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Being an immigrant teacher in BICULTURAL Aotearoa New Zealand

By Jo Hayes

immigrant teacher in New Zealand

In the beginning...

Heading to New Zealand from the UK in 2010, I was confident in my research and what I could expect. I was aware that New Zealand is a bicultural country, but looking back I was not aware of what that actually looks like. I’m sure many of you can relate!


My first teaching job was in Timaru. Back then, the bicultural aspect of New Zealand wasn’t really very obvious in Timaru, so I didn’t have to think about it. It was a little more apparent in my second position in Fairlie, and I enjoyed watching the Kapa Haka group and singing the National Anthem.


The move to Rotorua

immigrant teacher in New Zealand

By 2015, I had decided to move to Rotorua to try life in the North Island. This is where I was able to experience a truly bicultural society for the first time. Very quickly, it became obvious that my knowledge around te ao Māori was lacking and I needed to learn more. I decided to dive into a tikanga Māori course as a starting point for building my understanding. Coming from the UK, I regularly sat on desks and tables. I needed to know the reasoning behind why this was a no-no. Being at a pōwhiri and not knowing what was going on was another issue that some of you may have come across too.


The course I chose to study included a history of te reo Māori. It was confronting to learn how the language had been all but wiped out by immigrants like me. So, it was at this point that I knew I had to be part of the solution, and my next course needed to be a te reo course. 


Learning te reo Māori definitely forces you out of your comfort zone! Having chosen to take a distance learning course, I saw my tutor for assessments only. The actual studying was down to me. I felt really out of my depth and struggled to relax, but at least I could finally figure out how to pronounce the names of the streets and suburbs in Rotorua! I quickly realised that this would transfer into the classroom, as I would be more confident with the names of the students. I had always asked them to correct me if I got it wrong, but now I was mostly getting it right. 


immigrant teacher in New Zealand

Getting braver!

A couple of years later, I read some information on a new course, Te Ahu o te Reo Māori. I was ready to build on the basics I learned in the first course, and this one would push me to do that. The course was online and face-to-face, so there was no hiding place. I had to open up and try to figure it out. After two levels on that course, I decided to stop. I was much more confident and could understand more, but I was also aware of my struggles. Figuring out how to build a sentence is hard! My top tip would be to have a teacher friend to do the course with. You can help each other and it keeps you accountable. No giving up at the first hurdle!


My newfound confidence helped me tackle how to integrate mātauranga Māori into my teaching. I felt more comfortable figuring out how to include aspects of te ao Maori into my planning, and also with sharing those ideas with my colleagues. We collaborated to help our students feel seen in our teaching. 


Stepping up...and toward the front :)

Last year, my school encouraged the teachers to learn waiata and the school haka. When we started, we were all trying to stand at the back! Our matua was having none of it and made the people at the back come to the front - lesson learned! We were determined to give it our best shot, and we all attended the weekly sessions. We even booked lunchtime department sessions with the lead teacher. At the Haka and waiata House competition for the students, the staff showed the students what we had learned. The support from the students was quite humbling. It’s a memory I will treasure.


You can do it!

If you have been toying with the idea of taking a te reo course, go for it. You will gain so much from it and your students will appreciate your efforts. Don’t worry if you can’t hold a conversation in te reo, as being able to greet your students and make links to te ao Māori without stumbling over the vocabulary can be enough. 


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