Teach First NZ – one teacher’s reflectionJune 2014
The Teach First NZ programme aims to tackle educational inequality by developing top graduates into educators who go on to teach in low decile schools. Teach First NZ teacher YOLANDE THOM reflects on her first year at a low decile Auckland secondary school.
Philosopher Martin Burber once wrote, “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware”. As a lifelong traveller, I continually find myself on a journey in uncharted waters. My journey with Teach First NZ is no exception.
Late one afternoon I found myself in a room, surrounded by a group of strangers, listening to a presentation that emphasised the inequalities in New Zealand’s educational outcomes. This not only inspired me, but also motivated me to apply and take on a new challenge with Teach First NZ, helping young people aspire to and reach their full educational potential in life.
Being able to look back on my first year with a fresh pair of eyes, I realise that my journey was one that required resilience and integrity. There have been many challenges and frustrations along the way.
One of my biggest challenges has been working with low literacy Year 9 students. These students come into secondary school sitting below or at level 2 of the curriculum, yet at that stage they should be sitting at level 4. As much as these students are challenging though, they are also very rewarding, and I find myself focusing on the milestones that they achieve along the way. Each milestone is one step closer to the student’s individual educational destination.
In addition, it has also been important for me to allow all of my students to take ownership of their learning with appropriate support in place, so that they have the choice to decide on a pathway that works best for them. Having said this, the same has been applicable for me. I too have found myself in an environment where I have been encouraged to take ownership of my learning and development, as a new teacher who has been visibly supported by my school, my mentors, The University of Auckland, and Teach First NZ.
My most recent highlight has been exploring student voices in one of my junior classes. Throughout term one I continued to focus on developing culturally responsive pedagogy. It has been important for me to teach my Māori students as Māori and my Pasifika students as Pasifika. The lens through which I view the world is influenced by my prior knowledge and experience, including implicit expectations and beliefs about how the world works. It is significantly different from the majority of my students; therefore, my lens influences what I notice within my classroom and how I interpret it.
With this in mind, I wanted to hear students voice what they felt they learnt throughout our first unit of work: “I learnt more about sacrificing for your own family, achieving what you really believe in, and knowing more about what you really want in life” and “we got to learn new things about our cultures”.
I also wanted to hear from my students about what they enjoyed the most: “these two assessments let me express myself about my culture and others”; “I got to express my Māori side”; and “I actually found out what my mountain was, [and] which waka my ancestors were from”. Not only did the students have an opportunity to learn more about their culture, but I also got to know more about my learners, their family and what’s important to them.
Upon reflection, the first year of Teach First NZ laid the foundation, and in the second year I’m building upon that. When you are in the first year it’s often hard to navigate your way through, as there are many potholes, detours and roadblocks along the way.
However, having experienced and learnt from some of these, my second year journey is more fluid. This means that I am able to enjoy the small Kodak moments, along the continuous journey of teaching and learning. These moments are often what others refer to as the ‘money shot’ or the ‘light bulb’ moments. They are the unexpected delights along the way, the moments that make you smile, and the moments that make teaching worthwhile.
Yolande Thom is from the Teach First NZ 2013 Cohort and is teaching English at Tamaki College, Glen Innes, Auckland. She graduated with BA English & History from the University of Canterbury.
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