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June 5, 2018

From New Zealand, a Fresh Perspective on Teaching

Stephanie Acierno missed the opportunity to walk across the stage at graduation last year when she received her master’s degree in adolescent education from Adelphi’s Ruth S. Ammon School of Education. Instead, she had a different kind of celebration.

“We had a dinner at one of the only Greek restaurants in New Zealand,” said Acierno, who is 26 and from Deer Park, Long Island. She had taken three months to teach abroad at the Taradale High School in Napier, New Zealand, on that country’s North Island. She stayed with a host family, who were Greek.

The whole time, Acierno said, she felt embraced by her community while she learned about cultures she hadn’t encountered and immersed herself in a style of schooling that differs from the way things are done in the United States.

While the education is rigorous, she said, the pace is decidedly slower.

“Every morning, we have our first class for an hour and then tea for 40 minutes,” Acierno said. During that time, faculty members met for a hot beverage and cookies, while socializing and preparing for the rest of the school day. Students spent that time freely, too.

Acierno taught students in Year 9, Year 10 and Year 11, which correspond with grades eight through 10 in the U.S. system. In New Zealand, as in other school systems based on the British system, there’s no kindergarten, and students attend school through Year 13.

One of the first cultural differences she noticed was the way she talks about her own ethnicity, compared to how it was understood by her hosts. Acierno routinely tells people she’s Italian, meaning her cultural and ethnic heritage traces back to Italy.

“But over there, they said, ‘But you’re American. Why don’t you speak Italian?'” She said that in making herself understood, she learned about how other cultures view ethnicity and national origin.

She taught an English class, which began with 10 minutes of independent reading.

“I never had to tell them to open their books to start—they just did it,” she said. Some classes were structured like free-flowing debates, with Acierno as the facilitator, and some were lectures. Either way, the students were open to new ideas.

She also taught film studies, which helps students learn to “read” films and analyze them as if they were written texts. She said the most challenging part of that was getting students to shed their preconceived notions about a film and try to experience it with new eyes.

Likewise, she said, studying abroad gave her the opportunity to look at her profession with a new perspective and gave her a deeper understanding of what she hopes to achieve. She plans to bring what she learned abroad to the classroom once she lands a full-time teaching position. She is currently working as a substitute teacher at General Douglas MacArthur High School, part of the Levittown Public Schools on Long Island. In the fall and winter sports seasons of the next school year, she will be coaching a kick-line team at Division Avenue High School in Levittown.

Besides expanding her professional horizons, Acierno said she was thrilled by the opportunity to travel for her education and that there are more global treks in her future.


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