In New Zealand, substitute teachers are called relief teachers. I came in assuming that the positions were virtually the same, but discovered that the expectations for relief teachers are slightly different from what I was used to as a substitute teacher back home in Canada. I have been told it is quite common for classroom teachers to take a leave of absence without providing any plans, activities, or direction for the relief teacher, and as a result of this, relief teachers must be prepared to step in and lead a whole day’s worth of learning activities for students.
With this in mind, I headed to my first relieving assignment at an all-girls school, prepared with some backup activities in the areas of math, English, and social studies. With competencies in a number of areas, I figured that pretty much whatever subject I was given, I could at least teach something or help the students with their work. Of all the possible subject areas, I was teaching Maori that day, the language of the Native peoples here in New Zealand, and what was more, the teacher had left zero plans or instructions for the day.
I quickly recovered from the initial shock of being given a task I felt so unequipped for, and figured the best way to make it through the day would be to get the students, who were obviously the experts in the field, to teach me what they know about the Maori language. I was pleasantly surprised with the eagerness of the students to enlighten me about Maori history and culture, and teach me some Maori phrases. They taught me about the significance and traditions surrounding the Marae, the Maori “place of meeting.” I even learned a couple Maori songs, one of which goes like this:
Ma is white,
Whero is red,
Pango is black, Mango is too,
A, E, I, O, U
Parakaraka is our orange
A, E, I, O, U
The delightful students were also keen to learn about Canada, and were intrigued by the vast size of Canada, as well as the large mall in Edmonton. I was also asked several times if I knew Justin Beiber. Oh teenage girls.
Overall, I would say that the day went over better than expected, and I really enjoyed my experience teaching at an all-girls school. Most girls in the classroom were quite enthusiastic, and I enjoyed the zest with which they wanted to learn and share their learning. Though the day looked a bit scary in the beginning, it turned out to be a great experience, and both sides came away enlightened.