Volunteering as a School Assistant in New Zealand
Written by: Catie Brownlow
In my placement I was working as a Teaching Assistant in a girls’ high school in the small town of Oamaru, New Zealand. My duties were split between working in the classrooms at school and working in the boarding house, where I was also living. A typical day would involve starting work at 7am, preparing breakfast for the students and making sure they were all awake on time! Then I would head over to school and go to the classes where my help was needed. This could involve devising games for a PE class, giving a student with special needs some 1:1 support in a Social Studies class, or ensuring that the students weren’t making too much mess in their Food Tech classes!
There was usually some admin work to be done for the teachers or the school office too, such as creating certificates or displays, uniform stock-taking or money counting, which I would do in a free period. After school I had a couple of hours of leisure time, which I would often spend in town or meeting up with the other Lattitude volunteers nearby. Then it was back to work at 6pm to serve dinner and then supervise the students during prep until 8.15pm, making sure they were being quiet and calm and focussing on their homework – not always an easy task! The days were never dull and it was great to be kept busy. I was given a wide variety of tasks by the teachers and staff, which made me feel like I was making a really valuable contribution to the school.
I hadn’t worked with children before and so my placement really helped me to discover what fun it can be to interact with young people. I learnt how to think on my feet and problem solve, how to give guidance to a student needing help and how to embrace a culture that is different from my own.
The best thing about being a volunteer was building really strong bonds with the students I was working with and living alongside. Seeing them progress throughout the year was wonderful and being there to help them when they needed it, give advice or just to teach them where the UK was on the map was really rewarding!
Being able to pass on some of my own skills was also fantastic. During my placement I became involved with the school choir, teaching them some songs I’d learnt in the UK and conducting them during performances at the school and in the local community. Looking at their little faces whilst they sang a song I’d taught them made me feel so proud!
The town I was living in was not too different from where I grew up in the UK. It was a small town, but quite busy, and the surrounding area was mostly made up of farms and agricultural land. But at the same time it also felt very different. What stood out for me about New Zealand was just how remote it is. You can drive for miles and miles and not even come across another town, which I think is part of its beauty. So much of the landscape is untouched and is so breath-taking it’s hard to turn your eyes away!
My experience in New Zealand really made me appreciate the land that I’ve been brought up in and its proximity to the rest of Europe and the world. Many of the children I worked with had never left the South Island, let alone New Zealand. It made me realise that I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to travel and explore as much of the world as I have and that’s something I won’t forget.
My placement has really shown me the importance of education and what an amazing experience it is to teach children and so I have now decided to train as a primary school teacher. I am currently completing my applications for this and hope to begin a PGCE in September. Who knows, maybe I’ll be heading back to New Zealand as a fully qualified teacher in the not so distant future…