I live on Rarotonga, one of the 15 Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. As it's close to the equator, it's warm all year round without much variation. I flew in from Brisbane, Australia, and because Rarotonga is near the International Date Line, I arrived earlier in the day than when I left.
Choosing to teach here was a no-brainer for me. My father was born and raised on the Cook Islands, which have beautiful blue skies and seas, luxuriant tropical plants and a fantastically slow pace of life.
My mother is from England, where I also spent six years teaching, but it was hard to resist the friendliness of the people here, along with the fresh seafood and locally grown fruit and vegetables. It's important not to be materialistic though, as I earn half what I did when I worked in Australia.
I teach at Takitumu Primary School and I'm in the second year of a three-year contract with the Cook Islands Ministry of Education. In my first year I taught 5th grade students (aged 10), and I've managed to keep the same class because the 6th grade teacher left. I was delighted and my students were also very pleased - one parent hugged me when they found out.
There are 10 schools on the island, which has a circumference of 32km. Most are state schools and eight are primary schools. Takitumu Primary takes students from early childhood education (aged 3) through to 6th grade. It is a small school: we have 175 students, seven teachers and two teaching assistants, who mainly support children with special educational needs. Class sizes are relatively small - I have a class of 15, but this changes regularly as students come and go.
The biggest challenge on the Cook Islands is the loss of the indigenous language. In order to combat this, Cook Island Maori is taught in most schools. Takitumu Primary teaches in the language until 3rd grade, after which students learn in English. Our syllabus is based on the New Zealand curriculum, with a focus on improving reading and writing in both languages.
The school day begins at 7.45am with students cleaning the classrooms, sweeping the floors, washing the window louvres, and picking up rubbish. Students walk around the playing fields for morning exercise, then we say our prayers before settling down for classes.
Students here have quite diverse cultural backgrounds, although all have some Cook Island Maori heritage. But these days they are the same as students the world over, with strong Western influences in terms of language, food, music, dress and so on.
The school day finishes at 1.45pm, leaving plenty of time for snorkelling and diving - both popular activities on the island, which is surrounded by a coral reef. The lagoon provides wonderful opportunities for swimming, kitesurfing and paddle boarding. There's a slogan used by the tourist board to describe the islands: "Living the dream". It pretty much sums up my life on Rarotonga.
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