Meet the teachers of Aotearoa

June 2016

 

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New Zealand’s teaching workforce comprises many different people – provisionally registered teachers, those who have come to teaching in a roundabout way, those who are opting for some teaching experience abroad, and those who are putting their teaching qualifications to innovative use. Here, we meet some of New Zealand’s newest and aspiring educators.

The student teacher

Prudence WilsonMaster of Teaching and Learning student PRUDENCE WILSON can’t wait to start her teaching career.

I have always wanted to be a teacher. In fact, when I was a young girl I set up my own school and taught the neighbourhood’s preschoolers from my treehouse. As I got older though, a great many people tried to steer me away from teaching; ‘you’re too smart to be a teacher’ was a common thing for me to hear. The problem with this, of course, is that teachers need to be smart. Not smart in the sense of extensive content knowledge necessarily, but smart in the sense of deep, inter-disciplinary, critical and divergent thinking. After all, teachers’ roles have changed. We are no longer producing fit-for-purpose workers, but are tasked with a much more difficult endeavour – preparing them for a future we cannot even imagine, which I believe involves the regular facilitation of higher order thinking.

Luckily for me, my Master of Teaching and Learning (AUT) is preparing me to do just that. It is a dynamic, collaborative and future-focused course that rightly prides itself on supporting the development of culturally responsive, adaptive and resilient educators equipped with the skills and confidence to reimagine traditional classroom pedagogy. To be sure, the Bachelor of Education has a great deal more time to spend on understanding curriculum content than students in the master’s, but is content all that important in a world where almost anything can be looked up online? It is certainly not unimportant, but reflexive, creative, critical and adaptive practice is definitely where education is heading.

The higher order thinking skills, alongside a great deal of other skills/competencies that my Master of Teaching and Learning has supported me to develop will certainly set me up well as a future teacher. Indeed, I feel confident that towards the end of this programme I, and the others in my course, will be incredibly employable. We have learned and are learning how to be flexible, critical, compassionate, integrative, engaging professionals who value personalisation, differentiation and cultural responsiveness in the classroom. On top of that, my background in sociology, history, gender studies and Māori studies will stand me in good stead as a teacher in Aotearoa. Indeed, understanding the sociopolitical context of our society so deeply will enable me to work as a truly responsive and socially transformative educator. My knowledge of
Te Tiriti o Waitangi and te reo Māori me ngā tikanga, as well as my respect for the unique bicultural, and increasingly multicultural, foundations of our country will also hold me in good stead when looking for jobs. The only thing I ask is that schools take a chance on us! I know it can be ‘scary’ to hire provisionally registered teachers, but I can assure you that you will not be disappointed. I know that I haven’t been.

Indeed, my master’s has been an incredible experience overall so far. I have met some wonderful people, many of whom I know will be lifelong friends. I have also had the opportunity to work alongside some wonderful teachers. While there have been many assignments, they are all of incredible value. In fact, I have yet to utter the words ‘what is the point of this?’.

The best part though, has of course been practicum. I have been placed at Murrays Bay Intermediate School, a truly inspiring example of futures-focused education gone right. My wonderful year 8 students are a raucous, excitable, hilarious group of learners that make me laugh, smile and beam with pride (almost) all of the time!


 

Kevin PowellThe teacher with a difference

New teacher graduate KEVIN POWELL has taken an entrepreneurial approach to education, establishing the business ‘Teacher in the Paddock’, which he describes as a “living outdoor classroom”.

Bay of Plenty man Kevin Powell is not your average teaching graduate. While he had every intention of becoming a ‘traditional’ classroom-based teacher following completion of his degree, instead he’s taken an entrepreneurial approach to education.

Kevin sums up Teacher in the Paddock as a hands-on opportunity for adults and children to experience the simplicity of good nutrition and a sustainable lifestyle.

“It helps connect children and adults with their food, where it comes from and how it impacts our health and wellbeing, as well as many other aspects of renewable living principles. We offer a series of programmes which provide teachers, parents and children a living resource that is cross-curricular. We base these programmes both outdoors on our small lifestyle block and in our house, making this a unique ‘homely’ experience for all.”

As part of studying his teaching degree at the University of Waikato in Tauranga, Kevin says students were exposed to a range of opportunities that demonstrated the diversity of a teaching qualification. This influenced the realisation he could pursue any number of careers.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Education reported that only 15 per cent of new graduates were picking up permanent jobs in schools. Kevin is bucking this alleged trend by taking an innovative approach to education.

“During our studies we were told that employment options could be challenging due to the high volumes of job seekers versus positions available. Things weren’t painted negatively, but in a realistic sense. As with anything though, I’d say that attitude is 99 per cent.”

Attitude clearly is everything – across the University of Waikato’s undergraduate teaching programmes, more than 80 per cent of 2016 teaching graduates from Tauranga have already found employment in full- or part-time education-related roles.

“Prior to setting up Teacher in a Paddock it dawned on me I had a range of abilities that – coupled with learning to be a teacher – allowed me choices I had never even considered. My advice to others considering the teaching profession is to consider your studies as an opening of doors to a world of possibility.”

He believes that education encourages us to question not only how we see our world, but how to make a positive contribution. And through Teacher in the Paddock, Kevin is definitely making his.

“Visitors can expect to see a slice of paradise and a way of living that, although somewhat reminiscent of ‘old times’, reflects a growing trend and more sustainable way of being in our age of pre-prepared, pre-packed, consumption-driven society. It showcases our lifestyle, based around self-determination, self-sufficiency and sustainability through the mediums of see, hear, touch, taste and smell.”

Teacher in the Paddock offers a range of programmes aimed at 2–70 years, including after-school care, school holiday programmes and community-focused nutritional workshops and sustainable backyard events.


 

Brosnon SiluugaThe teacher who took a different pathway into teaching

Like many young people, BROSNON SILUUGA dreamed of a career in sport or the gaming industry, but after following advice from family and friends he became a teacher and hasn’t looked back.

Brosnon Siluuga recently graduated with a Bachelor of Education (Teaching) Primary from the University of Auckland on Friday. He now teaches year 5 students at Papatoetoe East Primary.

“I love it! I can’t wait to get up for school each day,” he says.

“I can’t wait to get there and see my students to ask how they are and what they did in the weekend and to help them learn and encourage them to be the best they can be. My students are what drive me each and every day to be the best teacher and role model I can be.”

As a teenager he shrugged off suggestions from his teachers at Marcellin College that he should teach. Instead he did a diploma of computer programming specialising in interactive gaming at Media Design School.

But after completing the diploma in 2011 he was finding it difficult to find work in the industry. His mother Diane was teaching at Holy Cross School in Papatoetoe and told him he should apply for a teacher’s aide position that was opening up at the school.

“Working with students, seeing how diverse the schooling environment was and being able to be a part of those lightbulb moments when students learned something new was amazing,” he says.

In 2013 he started his degree at the university’s Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) campus. The University of Auckland at Manukau Programme started over 15 years ago and this May graduation marked the milestone of the 500th graduate for the Bachelor of Education (Teaching).

Brosnon says studying at MIT was great because of the supportive staff and convenience to home. Now the 26-year-old is recommending teaching to others.

“If you love to help, encourage and support others, and are well-organised and punctual, then teaching is definitely for you.”

He is particularly keen to encourage more men into teaching.

“I know there are quite a few of us out there who are reluctant to teach because of their personal experiences at school, because of the stereotypes that surround male teachers, or because you think it’s going to be too hard or too challenging. Ignore all of that, because at the end of the day, it could be you who is making the difference in the lives of others for a living.”


 

Sam CarrollThe Teach First NZ grad

SAM CARROLL graduated with a Bachelor in Science (maths major, physics minor) from the University of Otago. He is a teacher of mathematics, beginning the Teach First NZ programme in 2014 at Onehunga High School.

Numbers. One of the earliest memories I have of a fascination with them is when a maths book I had at primary school had the times tables on the back cover, and this went up to the 15 times table… wow!

Looking back, though, I was actually never among the top maths performers in my class through primary and intermediate. I had always been a big reader of books, and a storyteller, so numbers were more commonly seen by me at the bottom of a page than throughout one. Fourth form came along, and with it a new maths teacher at our school. I can distinctly remember his first class with us, and it began with a lesson in Latin. We learnt that “carpe diem” translated to “seize the day” and this was the beginning of the development of a classroom culture that bred success.

Later in life, I chose to embark on a career in education myself, under the tutelage of Teach First NZ and The University of Auckland, and my relationship with numbers continues. Every week in the classroom throws at me countless new questions, and the structure of the programme has provided me with numerous branches of support to reach out to answer them.

As I have matured as a teacher, my inquiries would become deeper, more complex, and my guidance would match that. Over the two years I have built strong relationships with the students I have taught, and sometimes these have been tested.

One really strong message this Teach First NZ path has taught me however is not necessarily about numbers at all. It’s about NOT treating students as numbers. It’s about finding out from the students what makes up THEIR culture, what they bring to the classroom each day. It’s about sharing with them a little bit about me, and helping them realise that each of them have fascinating stories to tell, and that I have a genuine interest in those stories.


 

Ruth AlefaioThe new teacher grad

Newly graduated teacher RUTH ALEFAIO wants to make a difference for Pasifika and Māori learners.

Crossing the stage at Massey University’s graduation ceremony to receive her Graduate Diploma of Teaching (Primary) was the culmination of years of hard work for teaching graduate Ruth Alefaio. Now, she wants to apply her degree to improving educational outcomes for Pasifika and Māori learners in 

New Zealand.

Mrs Alefaio has been studying with the Institute of Education in Palmerston North for the past few years alongside raising her four children, Christian, 11, Tiara, 10, Daniel, seven and Isla-Grete, three. Although she has previously graduated with a Bachelor of Business Studies from Massey University, this time was extra special.

“It was overwhelming! I was nervous, excited – my heart was beating so fast,” says Mrs Alefaio of her graduation ceremony.

Education is highly valued in her family. Her mother, Grete Luisa Lavati, was a schoolteacher in Fiji, where Mrs Alefaio was born and lived until age 12 on the island of Kioa, an outlying island of Fiji’s main island Vanua Levu. Kioa was bought on behalf of settlers from Vaitupu atoll in Tuvalu, who migrated there between 1947 and 1983 due to overcrowding on Vaitupu.

Due to restrictions for scholarships for non-Fijians for secondary and tertiary education in Fiji, her family decided her best option was to attend high school in Tuvalu. She took the three-day journey with her older brother by boat to Vaitupu atoll, where she spent her early teen years at Motufoua Secondary School, a government boarding school, before gaining a scholarship to New Plymouth Girls’ High School for her final two years.

Both places were a huge culture shock, compelling her to adapt and become resilient as a young woman far from her home and family. From adjusting to a more westernised diet in Tuvalu, with its dependence on imported foods, to the bitter cold of New Plymouth, where she was one of three scholarship students from Tuvalu in 1998, she describes her travels with upbeat good humour.

While studying business at Massey University’s Manawatū campus, she met her Tuvaluan husband, Kelese Alefaio, a microbiologist. Now happily settled there, she immersed herself in helping her own children with their learning, as well as working as a volunteer at Riverdale Kindergarten and teacher’s aide at West End Primary School’s reading programme, before deciding she wanted to train and work professionally as a teacher.

“I wanted to understand our education system and how it inspires our children to learn,” she says.

Since completing her degree she has worked part-time as a reliever at Somerset Crescent School, and this year has joined an early literacy programme for five and six-year-old pupils headed by Massey’s Institute of Education, being rolled out in several schools in the region. She’s also been inspired to consider big picture education and equity issues through a Pasifika teachers’ conference she attended in Wellington last month.

As a passionate teacher, she wants to be more involved in making positive changes to help lift Pasifika and Māori underachievement in national standards.

“We have a system that can work for everybody,” she says. “But we need to be mindful of how the education system is implemented to ensure all students, in terms of diversity, are catered for.”


 

Annie RileyThe Kiwi teacher overseas

Education Review continues to follow the progress of teacher ANNIE RILEY, who graduated from Massey University a few years ago.

Wow! It’s been another busy, challenging and rewarding year for me. I taught year 1 at Wimbledon Chase Primary School in London last year and at the beginning of the school year in September I began teaching year 5 – I absolutely love it!

Year 5 provides me with so many teachable moments and some intriguing conversations; I also feel more able to be creative. I have had so many opportunities for professional development including child protection and safeguarding, speech and language and growth mindset training. I have taught children from various corners of the world with a diverse range of cultural backgrounds and learning needs. I feel as though this experience has been invaluable (as well as testing my own fortitude and knowledge) and I have loved forming relationships with such a broad range of kids. I will definitely miss them all when the school year concludes at the end of July. In September I also took on the role of art coordinator for the school (over 900 students) and run a sports leadership programme for senior students – so I am always busy!

The British education system is, of course, markedly different to the New Zealand system and I couldn’t be more eager to return home in December to begin the job search for 2017. It’s safe to say I absolutely miss the can-do attitude of Kiwi kids and look forward to teaching in a dynamic, collegial school and embracing The New Zealand Curriculum once again.


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