Back on home soil – Teachers return to Aotearoa

Issue: Volume 99, Number 19

Posted: 19 November 2020
Reference #: 1HAEdZ

Returning to New Zealand after teaching overseas has given Matthew Easterbrook and Holly Pears new perspectives on how to connect with students and highlighted the positive aspects of life for teachers here.

After 3 years as head of the Science faculty at Tereora College, the national college of the Cook Islands, Matthew Easterbrook and his family decided it was time to return home.

They swapped the Cook Islands for Christchurch, where Matthew is now Assistant Head of Science and Head of Biology at Burnside High School.

Matthew had taught for several years in New Zealand before their prior move to the Cook Islands and this held him in good stead, with NCEA being the main secondary qualification there too.

He speaks positively of his time in the Cook Islands, noting he misses the climate while also commenting on the impact his time there had on his cultural understanding.

“Culturally it’s quite different,” he says. “There’s almost more respect, but in a different way. It took a while for the students to warm up to me but it really showed the value of teacher-student relationships.”

Matthew’s adjustment back to life in Aotearoa did take some time, but he feels he is starting to get there.

“I thought the size of the school might be an issue but it wasn’t so bad, though coming into a bigger department was a bit of a challenge. I’ve gone from a department with six teachers to one with more than 20!”

One thing that did assist Matthew and his family with their return to New Zealand was the Overseas Relocation Grant (ORG).

“It really helped with getting through the first few months,” he explains. “Financially it can be quite harsh moving countries but getting the grant was straightforward and prompt – even though some of my application was still being processed during lockdown.”

Phil Holstein, Matthew’s principal at Burnside, was quick to agree that the grant is beneficial in bringing people to New Zealand to teach.

“It is a wonderful way of assisting teachers to come back to New Zealand, or for beginning teachers to move within New Zealand,” says Phil. “It gives them the confidence and support to make a significant change. For our schools, it is a great resource that enables us to get quality staff.”

The jandals and t-shirts for work might be things of the past but Matthew still draws on the lessons he learned in the Cook Islands.

“Teaching overseas only enhances your teaching practice when you return,” explains Matthew. “When you come back you have that experience you can apply in a New Zealand context.”

“Teaching and living in the Cook Islands gave me a greater appreciation for Pacific cultures and people – the sort of thing only first-hand experience can provide. I can identify with students as individuals more than I could previously and it just reaffirmed how having those relationships is so important.”

Holly’s story

Holly Pears is another New Zealand-trained teacher who has returned home recently. Holly teaches at Fergusson Intermediate School in Upper Hutt, where she is also a specialist in Performing Arts. Holly had been further away than Matthew, having been teaching at an international school in Egypt (and the UK before that) prior to returning in mid-2019.

Her adjustment to teaching in a New Zealand context was a bit more of a challenge, as she had to unlearn some of the very results-focused ways of doing things from her previous schools and didn’t have much prior teaching experience in Aotearoa to fall back on.

“I really wanted to come back, which was super helpful,” she says. “I’ve appreciated how The New Zealand Curriculum gives you more freedom to plan and teach. Previously I seemed to just be following what other people had planned. It’s nice to be trusted to teach.”

She also appreciates the way her school values her as an individual too. “Who you are is a priority and is important – things weren’t always like that overseas,” she says.

Holly heard about the ORG through a friend and said it helped with settling back into life in Aotearoa.

“Setting yourself up when you’ve only got a suitcase is hard. It really helps to help get established again,” she explains.

Holly’s principal at Fergusson Intermediate, Simon Kenny, notes how challenging recruitment can be for schools. Pre-Covid, they would get a lot of overseas applications, and the quality of those applications would often be mixed, says Simon.

“It is important for us that the teachers we employ are familiar with The New Zealand Curriculum and our kids,” he explains.

The ORG can help with getting high quality applicants. “It is an advantage to have some support with this,” Simon says.

Holly notices similar benefits to Matthew as she reflects on how her time overseas has helped her back in New Zealand. Teaching in the UK and Egypt gave her “more of a global perspective and greater cultural awareness”.

“I feel like you can empathise with kids more authentically than if you’ve only been in one place. It’s completely different when you go elsewhere and see people from different backgrounds.” 

Relocation grant available for eligible teachers who moved within New Zealand

The Domestic Relocation Grant (DRG) is a new initiative designed to support early learning services, schools and kura to get qualified teachers and kaiako to those places and in those subjects most needed. The DRG supplements the Overseas Relocation Grant and recognises that sourcing new teachers and kaiako from overseas is currently challenging due to measures necessary to control the transmission of COVID-19.

Overseas trainer teachers – Education Workforce(external link)

A returning teacher or kaiako, or a beginning teacher who is moving within Aotearoa New Zealand to fill a teaching vacancy, may be eligible for reimbursement of up to $5,000 (GST inclusive) for actual incurred relocation costs.

Refer to the Internal Revenue’s list of eligible expenses before starting the application. Expenses that are not on the list will not be reimbursed. For each expense claimed, please upload a matching PDF copy of each receipt or invoice that shows clear evidence of the expense description and amount. Bank statements cannot be accepted as evidence of expenditure.

Eligible expenses – Inland Revenue(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:11 pm, 19 November 2020

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