A Long Way to Go

By Elizabeth Schulz — February 01, 1993 28 min read

As Ellen Silverman quietly enters teacher Felicity Bothamley’s classroom at Mt. Cook School, the children are stretched out on their backs, scattered like pickup sticks on the floor. The deep, rich voices of a men’s choir fill the room from a phonograph in the corner. Silverman jots notes in her journal.

Bothamley quietly asks the students to sit up. With their eyes still closed, they massage their temples and foreheads.

The teacher then gathers the children, now calm and settled, around an abstract painting—a great swirl of blue paint on a yellow background. She wants her 7- and 8-year-old students to write a caption for the artwork, but first she asks them what a caption is. A boy mutters something about seeing a caption on a tree. Instead of dismissing the remark, Bothamley encourages the student to explain. “In the park the other day,” he tells the class, “I saw a metal plate below a tree that told what kind of tree it was.”

That the boy’s remark is valued—even though it isn’t exactly what the teacher expects—is not lost on Ellen Silverman. In fact, it is just the kind of exchange that the 1st grade teacher has flown 9,000 miles, from her Yaphank, N.Y., home to New Zealand, to witness.

A whole language teacher, frustrated by her school’s emphasis on textbooks, sequenced curricula, and tests, Silverman has traveled all this way to visit classrooms where students come first. In New Zealand, the entire national school system practices the educational philosophy she believes in.

Silverman suspects that Bothamley’s relaxation exercise would be frowned upon in many American schools, but it fills a specific need at Mt. Cook School, which is in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. Many of the students at the inner-city elementary school come from troubled families; the exercise, Bothamley explains, helps them get settled, so they can focus on learning.

I met Ellen Silverman last summer when I joined 34 educators on a tour of New Zealand’s education system. A writer for Teacher Magazine, I wanted to experience the foreign system through the eyes of an American schoolteacher, so I asked Silverman if I could room with her and record her experience. It was a felicitous choice, for what we saw together provided a stark contrast to her teaching situation in the United States.

In one of our first bull sessions, Silverman recounted in her gruff New Yorker’s voice what it has been like to be a whole language teacher trapped in a traditional school. Her principal allows her to innovate in the classroom because parents don’t complain and her students do well. But Silverman’s philosophy isolates her professionally. Her fellow teachers, who haul stacks of work sheets into the lounge at lunch time, don’t share her conviction that students learn best through immersion in real reading and writing and by working in small groups on interdisciplinary projects.

She told me that the very structure of the school day—designed by consensus among the rest of the teaching staff—keeps her from teaching the way she thinks is best. Four years ago, her principal divided all of the children by ability and divvied them up among teachers for an hour of homogeneous reading instruction. Each year since then, the staff has voted to continue the practice. And each year, Silverman’s frustration grows. “I believe reading and writing are connected,” she told me. “I don’t like to think of them as separate subjects.”

She asked the principal to make an exception for her. “Let the other teachers do as they wish, but let me have all my students all day long,” she pleaded. He said no. Although she loves the community and the school, she asked for a transfer. Her request was denied.

“Basically, his logic was, ‘Why don’t you just teach whole language the rest of the day?’ as if it’s something you can turn on and off,” she said sadly. “It’s not just a way to teach a subject; it’s in your heart.”

New Zealand, with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, has created an educational system that incorporates many reforms now being suggested for American schools—a national curriculum that supports the whole language approach to teaching, centralized funding for schools, teacher education that emphasizes classroom experience, and site-based management of schools.

Unlike the United States, which is characterized by state and local control of schools and where federal funding accounts for less than 10 percent of most school budgets, New Zealand has a central governing body, the Ministry of Education, which coordinates the curriculum, funding, and teacher training for the nation.

For all the power the ministry wields, however, it doesn’t seem to control teachers and schools. Instead, it builds consensus and organizes national initiatives.

Although the roughly 2,500 public schools in New Zealand are fully funded by the ministry—its budget is more than $5 billion— schools and the communities they serve decide how to spend their money. In essence, the ministry grants every school a charter based on federal guidelines that allow some variation among schools. Block grants are distributed to schools based on the number of students enrolled, with extra funding going to schools in low-income areas. School councils—made up of the principal, a staff representative, and a parent majority—write and administer each school’s budget.

According to Barbara Mabbett, spokeswoman for New Zealand’s Ministry of Education, the ministry is committed “to structuring school around what New Zealanders think their children should know and be able to do.” In 1984, the national curriculum, a document that paints in broad strokes the educational philosophy and curriculum goals for the entire country, needed to be updated. The ministry crafted six questions about the purpose of schooling and the roles and responsibilities of teachers and students and passed them out to parents and schools. To reach the greatest number of New Zealanders, the ministry arranged to have the surveys printed on place mats in McDonald’s restaurants. More than 20,000 people responded, many with long and passionate comments. The ministry drafted a revised curriculum that incorporated the survey results and then distributed it for further comment.

The new national curriculum doesn’t tell teachers how to run their classes, but it does emphasize that the schools are for the students and should be organized to give them access to the skills and understanding they need to participate effectively and productively in society. The curriculum embodies many facets of what teachers in the United States call whole language. School learning is meant to be relevant. Class projects should illuminate for students the interconnectedness of subjects. And, whenever possible, students should be given choices and responsibility for their own education.

To help teachers translate the national curriculum for their classroom, the ministry prepared broad syllabi in the subject areas. But it didn’t stop there; it asked teachers of each grade level and subject area what classroom materials would help them fulfill the curriculum guidelines. The resounding reply from early grade reading teachers boiled down to this: We need compelling books with magical, fast-moving plots and lots of information.

So the ministry of education—acting much like a book publisher—put out a national call for manuscripts, advertising in magazines and newspapers and informing the writers’ guild. From the 7,000 manuscripts it received, 6,000 were quickly eliminated. After multiple readings, ministry officials narrowed the remaining pile to 200, which they printed in draft form and distributed to teachers.

Teachers were asked not only to read the books but also to use them in class and make detailed notes about how effective they were for reading aloud, independent reading, and peer reading for children of various ability levels. From the results, the ministry published 60 books with a coding system that incorporated the teachers’ recommendations. Schools were given free sets of the series, called “Ready to Read,” based on their enrollments. The ministry also distributed a list of 300 other trade books that teachers recommended for classroom use.

Development of curricular materials for other subject areas and grade levels followed the same process. Instead of guessing what teachers would need to fulfill the curriculum guidelines, or assuming that publishers would create what teachers need, the ministry asked teachers themselves what they wanted.

The national music curriculum, for example, says students should learn to create, re-create, and appreciate music. But some nonmusical teachers didn’t feel prepared to teach children how to create music. So the ministry gathered music experts and teachers to develop a booklet that describes composition, standard notation, alternative ways of notating, and suggested classroom activities.

I sat with Ellen Silverman as she paged through one of the books. She studied it, nodding periodically. “They start at the root—What is going to make children learn?—and work from there,” she tells me. “This hasn’t happened in the United States on a national level yet.”

As a result, she insists, what we’ve ended up with is a curriculum by default, one created by textbook publishers who produce materials that they think teachers want and that they think will sell. “In the States, educators feel like they are making decisions because we get to see X number of basal readers or math books, and we get to decide which one we like best. We are never asked what is going to work,” she complains, punching out each word for emphasis. “I know how I can get my children to learn. I need writing notebooks and tons of real books.”

Although Silverman teaches in a well-off district, she doesn’t have access to these basic materials. When she asked her principal for money to buy trade books instead of English texts, he said no. “New Zealand teachers are told, ‘This is what we have all agreed needs to be done; what materials will support you in this endeavor?’” she says. “I want trade books. I have told people that, but I can’t have it.”

Would a national curriculum solve the problem? Silverman is dubious. She’s not sure it is possible to create an effective national curriculum without first reaching a consensus about how children learn and the role schools and teachers should play. “I don’t think there is consensus in the United States about how children learn,” she says.

With its long, ranch-house style, the Tawa School, just outside of Wellington, looks more like another neighborhood home than a school building. Only the large concrete yard with the bike rack and white lines for games reveals its true identity.

Tawa’s size—240 students and 13 teachers—is typical of New Zealand’s early grade schools. It serves a primarily disadvantaged population, but the surrounding neighborhood looks more like middle America than a low-income ghetto.

As we approach a small yellow meeting house adjacent to the school, we can hear children chanting. Through a dark doorway, we see them swaying back and forth as they sing a traditional Maori greeting. The culture of the Maori, the indigenous population that makes up nearly 20 percent of the school population, is protected by an 1840 treaty—an agreement that New Zealanders have begun to take very seriously in the past 10 years. Schools, for example, must offer instruction in the Maori language to any child, Maori or otherwise, who wants to learn it. As a result, Maori culture has a place in most classrooms.

Inside the wooden meeting house, young boys and girls speak to us in both Maori and English. A dozen students step forward to form a receiving line. As we file past, they take our hands, pull us toward their upturned faces, and, with closed eyes, let their noses touch ours. A Maori elder explains later: “The physical part that makes up your body is only a part of you—and not even the most important part. The energy part, the metaphysical part, is what the Maori value and greet.” Life’s focus, according to Maori lore, is located between the eye, in the lobes of the brain. The area most sensitive for communication is the end of the nose. As you rub noses, you become one of the group; you share, momentarily, life’s breath.

After the ceremony, the children stream out of the building in pairs, holding hands. When they get to the yard, they are released for morning tea. Clutching chips and sandwiches, they come over to tell us that they think their teachers are wonderful.

Silverman is moved by the ceremony; she marvels at the melding of European and Maori cultures. “In the States,” she says, “unfortunately, in too many cases, cultural sharing seems to be limited to an event or a certain month.”

Teachers relax on the front porch with a cup of tea. One tells us about “Beginning School Mathematics,” the elementary school math program developed by the ministry working in concert with teachers. She has only been using the manipulative-oriented program for a few years, but she is enthusiastic. “The students don’t use any numbers as symbols until they are about 8 years old,” she explains. “They talk about relationships; they get the ideas behind math. As they play with the brightly colored puzzles and games, they don’t even know they are learning.”

In the afternoon, Silverman and I enter a New Zealand classroom for the first time at the suburban Papakowhai (pronounced pa-pa-ko-FI) School. Two classes share one large, open space, a design found in roughly 30 percent of the country’s early grade schools. In Ruth Henry’s classroom, children’s work decorates the walls. It is bathed in natural light from frosted windows embedded in the ceiling. The rafters are painted black, giving the room a log-cabin feel.

Henry calls her 34 8-, 9-, and 10-year-olds to the center of the room to make sure everyone knows what he or she should be doing. Smartly dressed in a red woolen dress and muted scarf, Henry sets up the parameters for group work. “Are we allowed to talk?” she asks.

“Yes,” they reply.

“We learn when we talk,” she affirms. “But remember that some children will be trying to listen.”

Four girls set off together to research a fact about space so they can add something to the class mural on the solar system. One thinks that either Jupiter or Uranus is tilted on its axis but isn’t sure which one, so she has to look it up. Other students grab paint brushes to illustrate their science knowledge. Still others pair off to read books about space to each other.

Project work based on a theme is a trademark of whole language classrooms in both New Zealand and the United States. As the students work, the teacher moves among clusters of students, asking them questions, challenging them to think, giving them lessons on skills as needed.

Henry sits down with one boy to review his journal. Before she edits his writing, she asks him to find his own mistakes. He picks out most of the words that have “invented” spelling. She writes the correct spelling for him and then points out that he has a possessive noun and gives him a quick lesson on apostrophes.

Ellen Silverman walks around the room, taking notes and pictures and muttering statements like “this is great.”

After the lesson, we ask Henry if the students are using the “Ready to Read” books. She confesses that she uses them with only some students; what she relies on most heavily is The School Journal, a compilation of top-notch writing for children on a wide range of subjects. As it does with “Ready to Read,” the ministry sends the periodical to schools free of charge. “It’s the kind of thing teachers clutch to their bosoms,” says Henry, who uses an index to the journal to create thematic lessons. The index groups stories, plays, and poems by theme and ability level. This enables Henry to pick a topic—such as space—and individualize the readings. Silverman looks over Henry’s shoulder as she turns the pages, envy in her eyes.

When we inquire about “Beginning School Mathematics,” also known as BSM, Henry suggests we visit another class. As Silverman and I cross the courtyard formed by the three buildings that make up Papakowhai, she explains why she envies Ruth Henry. “What I like is that you don’t have to use the ministry’s resources or use them the way the government tells you to use them,” she says. “The teachers seem to be really valued as professionals. They are given materials, and they make their own decisions about what to do with them.”

As we enter the classroom, a glance at the 6- and 7-year-olds tells us BSM is in full swing. Four students make geometric shapes by stretching rubber bands across pegs on a board. Children at a table draw pictures using cardboard circles, squares, and triangles. One boy weighs household objects on a scale, guided by a sheet that asks, for example, if a cork is heavier than a paper clip. Six students stand in line by height and answer the teacher’s questions about who is first, second, and third in line and who is standing between whom.

Ellen Silverman and I will see variations of these lessons as we visit other schools during our journey, but this scene captures the essence of BSM. The students work with objects to become familiar with relationships that underlie mathematical concepts. They work through the activities at their own pace, coached and tested by the teacher as they progress.

After school, Kevin Win, the principal of Papakowhai, tells us that teachers are not required to use BSM. They can use parts of it or develop something different, but most find that it is so good they have difficulty coming up with something better. This freewheeling attitude works, he says, because “the basic philosophy about education is shared.”

The Pukete School, in Hamilton, is locked on the weekends. But Gail Roberton—an early grade teacher Ellen Silverman and I will be spending the next three school days with—wants to give us a chance to poke around her classroom without the students present. We are in luck. In New Zealand, every teacher has a key to his or her school, a privilege many American teachers, Silverman included, don’t enjoy.

Roberton’s room, which she shares with Jenny Giles, another early grade teacher, is about four times the size of the average U.S. classroom and has huge windows on two sides. Three activity centers—an art area with easels and paints, a play grocery store and kitchen, and a reading center with floor-to ceiling bookshelves and big pillows on colorful mattresses— surround a large, open space where the two classes meet and a few scattered tables where students write. Silverman walks around the room, touching a bureau-sized wooden stand that displays a book and examining a wall hanging that holds a set of cards, lettered A to Z, listing words frequently used in journal writing at this age.

“I’m going to have to redesign my whole classroom,” Silverman mutters. “I’ll have to bring in a bookcase and buy furniture.”

She turns to Roberton. “You don’t know how lucky you are to have all this.”

After walking us through the room, Roberton describes the way she plans her lessons. She tells us, for example, that the skills she wants to emphasize in a particular week dictate which books she will read aloud to the class. And since New Zealand doesn’t use standardized tests, Roberton explains how she assesses her students. First, she shows us the descriptive forms, required by the ministry, that follow students through their school years. Then she describes how she collects data on her students’ progress: While Giles reads to both classes, Roberton takes a few children aside and asks them to read and talk to her and to demonstrate which BSM activities they have mastered.

Slouched in a tiny child’s chair, Silverman listens with a grim look on her face. “I teach all alone in my classroom,” she tells Roberton, shaking her head. “And my fellow teachers don’t share my approach to teaching. I couldn’t find anyone in my school to collaborate like this.” Silverman asks Roberton how she would manage if she didn’t have a teaching partner. How, for example, would she find time to assess her students?

“I couldn’t do it,” Roberton says. “It would be very difficult.”

It’s a chilly 45 degrees outside, but many of the children in the courtyard at Pukete School are playing barefoot as they wait for the school day to begin. A handful of students tromps into Gail Roberton’s classroom. Their faces, ruddy from the winter wind, betray their pleasure at learning they have arrived early enough to write one-on-one with their teacher. “Mrs. Roberton,” a girl in a purple sweat suit says, “my sister Jessica learned how to walk this weekend!”

Roberton helps the girl get the story down on paper as the rest of the students trickle in. They find their journals and begin writing, pausing occasionally to look up the spelling of a word or to ask a fellow student a question. A half-dozen parents wander freely in and out of the classroom, getting their children settled and chatting with each other. Roberton continues to work closely with the girl and a few other children. Each student gets this kind of attention at least once a week.

Silverman wonders what keeps the students working so well on their own. Later, Roberton explains that the children want to work—they want to express themselves—and that she has structured her classroom so that nothing prevents them from doing so. Writing is one way Roberton lets her students express themselves—but it’s not the only way. Later in the morning, for example, the class breaks into “buzz groups,” made up of four or five students who sit together on the floor and talk.

Silverman is impressed. “Sometimes a child has something on his or her mind and can’t get past it to attend to the work of the day,” she says. “Giving the child a chance to talk to people who are going to listen can be very valuable.”

After a half-hour of free writing, Roberton and Giles call both classes to the center of the room. The children sit close to each other on the floor, facing their teachers. Roberton has her arm around a worried-looking girl who is kneading her hands nervously.

“Let’s welcome a new student to Pukete School,” Roberton says. “This is Muffy, and it’s her birthday today.” Although children in New Zealand aren’t required to attend school until their 6th birthday, most children actually start school on the day they turn 5. This New Zealand ritual makes starting school a celebration, and it gives teachers the chance to welcome each student individually into the class. Today, the students give Muffy a birthday card and sing to her. Then she joins the class on the floor.

Students come together like this several times a day—to hear a book read aloud, to listen to classmates read from their journals, and to practice skills.

Silverman and I spend many hours talking about the schools and teachers we are visiting. For Silverman, it’s a real high to see her educational ideals embraced and put into practice. But it also has a downside.

“In the first classroom I went into,” she tells me, “my first reaction was, ‘Oh my God, and I thought I was close to having a whole language classroom.’ I was overwhelmed. I wondered, ‘How could I possibly do all this?’ It was an almost depressing feeling.”

Watching her New Zealand counterparts go through their daily routines, Silverman realizes how little of the school day is in her control. Most of her students are shuffled off to another teacher for an hour of reading instruction and a half-hour of art or music each day. An hour is lost to lunch and snack time, and it takes about 20 minutes for her students to settle down between tasks. The principal requires Silverman to give her students written homework every night, and about 20 minutes a day are used up assigning and reviewing it. Finally, a half-hour on Mondays and Fridays is spent administering spelling tests—another required activity that she wouldn’t choose to do.

Out of a six-hour school day, Silverman figures she has roughly three hours for math, journal writing, writers’ workshop, reading, science, and social studies—the activities she believes most help her students learn. But now she has all these new ideas. She wants to add buzz groups and have her students read aloud from their journals in front of the class. “It’s not possible under these conditions,” she says, her voice shrill with anger. “I don’t think there is a way.”

As we continue to talk, however, Silverman begins to see that she shouldn’t let herself get so discouraged. After all, teachers in New Zealand have been working at this for a long time, and they are widely supported in what they do. Given the size of her classroom, the materials available, her background, and the philosophy of her administration and fellow teachers, Silverman realizes that she has actually come a long way.

“Maybe if I had seen this three years ago, I would be further along,” she says. “I’ve got to stop beating myself up.”

The desks are arranged in a complete circle. Most of the students are bent over their notebooks, writing independently. Some confer quietly. The teacher is off to the side, coaching students. One student hands a classmate a copy of her writing for comment. She asks him, “Have you published your work yet?”

We are not in a schoolroom but observing Professor T.J. McNamara’s writing class at Auckland Teachers College.

The symmetry between New Zealand’s schools and its colleges of education is an important ingredient in making the nation’s education system work. According to Erin Slattery, an education reporter for The Waikato Times, two things account for the coherence of teaching in the country’s schools—the materials provided by the Ministry of Education and teacher training. For the past 20 years, schools of education have been turning out teachers who know how to run a student-centered classroom.

The tennis courts, palm trees, volcanic hills, and cream stucco dormitories of Auckland Teachers College give the campus both an exotic and collegiate feel. Walking down the halls of the college, there is no question what the students here study; the walls are plastered with children’s writing and artwork as well as poems and pictures that children would find captivating. Students here are truly immersed in the real world of school.

The first component of teacher training at Auckland is instruction in subject matter, but that is paired with a hardheaded emphasis on teaching teachers to teach. Most of the education professors at the college are seasoned teachers, plucked straight from the schools with little additional training. And many continue to teach schoolchildren while they train future teachers.

These professors use the same methods in their college classrooms that they’ve used for years in the schools. By practicing what they preach, they give their college students a taste of what it’s like to be a student in a child-centered, whole language classroom. Their credo: Do unto prospective teachers what you would have them do to their students.

McNamara’s writing class is a good example of this “trickle down” theory of teacher education. The session is individually paced—just as it would be in a child-centered classroom. When the students are done writing, they can read one of the children’s books on display in the classroom. Later, McNamara goes over his student’s writing. He is teaching them two lessons: How to make positive comments and how it feels to get them.

McNamara even uses the bulletin boards to teach lessons. On the back wall, for example, he has hung copies of a weekly column he writes for The New Zealand Herald and, next to them, his rough drafts with penned edits. It’s a small detail, but it shows students how editing can improve writing and how to establish a classroom environment where writing is valued.

It was immersion into just such a setting that turned Silverman into a whole language teacher. But it didn’t happen until 1987, after she had been teaching for 26 years. What got her on track, she says, was a week-long seminar on whole language. “I got hooked on whole language and writing process by being in that kind of environment as a student,” she tells me. “It is wonderful, it is exciting, you feel yourself growing, and you want to do that for your children. I wouldn’t be teaching whole language now if I hadn’t taken those workshops and actually felt what it can be like to be a student in that kind of class.”

Prospective teachers in New Zealand do learn some theory, but, for the most part, courses are designed to be “useful,” to help students become effective teachers. This, too, is reflected in McNamara’s classroom. At the beginning of each semester, he asks his students to jot down some questions they might need to answer as first-year teachers. These questions—which accurately reflect the complexities of teaching—become topics for writing and discussion. They are prominently displayed on a bulletin board: “How do you keep children of different levels at a similar pace?” “How long should lessons be for each subject and level?” “Do younger children cling to you and how do you deal with it?” “How do you control dominant children and, on the other hand, not stunt their learning and limit their development?”

Because the professors at Auckland are all experienced, if not practicing, classroom teachers, they are able to create real-life exercises for their students. I watch one professor, Jackie Mason, teach a lesson that is drawn entirely from her years of teaching. Mason’s goal is to show the prospective teachers how to assess children’s journal writing. First, she hands out real samples of children’s writing for groups of students to analyze. The students collaborate, then make presentations. A young woman from one group displays the writing of a child on an overhead projector and relays the group’s analysis. “The child writes in incomplete sentences,” she points out, “but clusters supporting ideas around a main idea. He uses invented spelling but uses some spelling consistently. The story contains a tense change.”

At this point, Mason, who taught the child for a year, describes what the boy was really like. He had a vivid imagination and was articulate, which, she notes, accounts for the complex story line. But the child was a poor reader, so he was behind in spelling and grammar. The tense change, she says, is nothing to worry about. That and the mixture of small and capital letters—which the students didn’t notice—are normal in young children’s writing. She also draws their attention to the child’s invented spelling for “net”—“knet.” The class hypothesizes that he may have generalized his knowledge of the spelling of words like “know.”

New Zealanders believe that students can’t learn how to teach without spending a lot of time in real schools. Thus, the students at Auckland have two two- to four-week teaching experiences each term. The classroom teachers who serve as their mentors are considered associate professors at the college.

As we prepare to head back to the United States, Silverman reflects on some of the more important lessons she has learned during her two weeks in New Zealand, starting with our most recent visit to the teachers college. Most education schools in the United States don’t prepare teachers in this way, she asserts, and many teachers don’t have access to thought-provoking in-service training. “A lot of traditional teachers have not taken a course in years,” she says. “They have not gone to a workshop, they have not gone to a conference, and they really don’t know what is going on. It’s easy for them to bury their heads in the sand and go on with the way they have always been doing things.”

New Zealand is able to prepare prospective teachers for what they will find in the schools, in part because the country has a national educational philosophy and curriculum and a common set of assessment requirements and teaching materials. These are things, Silverman insists, that reformers in the United States should think more about.

But even these aspects of the system don’t explain the different tone she has felt in all the schools we’ve visited. “There is much more of a family atmosphere,” she says, trying to get a handle on it. “The teachers seem to really know the children. There is a warmth that just exudes.”

I ask her where it comes from. “Maybe it starts in the staff lounge,” she replies. “It looks like a living room. The chairs are comfortable. You don’t have this long conference table. It doesn’t look stark and cold. It’s a place you want to be. You sit there and you are comfortable and relaxed.”

She mentions, also, the 10 a.m. tea break—a 15-minute ritual in every school we visited. The children play outside supervised by one teacher, and the rest of the staff retires to the faculty lounge for tea, cheese, and crackers.

But, of course, it’s what goes on in the classroom that is most important. “Maybe the children are just not given the opportunity to lose their self-respect,” Silverman says. “They don’t get lost in a sea of children. It happens from being able to express themselves; it happens from writing every day and knowing that what they write means something.

“In New Zealand,” she continues, “the educators, the professors, and the Ministry of Education know about and care about how children learn. They actually think about that when they decide what is good for the children.”

In the United States, this is too often not the case, she says. “It’s dangerous sometimes to speak out about things like this. I’m not trying to say that American teachers don’t care about their students. I’m saying that too many other things get in their way.”

She struggles to put her concern into words. “Somehow in the United States, the scores and papers and work became more important than the child—and that hurts. That always hurt me. And now I see that it really could be another way.”

The educational tour of New Zealand was led by Miriam Thomas, a former teacher and native New Zealander. She will lead her eighth such tour next summer, from July 9-26. Contact Miriam Thomas, 5 Park Place, Rochester, NY 14625; (716) 586 6251.
A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 1993 edition of Teacher as A Long Way to Go