiwi students.  High schools generally begin at 8:45 am and end at 3:10.  Many students come to school before classes or stay late to practice sports, music or other group activities.  For the most part sports teams do not train five days per week as in the US.  Top teams usually train 2-3 days per week and compete on weekends.  Very few competitions occur during the week, with most taking place on Saturday.

About half of New Zealand males leave school by the end of Year 12 to attend two-year programs in trade schools, or take up apprenticeships.  The other half have their eyes set on a four-year diploma through one of New Zealand's universities.  This is a well established trend that has been strengthened over the last few years by feedback from the business sector.  Most employers claim that they do not prefer employees with university degrees, but instead competent workers with a sound work ethic and some relevant experience, be it in the classroom or the workplace.  As opposed to US employers, who seem firmly acclimated to a workforce flush with degrees and diplomas in every subject under the sun, New Zealanders still very much see work and life experience as equally valuable as advanced education.  

There is one thing that Year 13 students have in common with the American high school senior; most view their last year of high school as a significant accomplishment and relish the last year of what they come to regard as their childhood.  While some here stay on just long enough to finish out their last Rugby season and then sign out, most attempt to enjoy their friends and school community as much as they can...before they have to leave.