Fulbright in New Zealand
Chapter 3 — Captain of — the Chalkies
" I did not have any clear set of expectations, rather a jumbled array of ideas and impressions, and an eagerness to become involved in as many ways as I could. Consequently I arrived armed with a wide range of educational resources, posters, pamphlets and booklets about New Zealand and New Zealand education. These, supplemented by the curriculum copies and syllabus outlines I brought, the numerous sets of slides depicting aspects of my school in New Zealand, various slides on outdoor education and camping, and the set of filmstrips, Maori tapes, booklets, blown-up photographs, and pre-recorded tapes of New Zealand children singing and speaking, provided me with a formidable arsenal with which to bombard American teachers and students about New Zealand and New Zealand educational patterns. I was also fortunate in enlisting the support of the New Zealand Embassy in Washington, DC, and the consulate in New York into supplying me with numerous posters, plastic souvenirs and tourist pamphlets about New Zealand. I was ready and prepared to launch an all- attack!"
Bill Barrett, Fulbright exchange teacher, 1978
"I have no doubt that the opportunity to teach in the United States not only significantly broadened my general teaching experience, but enhanced my professional competence in a way that first made me a better teacher and second, earned me special recognition within the New Zealand educational system."
Sir Wallace Rowling, Fulbright exchange teacher, 1955
Former Prime Minister Sir Wallace Rowling, who has twice been an ambassador for New Zealand — once as a Fulbright exchange teacher and the second time in an official capacity — is convinced that ‘the professional group with the most potential to produce a positive impact from exchange opportunities are teachers’. He has several reasons for his belief.
Firstly, teachers work with young people, who are receptive to new ideas. Secondly, teachers work with new groups of young people every year, so that the passed-on benefits of the Fulbright experience are almost endless. Teachers, furthermore, are trained both to observe and report accurately on what they see. Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, teachers have a page 40recognised place in the community. They have a high profile, and have much more chance than, say, a research scholar, to meet and talk with the general populace in the area where they work and live.
It was logical that the Foundation should involve itself in some kind of teacher and educational development exchange; the word ‘educational’, is, after all, in the Foundation's name. The three New Zealand teachers in the 1949 programme were at the top of the grading, one of them President of the New Zealand Educational Institute. Although they were teachers, they had short trips in an observing capacity, like the Development Grants that came later. Two-way exchanges, where an attempt was made to match the New Zealand teacher with an American counterpart, began in 1950.
Mary Beard was a Fulbright exchange teacher in 1958:
"My exchange was probably ideal as my exchangee taught in my classroom in New Zealand and lived with my family. She became a very much loved member and a very close contact was kept with her until her death in 1986.
I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had to visit the USA under the scheme. It added immensely to my teaching experience and my international understanding. It opened up so many new horizons. I hope I was able to pass some of this on to my pupils in New Zealand. I'm sure that my US students still remember much about New Zealand. Some students became very interested in New Zealand rugby and developed their own version of the game!"
The Education Boards, which appoint teachers in New Zealand, appear to have preferred direct exchanges; it made things much easier in a time of teacher shortage. On the other hand, however, the heads and school committees often seemed reluctant to risk an exchange teacher, and preferred to ask instead for a long-term reliever for the year that the New Zealand teacher was away. There were times, as Eric Budge commented, when organising a direct exchange was difficult:
"It never bothered me that New Zealand teachers might have to spend a year in a mere village with few attractions. After all, New Zealand was a small place and many of us had grown up in villages. Moreover teachers who wanted any sort of promotion had to do a period of country service. On the other hand, I wouldn't have been able to agree to an arrangement that would have subjected a US teacher to spending a year, say, in Fordell, near Wanganui where I grew up among three or four hundred people. The arrangement would be too much a matter of luck and chance.As things turned out, many of the US teachers were small town people who were shy and took time to get to know people. Some of these elected to stay in the same district for the whole period. But a formal all-over switch to direct exchanges was not really viable because, firstly, local education authorities in both countries would be most reluctant to accept direct exchanges of headmasters, and secondly, we couldn't have justified a page 41system whereby the recommended New Zealanders must come from a school in a town of reasonable size.
Catherine Landreth came to New Zealand on a Fulbright grant in 1959, to conduct research
into pre-school studies at Victoria University. Hers must be one of the most unusual grants
ever. Born in New Zealand in 1899, Catherine went to the States on a fellowship in 1925 and
became an American citizen in 1942. She returns to New Zealand every year, for all her
relatives are here; she has what she terms a 'two-country lifestyle'. When she came to New
Zealand on an American Fulbright grant, the Prime Minister called her ‘still one of us’. The
pre-schoolers thought they knew better, however — they called her the ‘Murrican lady’.
Another problem was that the Department of State and the United States Office of Education had no control over school systems which were controlled theoretically by each State, but practically at a local level. This meant that if exchanges were to be arranged they would have to start at the beginning of the US school year in September.
So the New Zealand teachers, who were usually more experienced and who expected to gain professionally and so were well motivated, arrived usually to have a week's orientation with the other teachers before the pupils arrived. The US teachers arrived here for the third term and usually were expected to teach as closely as possible to the pattern of the departed New Zealand teacher at least for the rest of the year.
Although the top New Zealand teachers were heads of city schools there were always large numbers of progressive young teachers as heads of two page 42and three teacher schools who were very suitable for consideration as exchange teachers. The major disadvantage of this was that the American teachers tended to be less experienced, and yet the New Zealanders virtually always took the American teacher's job. The reverse was so only with high school teachers or when we had sent forward the papers of a specialist, say, in remedial reading — something we seldom tried because it was not likely that a match would be made.
However, there were worse problems. Some of those who were not measuring up in their own locality, especially in their social relations, may have decided that life would be simpler in a country like New Zealand where the pace was slower. It didn't work. The teachers were subject to the school principal and if they were not measuring up to the parents' expectations something had to be done about it."
There were, of course, many exceptions to this, but New Zealand teachers who took up a direct exchange found their own problems in the States. Accommodation was one of them. In many cases there was a straight swap of houses — and cars, even — along with the exchange of timetable, school duties and responsibilities, but one New Zealand who found himself in the predicament of finding no house at the end of his journey was John Dennison, who exchanged with a teacher from Springfield, Massachusetts. His opposite number did not have a property, but the problem was solved when Dennison and his family were invited to appear on television.
The host of the show asked Dennison what he needed most. John replied, ‘A house of our own,’ just before his two sons got their teeth stuck on two large 'gob-stoppers' that had been given them, all on camera.
Next day a woman phoned the Dennisons. She had seen the programme, had been amused and thought she had something interesting to suggest. Perhaps, she said, the family would like to come out and chat. She had a house, a delightful house, fully furnished, and she needed a house-sitter for a year. ‘Her daughter and son-in-law became some of our best friends,’ John said, ‘whom we have visited and had stay with us in New Zealand, and whom we write to regularly.’
Other exchange teachers had similar positive experiences, but there were problems. The overriding concern was the failure of grants to provide any real professional development for the participating teachers. Jack Cox, for instance, believed that ‘the award greatly enhanced [his] personal and professional skills, understanding and attitudes’ and he appreciated the Americans' ‘high sense of idealism’, but he also wished he could have observed more schools. Some New Zealanders, who were lucky enough to go to schools that had a tradition of hosting exchange teachers, were allowed to both learn and contribute ideas. Others, however, perceived a certain impersonality in their treatment. It would have been easier, says one, if the host school had taken more interest, or had even sent a guideline of what they expected of him.
It was all a matter of luck and administration. It came as a surprise to many page 43New Zealanders to find that American schools are run by managers, not teachers. Ada Beatty, an American who came to New Zealand in 1954, found it wonderful that in New Zealand a head teacher could actually step in and teach if necessary. New Zealanders found it equally surprising that principals in the States were so firmly wedged behind their office desks. It was no guarantee of efficiency, some noted. One New Zealander declared that the school where he taught ‘had no systems of teacher support. The school was badly managed and good teaching was difficult to achieve.’
As with so much else about the United States, there was immense variation in standards and expectations. One New Zealander felt privileged ‘to be in a school in its first year of operating under the Basic Education Act (student learning objectives) and to be able to experience the advantages and disadvantages of this form of accountability.’ Another New Zealand educationalist was amazed to note, in Boston in 1980, that the school system had run out of money. Consequently ‘the schools were going to be closed for the year, several weeks early. A parent took the issue to court, which ruled that a school year meant a full school year and ordered the system to be kept open.’ The city complied, and paid for it by laying off all the garbage collectors, among other City Hall staff.
Not surprisingly, several New Zealanders found the staff of the schools where they taught jaded and cynical and the staff and students apathetic'. An American who came to New Zealand and was met at New Plymouth by more than 20 teachers, parents and civic leaders, remarked ‘I daresay my counterpart did not get such a welcome.’ One New Zealander learned to his alarm that his exchange counterpart had thrown in the towel and left New Zealand six weeks after the beginning of term, leaving his house unoccupied and his class with no teacher. It was, he noted ‘part of the magic diversity of American culture and attitudes’.
There were other problems, too. Biology teachers found it a challenge to do fieldwork when the classroom was 3200 kilometres away from the sea and there was a blanket of snow outside. Others were faced with pupils whose natural language was Spanish or Hebrew. Some found problems ‘adjusting to the acceptance of inferior academic standards by the students qualifying for graduation.’
‘When I went in 1957,’ one teacher wrote, ‘the discipline in New Zealand schools was relatively firm. Politeness to the teachers was expected and achieved, so the biggest shock to my system was the totally uninhibited junior high student who replied or spoke to me just as he would to his buddy. It took a few weeks for me to accept the informality and apparent rudeness.’ She noted that ‘nothing is general to all states’ and, in fact, ‘came back in a state of amazement that they ever became the "United" States.’
Another teacher, when visiting a school, asked the principal what he considered his greatest problem. The official replied, ‘Well, they sometimes drop too much litter in the halls.’ The New Zealander received this answer with some silent envy, but half an hour later the school was in an uproar. Some of the students had bombed the cafeteria with tear gas — ‘The principal page 44did little other than wring his hands. His staff handled the emergency.’ Eileen Cuff found her class of ninth graders ‘wriggly, quarrelsome and generally difficult to manage. I was always conscious that I held things together by a very tenuous thread.’ She looked forward to the end of the semester, but was then informed that she would have the same class next year. She set a demanding series of projects that appealed to the intensely competitive American nature, and the pupils, despite themselves, became deeply interested, and even more so because they were directed to grade their projects themselves. They became even more severe on themselves than she was on them, she noted, and when she left the principal wrote, ‘Perhaps the best recommendation I can give is that I have urged her to remain with us.’
Diane Thomsen (Barton), a Fulbright teacher in 1979, received a similar letter, when she returned to New Zealand: ‘I have kept in touch with several of the students I sent you from my sophomore class last year. I like the way they talk about you. I sense that in your class it is quite possible to be a poor student — that is, vulnerable to an examination — but it is much harder to be a poor human being. When I talk to you I feel that you always find students more interesting than they really are.’
John Windle and his family were met in New Plymouth on a day in 1982 when it was pouring with rain. ‘One young girl pushed through the crowd, handed a bunch of beautiful dripping wet daffodils to Rebecca, and said, "Here, Mrs Windle, some flowers straight from the paddock." No greeting could have touched us more deeply.’
There were other surprises for the American teachers who came here. One found it difficult to adjust to seeing pupils arrive barefoot in summer. The arrival of two ‘relocatable’ classrooms was even more surprising. And, of course, there were problems of idiom and accent: ‘A dainty little girl age eight began to tell me and the class about what fun she had dressing pigs. Her mother showed her how, she said. I was amazed! She talked at length and the class listened politely but without any surprise. Finally I asked her to print the word on the board and she wrote PEGS (clothespins).’
There were also various adjustments to be made in classroom work. Dr Foster Grossnickle, who came in 1960 to give demonstration lessons in arithmetic, travelling from Auckland to the Bluff, remarked, ‘I never appreciated the problem that a non-decimal coinage presents until I began teaching in this country.’ Maryanne Slack (Olson), who taught in Masterton that same year, wrote, ‘It was tough teaching swimming and learning pounds shillings and pence for math class, but I managed.’ She managed very well indeed; when she left her entire class went to the airport to see her page 48off, and she had a complimentary police escort for most of the drive.
When Desmond Bodley returned from his Californian teacher exchange tenure he felt so revitalised that he set about establishing an Educational Travel Programme for teachers' college trainees at Auckland Teachers' College. Another teacher wrote that his Fulbright exchange was ‘probably the most stimulating year of my whole 40 years in the teaching profession’.
Eric D. Mann, who was an exchange teacher in 1955, had this to say:
"The intellectual and professional expansion I experienced was without doubt the single most significant event in all my professional and personal development. The effect was to ‘colour’ the rest of my career. The focus was the notion of ‘guidance’ or as it is better known today, ‘counselling’, to the extent that I was virtually to pioneer this in New Zealand secondary education."
Despite the lists of exchange teaching successes, however, there were perhaps too many disappointments. Wilbur J. Switzer, who came to New Zealand to teach geography in 1974, gained a great deal: ‘New concepts of fieldwork in geography, methods of teaching handicapped students, grade level achievements, and student achievement plus abundant knowledge about New Zealand ... Many academic opportunities have developed,’ he added, ‘as a result of the New Zealand experience, a number of these being special teaching opportunities at the senior college or university level. Our year in New Zealand provided an outstanding opportunity to gain personal insight into the physical and cultural landscapes.’ But ‘My teaching was underutilised due to the rigid staff arrangements at my host school.’
This was a time of grave staff shortages in New Zealand, and many busy heads could not spare the time from adjusting class numbers and timetabling to pay extra attention to visiting Americans. The decision by the board to phase out the teacher exchanges was probably inevitable. Once the basis of funding was changed, and New Zealanders could be paid United States dollar grants, Teacher Educational Development Grants seemed much more sensible.
In 1971 the Board of Foreign Scholarships in Washington decided that ‘most exchanges [should] be confined to persons in higher education and the professions.’ The New Zealand teacher Graham Cochrane, who went to the States in 1978, wrote that he thought he had been privileged. He was more fortunate than he thought: ‘Our exchange was perfect. While I believe a number have not been successful, it is disappointing to know the teacher exchanges under the programme no longer operate.’
There had been too little positive feedback from the scheme. The Fulbright teacher exchange programme continues to operate in many countries, but in New Zealand it was replaced with an enlarged Educational Development Programme. The last teacher exchange under the Fulbright programme in New Zealand was between Henry Ngapo and John Windle in 1982-83.page 49
The Educational Development programme, by contract, was eminently successful. The purpose of these awards was to provide the opportunity for experienced members of the education service to observe developments in the United States and to discuss matters of common interest with colleagues. The recipient's experience was of an intensive tour, often whirlwind, always demanding and exhilarating, of a set length of time: at that stage, 180, 120 or 90 days. ‘As I remember it,’ said Eric Budge, ‘the State Department was very open-minded about whom it would take.
"But the general idea was to have teachers who had completed their professional training at a Teachers' College plus a few years' experience and who were young enough to absorb new ideas from what they would see in the US.
The Board agreed with my suggestion that the one or two awards we could afford should be offered to the Education Department to select from their top professional officers such as the Chief Inspector of Primary Schools, the Chief Inspector of Secondary Schools and colleagues in line for promotion to these positions.
I knew from past experience that few if any of these people had ever been overseas officially except perhaps to Fiji or Australia. On the other hand most of the top officers in DSIR or the Department of Agriculture who were receiving US research scholars had themselves been to the US or Great Britain.
On my visits to Washington the State Department and Office of Education people made it very clear that the New Zealanders were easily the best. They came from the cream of New Zealand teachers, they were skilful in quickly assessing what they saw — as was said about one of them, ‘he quickly separated the wheat from the chaff’ — and they were in an excellent position to introduce the fresh ideas they gained from their visits into New Zealand schools.
The State Department and the United States Office of Education arranged for the visitors who all came at the same time to elect a Group Chairman and it was usually one of the New Zealanders.
Their grants were combined Fulbright-Smith-Mundt awards with a maintenance allowance and full travel expenses paid by the State Department.
The only criticism I received was that we should be sending more. One was the best testimonial I have ever read about anybody. It ended, ‘If you ever have anybody like him again please send him with or without notice’."
Bryan Pinder held a Teacher Education Grant from September 1961 to February 1962. He described his experience:
"My itinerary took me to: the Chicago area and Champagne-Urbana, Illinois; Denver and Greely in Colorado; Salt Lake City and Roosevelt in Utah; Sacramento, the San Francisco area, the Los Angeles area and the page 50San Diego area, in California; Las Vegas in Nevada; the Grand Canyon, Albuquerque and El Paso in New Mexico; Austin, San Antonio and Houston in Texas; New Orleans in Louisiana; Nashville in Tennessee; St Louis in Missouri; Cincinnati in Ohio; Williamsburg in Virginia; City of New York; the Boston area in Massachusetts; Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo in the State of New York; Detroit and Dearborn in Michigan (after a weekend in Toronto); Pittsburg in Pennsylvania; and Atlantic City.
My purpose in visiting educational institutions through the country was to seek light on numbers of educational problems I am concerned with in New Zealand....
Number of schools visited — 150
Number of universities, state colleges and private colleges visited — 21 Number of school districts visited — 40 Number of state board of education offices visited — 5 Number of country offices visited — 6 Number of private schools visited — 8 Number of classrooms visited (approx.) — 600-900 ...
My only regret was that, in some places, the tightness of my official schedule prevented me from getting to know some of the people I met as well as I would have wished; I would not have had it otherwise, however, as it was the very tightness of my schedule that gave me the opportunity to delve deeply into so many aspects of American education while at the same time leaving me free to explore cities and towns and make contact with a wide range of people.
... I tried to make the most of my opportunities and I never dreamed that I would have such a stimulating and intellectually and emotionally satisfying time."
Other educationalists had equally busy and impressive grants, and there were also the various research grants in education fields. It is difficult, of course, to say categorically that education in New Zealand has changed because of these various research and observation grants, but there is plenty of evidence that there were some profound effects. Marcus Riske, who went to the University of Illinois as a visiting lecturer in 1959, came back to take the first ever New Zealand third form class in New Maths, at Wellington Technical College. Horace Sayers, who had a Teacher Education Grant, returned from California in 1959 to chair the Physics Studies Committee, and the information and ideas he brought led to the revision of physics teaching in this country, through the introduction of PSSC physics. He became Superintendent of Education and Director of Secondary Education.
Other educationalists brought back methodologies and materials for teaching social sciences, an important move, for the social sciences are very strong in the States. Others brought back research techniques — in the analysis of teacher-pupil relations, in the process of learning to read. Brian Sutton-Smith, who had a research grant in 1952, established a place for page 51study of play within studies of folklore and became a world authority on the play of young children; one could almost say that he helped to make the study of play academically respectable.
It was a two-way process. Ned Flanders, who came to New Zealand in 1957, brought a new research methodology for what happens in classrooms. Paul Burnham came to Canterbury in the field of educational testing at upper high school and undergraduate level, and Canterbury had him back a few years later. Currently there is great interest in out-of-school care, involving parents in special education, writing across the curriculum and developments in educational computing. The importance that the Foundation now places on the Educational Development Grants is illustrated by the fact that applicants are judged on their ability to influence the New Zealand school system on their return, and the means of dissemination which they would employ.
The word ‘education’ in the title of the Foundation is all-important. The
Educational Development Grant is a special category, but the process of
education is studied by other categories of Fulbright awards as well, in the
interests of the future of the education processes in New Zealand. David
Mitchell, a 1981 research scholar, wrote this in
American Studies International,
Winter 1982, Vol. XX, No. 2:
"I came to America because I wanted to meet and work with some of the researchers investigating infant development in the United States. I came, too, because I wanted to see how America's enlightened policy on special education was being implemented across the country.
The professional significance of my visit can be summed up in one word: stimulation. Having listened to several dozen excellent researchers working in the field of infant development, I have been able to clarify the directions my own research will take when I return to New Zealand. I should also be able to carry out comparative studies with researchers at the Educational Testing Service, my host institution during the tenure of my Fulbright award."