“Swimming in the Cesspool – An American Teacher’s Nightmare Encounter with New Zealand Secondary Education”

Gregg Smith: Swimming in the Cesspool

Thinking about emigrating and teaching high school students in New Zealand? Before you do take a look at an interview on Sunday with American teacher, Gregg Smith,  the video may be found here on TVNZ.

Gregg Smith is an extremely talented ex-USA airforce officer who once worked at the Pentagon and whose life took a turn for the worse when he decided to emigrate to New Zealand to re-train as a teacher and teach at Dannevirke High School (see Streeview below) in the Hawkes Bay region, North Island.

During his time at the school he was subjected to a fercious hate campaign, falsely accused and bullied by students who were intent on sending him back to America. Unfortunately the bullying went on outside the classroom too, Mr Smith was heckled in the street and death threats were made against him.

“Alan Vester, chairman of the Secondary Principals’ Council and Edgewater College principal, told TV ONE’s Breakfast this morning that the claims about him being a paedophile were concerning. Vester said in most schools there would be a lot of back-up for a teacher in this kind of situation. He said Smith received some support from colleagues but the school should have acted to stop it. ” source

Since his ordeal in 2006 Gregg has decided to write a book about his experiences which was published at the end of last year.

About the Author

Former teacher, engineer, computer analyst, Pentagon gopher, Air Force officer, United Nations inmate . . . What can I say in 3900 characters that would even begin to describe me? Just read the book! Things in my life had gone relatively well until I decided to go to New Zealand and train as a secondary school math and physics teacher. Nothing in my life could have prepared me for what greeted me in New Zealand schools: verbal abuse, sexual harassment, assault, indifferent students, violence, xenophobia, and an animosity toward education that I’d never imagined existed anywhere on earth. As one of my colleagues described it, “We’re just like Jesus Christ — we come here for no purpose but to do good and to help make their lives better and all they can think to do is to crucify us.”<\p> I’d think it unbelievable if I hadn’t lived through every nightmarish minute of it myself. The reality was actually worse — trust me

Through writing his book Gregg hopes to bring out into the open the many issues present within New Zealand’s high schools and bring them to a “higher ground” The book “Swimming in the cesspool – An American Teacher’s Nightmare Encounter with New Zealand Secondary Education” is described as

“This book is the true story of an immigrant teacher’s experiences with the New Zealand secondary education system. Beginning with a detailed history of the author’s life prior to training as a teacher, the book weaves a tale through the intricacies of applying to and attending teacher training in New Zealand, finding a job as a teacher, struggling to teach students aggressively opposed to learning, and dealing with the various bureaucratic organisations that surround New Zealand schools.

While much of the introductory material is light-hearted, the narrative evolves into a serious discussion of issues surrounding secondary education in New Zealand. The horrors confronting some teachers are described in full detail, with extensive documentation. The book brings the full impact of the problems home by giving the reader an intimate look at the effects of the abusive and destructive work environment that eventually lead to the author’s walking away from his teaching career in order to preserve his mental and emotional health.

This story is a must-read for anyone associated with education, particularly in New Zealand. It raises serious questions about the demands we place on teachers. Ultimately, it questions the purpose and effectiveness of the education system as a whole, while exposing systematic failures at all levels. This story makes compelling, if frightening, reading. You may never put your child in a public school again.”

How much of a problem is violence against teachers in New Zealand’s schools?

In March 2010 New Zealand newspaper  the Dominion Post used the Official Information Act to obtain data on the number of school staff that received ACC funded treatment  for injuries sustained following an attack at school and put that together with Ministry of Education figures for 2008, to reveal that at least 777 teachers were assaulted whilst at work during 2008/9 (that’s without the figures for non-treatment assaults during 2009):

The TVNZ interview is the subject of a heated debate on the forum at Expatexposed.com which has since been closed down. One poster describing a section of the video thus:

It destroyed my life … all I ever wanted to do was teach kids maths.”

Interviewer : Was being an American a factor?

Mr Smith says that he had multiple instances of his kids saying “we’re going to send that yankee Cnut back to America, it seemed to be a campaign they had, they seemed to take pleasure in the fact they were going to send me back to the United States.”

At some point two of his ex students say something very revealing.

“he could have felt like an outsider because we are so tight-knit”.

“but then we are very friendly as well, and quite welcoming” Smile Lol!

They say he didn’t have the same personality as us (not me, or her). Like the whole town possess one big homogenous personality, and any deviance from it is threatening to the group dynamic.
This was before they started the town-wide pedophile campaign to discredit him, and ruin his life…

One of his students wrote on the board, “G Smith is a pedophile”, then he was shouted at in the street “THERE GOES THE PEDOPHILE”. Then one of his colleagues warned him that there were rumours in the town he was a pedophile.

Those kids have the ethics and morals of swamp rats.

Unfucking believable. Any American still thinking of teaching in NZ?

**** dannevirke!

Another contributor to Expatexposed.com provided the following link to a review of Greggs Book, which may be purchased on Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Swimming-Cesspool-Gregg-Smith/dp/1447883268
.

Swimming in the Cesspool


by Gregg Smith
Veritas Books

reviewed by Carol Davala

“I never expected to be ATTACKED for trying to make someone’s life richer by sharing my knowledge of mathematics with him, yet that’s exactly what I encountered in Dannevirke.”

Gregg Smith never failed at anything. He attended the US Air Force Academy, earned degrees in mathematics and engineering, lived and worked in seven different countries, and even conquered the art of clowning. But his textbook style work subtitled “An American Teacher’s Nightmare Encounter with New Zealand Secondary Education,” reveals the shocking tale of Smith’s mid-life career change, wherein ultimately the author’s ensuing teaching experience at Dannevirke High School could be classified as a catastrophic failure with a capital F.

Anyone who has attempted to bring order to a classroom of unruly students, can surely relate to Smith’s plight. The author’s candid story brings to mind the docu-drama “Dangerous Minds,” wherein an ex-marine struggles to connect with the inner city youth she’s been hired to teach. Unfortunately in Smith’s case there is no triumphant Hollywood ending. In vivid detail Smith recounts the verbal abuse, physical assaults, sexual harassment, and mob-like intimidation he suffered at the hands of students, parents, and the Dannevirke community. The incidents took such a major toll on his health and psyche, that after eighteen months he resigned.

Smith is understandably bitter about his experience. While his lengthy treatise includes documents, letters, recollections, and actual “greenies” (the forms he had to submit for disciplinary infractions), that back up his claims, the sheer volume of information speaks to his mounting frustrations. Amidst all the bureaucracy, red tape, and inconsistencies that go along with handling problematic students, Smith’s experience takes on a kind of “Alice in Wonderland” dimension, complete with the element of Mad Hatter madness. With personal anecdotes and witty sarcasm woven into his writing, he attempts to balance and rebut a harrowing situation gone way beyond his control.

Swimming in the Cesspool is Smith’s effort to make public the truth about his own personal experience at Dannevirke High School. As the saying goes “the truth will set you free.” Hopefully Smith’s truth will serve as an enlightening resource to help bring secondary education in New Zealand to a higher ground.”

 
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17 thoughts on ““Swimming in the Cesspool – An American Teacher’s Nightmare Encounter with New Zealand Secondary Education”

  1. Unfortunately, this story is all too familiar. I was a teacher at Dannevirke for 1.5 years, before I decided that life wasn’t worth having to go through the hell I was enduring at DHS. I took on the job of music HOD, which in hindsight was a terrible decision – I was from Auckland (an outsider), was recently out of teacher’s training college, was in my early 20’s, and was so excited to get stuck in and make a difference (boy was I idealistic).
    I received no support from the principal, only resentment and ostracism from the majority of the teaching staff, I received phone calls from parents on my home phone in the evening (shouting and yelling down the phone at me), and endured the worst kind of abuse from the students. I would get apples and various other foods thrown at me when I walked from the music department to the staffroom, I got malicious phone calls at home from students, I had one boy haul me up against a wall and call me a f*cking b*tch, I had another swinging for me, telling me him and his friends were going to get me after school, apples etc up my car’s exhaust pipe etc, etc, etc. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when a group of year 9 boys went to the dean, saying that I’d said the “f” word to them repeatedly. The principal threatened me with a tribunal hearing, and said he’d ensure I never taught again. One night, when I was marking papers in the music classroom, after rugby practice, the boys surrounded my music prefab, and banged on the windows, making ‘monster’ sounds, shouting “we’re going to get you fired, b*tch!” – I was terrified. Finally, a few days later, one of they boys admitted they had lied about the allegations they’d made against me… everything was swept under the carpet, and nothing more was said…
    I had worked so hard to make something out of the music department (implemented an itinerant music programme, started a choir, jazz band, concert band, bought new electronic keyboards, developed the entire music classroom programme etc), and yet it felt so futile and unwanted by anyone there. I ended up in counselling and consequently leaving the school. It still affects me, and I wonder what I did wrong, and what I should have done to make my time at DHS a success. Because of my experience at DHS, I vowed never to teach in front of a classroom again. It’s a shame really, as music is my greatest love, I used to love to teach and help, and I even enjoyed working with young adults. Never again!

  2. Gregg’s experience sounds all too (and painfully) familiar. I emigrated from the US in 1988 and began teaching in NZ in 1990. Like Gregg Smith, my main academic specialties are physics and maths. My experience in the central North Island and in the Far North (I’ve taught in Kaitaia, Okaihau, Taipa, & Kawakawa, among a few other places) was very similar to what Gregg Smith reports. I, too, have been physically assaulted by students (although not often) and, of course, verbally abused by students. I, too, decided in the end that the important feeling of a vocation helping people learn simply wasn’t worth the stress.

    In fairness, I must say that I have experienced a good deal of negative behaviour and some abuse while teaching in Australia and in the US. In both places, I found support from school administrators is no better than in NZ schools.

  3. Mr Smith – would you offer it as a cheap e-book option? Most people like me who live in New Zealand cannot afford new books (even shipped from Amazon) and sit in library queues for months to read something newish. I doubt whether this one I could get by sitting in a library queue. 🙂

    • Doing an e-book requires almost as much work as writing the original book. I’m looking into it, but the entire book has to be redone to fit the e-book format, so it will take some time and effort before I can get it done (if I ever do).

  4. If you’re interested in the whole story, you can order the book here if you’re in New Zealand:

    http://www.veritasbooks.co.nz

    or here in the wider world, where the title is different because people don’t know what NCEA means (www.lulu.com and search for “Swimming in the Cesspool”):

    http://www.lulu.com/shop/gregg-smith/swimming-in-the-cesspool/paperback/product-18866930.html;jsessionid=6DD4638AB3E7A44192B4BD46655EF6D8

    The only difference between the versions is the cover title and a few minor page layout changes (and I think the Lulu book is on cheaper paper!). The television show was really just the tip of the iceberg. The book concentrates on how I tried to deal with the situation and how I was let down by educational and governmental institutions in New Zealand.

    Kia kaha.

  5. Mr Greg Smith is to be saluted for coming out front with honesty. Kids are out of control in NZ and you can see them spinning off as car racers, gangsters, rapists (on the poor 5-year old Belgian tourist) or jobless and wandering around aimlessly. They are threats to other families who try to give the best opportunities for their kids. These underclasses
    promote their so-called `tall poppy syndrome’ so mixing around with them get you not far up…it is better to keep away from them cos they do not want to adapt, change or embrace better things. No wonder they still keep their wool over their eyes trying to destruct more than embracing Mr Smith’s innovative ways of teaching. Let the status quo continue in the sleepy country.

  6. I watched the sunday programme and story about Greg Smith and the Dannervirke students, those students who showed no respect or kindness to Greg Smith are shameful. Mr Smith if your reading this, please enjoy your new role in Auckland, be with Employers that appreciate your vast experience and talent…..life is to short to waste on people who don’t want to learn. Its amazing, it brings back memories of my substitute teachers at College going back to the late 1970’s, one particular teacher who taught us Science was a kind man, and it only took a handful of louts in my class to ruin the man’s day…..so nothing has changed……the louts use to hock/ spit mucus on his back, throw missiles at him. I often wonder why teenagers do what they do ? Maybe a screw loose in the brain department ?

  7. I am embarrassed to say that I live in Dannevirke and would like to apologise to Mr. Smith for his negative experiences in this town. I am not a teacher but knew Mr. Smith from his forays into the shop where I worked. I concur with the above sentiments. Students these days are out of control. Not all, but too many in my opinion. We need to see the return of discipline at home and at school. In my day, we were punished for any untoward behaviour and we respected those in authority. How times have changed, and not necessarily for the better. Bring back corporal punishment!

  8. My experience as a teacher is extraordinarily similar. Too similar to be a one-off, ie Dannevirke only. Yes, teachers are bullied. Students now have the upper hand, the only ones to blame this for is the PC brigade, giving these ‘cute innocent little darlings’ all the rights. Teachers are now guilty till proven inncoent – remember they are the only adult in the classroom. If only internet cameras were allowed in the classroom for ALL to see what is going on, includes parents. No problem if you’ve nothing to hide. That would stop all of the BS, we might see some students wake up, take responsibility and learn something for a change.

    • When you have (relatively) free education and no penalties for behaving in school in a manner that would earn you a criminal record, you will have indiscipline.
      Things change at university because the students there know that proven misconduct is dealt with harshly (for some wrongdoers they are unable to continue their education at any tertiary institute in NZ).
      Hence why there is such a disparity between the indiscipline at school, and the indiscipline at university.

  9. Mr Smith’s experience is only one side of the story. There are many other teachers trained in NZ and become secondary school teachers. Most of them are treated well. I am one of them. I have taught in Decile 1 school with 80 percent of students are Maori. And there were behavior problems. However, I wouldn’t say New Zealand high schools are dangerous. I prefer to teach in NZ rather than in U.S.

    The ways to deal with students and teach are more important than teaching itself sometimes.

    • Jim :
      Mr Smith’s experience is only one side of the story. There are many teachers from other countries trained in NZ and become secondary school teachers. Most of them are treated well. I am one of them. I have taught in Decile 1 school with 80 percent of students are Maori. And there were behavior problems. However, I wouldn’t say New Zealand high schools are dangerous. I prefer to teach in NZ rather than in U.S.
      The ways to deal with students and teach are more important than teaching itself sometimes.

      he came from America is not the reason.

      • he came from America is not the reason.

        Not the reason for …. what?

        What do you teach in Decile 1 schools Jim? not English, obviously.

        How do YOU strive each day to improve the education of the pupils under your care? Or is your time simply spent maintaining discipline and getting through the day?

        In March 2010 the Dominion Post used the Official Information Act to obtain data on the number of school staff that received ACC funded treatment for injuries sustained following an attack at school and put that together with Ministry of Education figures for 2008, to reveal that at least 777 teachers were assaulted whilst at work during 2008/9 (that’s without the figures for non-treatment assaults during 2009)

  10. I can concure with the “anti- American” attitude that most NZers harbor. Most NZers think that Americans are fair game and love to “take them down”.
    My experience as a builder in NZ is consistant with this as to what should be expected with Yanks coming to NZ.
    NZ is in need of advanced technology, yet seem to take delight in bashing anyone that is willing to come to this backwater and bring with them advanced technics.
    Therein lies the dualality [doublemindedness] in NZ mindset.

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