Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Learning Reo? Learning Me?

Image result for god grant me the serenity

This was hot-pokered onto an oval piece of wood and hung in a very eighties piece of macrame-work (Google it) and hung on the wall in my house growing up. My papa made it when he endured one his extended stays in Tauranga hospital when we were little. As a quirk of being in a major accident in Tauranga, he returned for further treatment to Tauranga Moana where I lived; instead of Auckland, where he did. I recall sitting at the foot of his hospital bed under a tree and watching his fingers weave the knots of the macrame while sucking on one of the barley sugars he kept hidden around his bed. This is also the serenity prayer used at Alcoholics Anonymous. Without having hm here to confirm or refute this, I am going to make a connection between the choice of this prayer and his own alcoholism. At the outset of this post it is necessary for me to acknowledge the difficulty of the relationship I had with my papa, which will help me make sense of my current journey to learn te reo Māori.

Today marks the 8th day of an 11 week study award - the chance to study te reo Māori through a programme run by Te Runanga o Ngāi Tahu called Ka Poupou te Reo o Tahu. The course allows a small group of teachers to learn reo, about Kai Tahu and how we will integrate this in to our teaching and learning.

This is an amazing privilege. To be able to study properly, still hang-on to my job and pay the mortgage is simply amazing. 

It also makes me cack my pants. I am not fantastic at language learning... and my perceived success at this flies in the face of my past three attempts to learn te reo Māori. When I was thinking about whether or not to apply to this course I had to consider why this opportunity makes me so uncomfortable. I have applied to, failed and succeeded with many different opportunities over the years, but this is different. Why? There are few other opportunities that push so close to who I am as an individual and a collective; few opportunities that expose vulnerabilities whose complexity pulls at the cultural, political and familial threads of my life.

Sitting on the paepae of Nga Huia back home in Ngau Tupoto, is always an overwhelming experience. To see and hear my whānau and hapū in action has been at once a deeply connecting and difficult emotional experience. There is the surety of the sense of belonging - they are my whakapapa, my whānau, my hapū - it is my tūrangawaewae. It is this sense of inalienable connection, that is one of the things that I love to share with those who know me or visit this country. How can something so deep and beautiful be difficult? That is where this becomes incredibly personal and vulnerable. Growing up away from my father, meant growing up away from this place, this culture , this language. It is not something I ever second guess - as that is how life goes and, mine has been amazing; but it is a reality of my situation. My identity as Māori is given to me through my papa, but can also be reflected in my relationship with him as well. My loss of him, has been a loss of who I am too.

So here I am; Grieving. Grieving my loss of language links to grief for my culture and most personally, grief for my father. Rationally, I think 'get over it' and 'do something about it'. Emotionally, this is the baggage that comes round the carousel whether I like it not.

Karuna, our kaiako on the course, mentioned that for Māori who have not had reo as their first language learn it differently - that there is a trauma associated with language acquisition. Looking at this I found a korero that Scotty Morrison offered. "Mr Morrison said non-Māori often have an easier time learning te reo, as they come in fresh, while Māori often suffer from "language trauma" where there is a strong emotional attachment to their learning."
Click to go to Scotty... phwoar - I mean the article.
What I have realised is, yes, there is an emotional attachment to this learning. This is not like picking up some phrases to use when I visit China later this year - this is part of a wider journey in my life. One which is full of emotion and insecurity. One which I have to fight to be comfortable, to learn and to stand firm. Yet this is not a a cry of victimhood or a chance to get back up on my high-horse - just a way to acknowledge this for what it is; not to diminish nor conflate - just to accept. I accept this, as I accept that I should and need to do something about this. 

This course is an opportunity to give this baggage a big kick and finally open and unpack it. I have already learnt so much and been so challenged in our first 8 days. To hear and speak te reo consistently has been amazing. I understand so little of what we say and do, yet every day, more sticks. Those of you who know me can laugh in the knowledge that I am still mister unco-jelly arms in our kapahaka sessions and I still manage to get in a few class-clown jokes (it is great being a learner again!) I am looking forward to reflecting and sharing more of what I learn. Again, it is a privilege.

So, again to the Serenity prayer - because I find so much of life is linked and cyclical. This opportunity has given me serenity to accept the history and journey here which I cannot change. The courage to make the most of this this chance to grow, be vulnerable and be a learner. This blog post gives me the chance to begin to share, reflect and know the difference  - the wisdom.

Mo tōku papa.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Powhiri & Kmart

Powhiri & Kmart

So there I was at K Mart standing in front of a rack of black trousers. Heart beating and mind racing. No, not at the bargain prices or the lack of natural fibres, but at the what they represented. A powhiri. A powhiri for a new school that is finally welcomiing ākonga and whānau. The doors opening on a new dawn after a long three months of planning, relationship building and thinking.

A powhiri that has involved a lot of planning by a lot of people. It has involved me engaging with kapahaka – for those who know my kapa, think blind, erratic octopus meets overcited tabby cat. It has involved starting a new life in a different city – one in which I though I never wanted to live in again. It tied me again to a familiar path of opening a school, which if you comb through the past posts of this intermittently written blog, holds many ghosts, passions and fears. A powhiri which has pushed me to put fingers to keyboard and commit to a public exploration of how I feel about what I do – something I have been reluctant to do at this kura so far.

Why now? The act of welcoming the community to breathe life into what has been a theretical exercise has pushed me to again examine what it is I do as a teacher and the personal journey that has, since I left off writing this blog, been a long exercise in finding inspiration and energy in my mahi. I think I have finally found it again.

Since my return to New Zealand schools I had been wanting a way to channel my ever growing frustration and desire to find a better way to do things schoolwise for Māori. A paper in indigenous education was the first try. I became known as the ‘angry guy’. Angry at the marginalisation of indigenous peoples at home and around the world. I railed at what I was reading and analysing and left the university to drive home fizzing with knowledge but with no outlet.

At my old school I found comfort in my colleagues, but this jarred with the journey in the Cook Islands and the knowledge I was discovering through study. Here too, at my old school, I became stroppy. Stroppy, sometimes in a measured, evidence driven, team building and strategic way. Ready to challenge the leadership and colleagues with their perceptions of Māori and Pasifika students and teachers. Stoppy, also in a frustrated, angry rant kind of way, with a broken heart as we watched students struggle against the system. At the end of it all, it is the individuals who give life to the theories and statistics and it became increasingly difficult to watch this played out in a visceral way. Harder and harder to sit with whānau and colleagues and feel helpless and angry.

The opportunity arose to try again. Try to start something new. Again. I wondered if I really had it in me after Ormiston and the Cooks. Was I just shifting off – again? The conditions seemed right though. An underprivileged community. A Māori and Pasifika community. This was an opportunity that felt like it would continue my own professional journey. A friend’s phrase resonated with me ‘ you were made for times such as this’, admittedly, she had last said this at Denny’s when we had oredered too much food, but it was too much to resist (much like the chicken wings). So I took the lunge and moved to Christchurch.

The last two months have forced me to reconsider myself, profesionally and personally. The funny thng is I knew this was going to happen and I felt confident that I was ready to roll with it; overly confident. Given my past experience,I didn’t expect what has happened over the last three months.

I didn’t expect to be so defensive and to have the monkeys on my shoulder poked and prodded. I didn’t expect to meet a school culture that was so open and comfortable with who they were. I didn’t expect to be so valued for who I am. I certainly didn’t expect to believe it. The most difficult thing was the most personal, being valued as Māori.

It has always been a deeply introspective journey, one that has been forced into my professional life and one that has been the most painful and most rewarding part of my career. I came from an environment where I had to be strong, assertive, pushed and pulled out of my comfort zone, isolated and had built incredibly tight-knit bonds with those around me who were in a simialr position. Then to suddenly be in a place where I could be myself, learn about myself, see a place for me and so many other Māori educators was something that I found shocking, difficult and I didn’t know how to react. It tumbled out embarrasingly one day and I made a decision to let it all out with my colleagues publicly, choosing to return form hiding in a toilet to blubber in a room filled with people. It was a turningn point, a vulnerable one that let others know the impact they were having, though they may not have understood what the tears meant. It has continued with learning about the rohe I am in and building a shared understanidng of Te Ao Māori at our kura and with colleagues who have a sense of purpose to work with my people, our ākonga. I trust that my community will grow me, protect me and value who I am.

Yet, it has taken me until now to recover from the sense of loss and fatigue that comes with leaving my home in Tamaki Makaurau, with all that had come to be – a deep sense of belonging, whānau, friends and a deeply loved life. The move and the new job was taxing and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was barely keeping my head above water. I felt, too, this was reflected in my actions, for the first time in my professional life I needed to find distance from my colleagues and I struggled to process thoughts and information. I was slow. I was grumpy when I knew I shouldn’t be. I was emotional, when I had long learnt to wall this away from my colleagues. I wasn’t myself or who I wanted to be.

With the distance of a fantastic trip overseas with the greatest of friends, I was able to find the mental and emotional space I needed to process all of this. So now, after two short weeks of hectic preparation, planning and physically preparing to open the doors I feel more energised then I was able to feel when I began last year.

I am ready. I am proud of the people who will be standing with me when I inevitably fuck up my haka powhiri. They are a group of people who may laugh with me, but who will also encourage me, persist with me and be with me shoulder to shoulder (or even on top of my shoulders...)

So, even though I decided not buy that new pair of ‘powhiri pants’, I am ready. Ready, knowing where I come from, came from and ready to take the next mistimed, out of tune step. Tu meke!

Saturday, 28 November 2015


Today marks the two-week countdown until I finish working here in Rarotonga. It also marks the need to post something on the much-neglected blog. Though the 'come-to-the end-of things-reflection' is much cliched, it is a cliche for a reason. This is my attempt to try and make something of all the thoughts, memories and emotions that are swirling around and a reason to justify why I am a bit grumpy and withdrawn - sorry Mum and Hope (who are visiting at the moment).

There is a continuous cycle of people coming and going on the island, as they work, live and then return to where they came. For the locals this is a normal, and in some ways a sad indictment of a policy that reinforces dependence and a certain personal distance (a whole other topic really). For me, it has seen the arrival and departure of people who have made an impact on my life in a way that is intense and powerful. The transience and seeming temporariness of the relationships serves only to make them intense and meaningful in a way that I have found to be unexpected and I have come to value those connections and people quickly.

It also serves to explain why there is real depth and intensity to the thinking and feeling I have experienced and can reflect on despite a mere 18 months ticking by. One of the first questions I was asked on arrival was, "What are you running from?" This was asked half in jest, but there is definitely an element of escapism in many expatriate journeys, perhaps more-so when you decide to pack up off to a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I can't say that I was running, I don't 'do' running, but there was a need to shift from what I was doing in New Zealand and there was a conscious effort to change-down a gear. I was burning the candle at both ends in New Zealand and I was glad to take on something new and different. I am glad I did.

I was trying to boil-down what I am feeling and it is a sense of clarity. Living here has been a rewarding and challenging experience, negotiating a real tension between distance and connection and all that comes with that.

Physical distance is the first thing I noted on arrival. The long ocean separating me from my life in NEw Zealand and the equally charming and frustrating lack of distance on the island. A 32km round-the-island distance creates a physical intimacy and connects you to where you are, whether you like it or not. I love scootering to work or to town and always seeing someone to wave to and greet, the familiar is created quickly and there is a real opportunity to learn the 'whole place'. There are the other times when you crave some anonymity and wish that you hadn't worn your ugly stained T-Shirt to the shop or don't feel like chatting. There is an opportunity in this closeness to feel a part of a community.

Conversely, it is this intimacy which makes for a real feel of dislocation. For example, watching One News easily reforges a connection to New Zealand and I feel weird every time it finishes, like I have just jumped back to Raro again. There is so much of my 'home' culture here, literally heaps of kiwis, sometimes it makes it harder to deal with the meta-physical distance from home. In other ways, however, you are reminded in no uncertain terms of where you are.

I have always felt comfortable in the margins, it where I see myself and have developed a comfortable sense of identity, professionally and personally. In fact, it is from outside the 'mainstream' is where I draw my confidence and focus for what I do. What's interesting here is that it has given me another perspective on living outside on the 'norm'. In New Zealnd I know how to navigate the ins and outs and revel in being able to slip between perspectives and groups. Here, I have been able to think from another perspective, again from an 'outsiders' perspective but it is real in completely different ways. There is real confidence and beauty in the strength of the culture here, but I find a sadness in the denial of other here that is hard for me to reconcile.

My trip to Mauke, a small Southern Group island, allowed me to experience a culture that was proud and confident, but through the long conversations with two amazing people - Teata and Ta, gave me a glimpse of an honesty and vulnerability which is more hidden in Rarotonga. Ta was a natural storyteller and teacher who found real joy in sharing who he is and the narratives of his place. This was the first time I felt that someone was bursting to share the culture and history with me and Tas, my freind and colleague, and I reveled in this, sitting up and sharing food, journeys, history and culture. More than this, Ta shared their own personal narratives of moving between the islands of the Cooks and New Zealand, offering a personal and, at times, vulnerable narrative of how they shift between places and people. This wasn't a conscious decision on their part, but came naturally to them and in their own deep sense of belonging and honesty. I came away feeling privileged to have been able to have talked and shared. I felt connected through Teata and Ta.

It is this sense of honesty, of owning the strength and vulnerability of the culture here that I found refreshing and it is the wariness and weariness of those back on Rarotonga to connect to this part of the culture and outsiders that I found sad. I understand some of the reasons why, but I am also saddened by the fact. It is is in this space that I can understand how there is resistance to the 'other' here - form a vulnerability and the negative effects of decades of colonisation and being told what to do, comes the necessity of assertion. The sad fact of the matter is that is this that makes it difficult to be different - necessary for expats, but hard for the locals.

As a New Zealand Maori, I have been surprised at the local's relationship with their little cousins. I quickly stopped using te reo Aotearoa, as they just kept 'correcting' me. It was funny, from the first Kia ora, came the first kia ORANA. This was awesome, Mama Hen's chiding showed me where things were at in the Cooks. I quickly shifted knowing that the little cousins had a different place at the table here. Though, tikanaga Maori was out in some ways, kaupapa Maori still helped me to understand and navigate my own place.  As different as things are, you can still pick out and use the similarities, particularly in inter-personal relationships. One positive of being othered, is that when one force pushed me, my own sense of personal identity and culture pushed right back, though mostly in an internal sense. I am prouder and more confident in who I am, warts and all. Tihei mauri ora! You go girlfiend!

As an expat, it is really par for the course to sit 'outside' the culture- it is up to the outsiders to fit in and I accept that and don't resent it, even though it makes life hilarious at times. I know my place. Who I feel for are the returning Cook Islanders. Those who can papa'anga Kuki Airani and feel a connection and service to their people, but who can be distanced nevertheless. 'They are too papa'a' is cheap phrase often thrown at returning Cook Islanders, that I find hurtful and frustrating. Either you are a Cook Islander or you aren't. You. It isn't someone else's decision. I think this has resonance with me as it parallels my own journey with being NZ Maori. I make the decision. I whakapapa Maori. I value Te Ao Maori. Other people can get fucked. Hence, my feelings for the awesome friends and colleagues who are sometimes unfairly treated and disregarded because they aren't kuki enough. Fuck them. You are awesome. You know who you are.

Professionally, the sense of 'other' has made making change difficult, but also much more rewarding. I feel proud of the relationships I have built, exactly because things are more difficult here and I leave sad that things are left unfinished but proud in the fact that they have started - more than half the battle I feel. I have had to shuck off my 'in New Zealand' coat quickly and now am happy to leave it in the cupboard. That phrase is a sure fire way of sabotaging any change and I am glad to recognise the Cooks for the separate and amazing people that they are. The distance, here, professionally, has strengthened my ability to analyse and empathise and has made me more open. I am able to distance myself from a workplace, school or Ministry, and am more objective than I was previously. I found a real passion and frantic action in the closeness of my last workplaces, but with a little more objectivity, I can now see that there is clarity and confidence to be gained from a little distance. It also allows me to feel proud of what I have done here and that I have done something purposeful.

Personally, this distance mirrors my professional life. I have been able to slow down and spend some time with myself. I didn't naturally enjoy living by myself but have come to value this. I have even been more tidy and am now a little bit OCD about kitchen cupboards... wonders never cease. Being able to negotiate when I am with people and when I choose not to be has been important. At times in New Zealand I felt swept away. I loved being with people all the time, but sometimes I felt as though I was shifting with others calendars with no chance to stop. Cats are good for that. Stopping. I have taken lessons from my adoptive cats and chilled out. Thanks Tahi and Rua (like the imaginative names?)
Just cause I love my scooter...

So, coming to the end of my blog therapy session, what is it that I can take away from my short time in Rarotonga? A renewed sense of clarity and purpose. Sounds a bit lofty and wanky, but it is just that. It doesn't have to be big - like, I quite like cats more than I thought, but it can be - like I have a better understanding of who I am culturally and am fiercely proud of that. Sometimes we have to step out of ourselves and our environment to realise who it is we actually are - gee I am lucky to be able to have had this time.

Which is why, I feel a real sense of sorrow in leaving. Which is why I feel a deep sense of gratitude and privilege for my short time here in the Cooks.

Meitaki maata, atupaka, ranuinui, Atawaiolo Cook Islands. Catch you up.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Rarotonga Road Code: Supplementary Amendment (2015).

Rarotonga Road Code: Supplementary Amendment (2015).

Conversational Overtaking Rule.
When passing on-coming traffic, bring your vehicle to a complete stop, proceed with a lengthy discussion whilst drawn up on a roadway. Awareness of other vehicles optional, using signals to signify a stop is forbidden.

Canine and Fowl pedestrian Rule.
Canine and fowl posses legal rights of carriage on roadways and shall be accorded full rights and usage of all roads. Note that signals of intended direction will occur immediately and may not necessarily signify direction or intention. Ensure that your speed is variable around all feathered and furred road users.

Exit of Property Rule.
When exiting a property you may abide by oncoming traffic rules. However, the usage of the grassy verge of oncoming traffic is permissible for a scooter or motorcycle. Travelling a maximum distance onto oncoming traffic is encouraged.

Carriage of Goods on Motorcycles Rule.
Carriage of goods, both dangerous and over-sized is encouraged. Awareness of loads is discouraged and safety is optional. Carriage of coffee tables by senior citizens is particularly encouraged.

Ei Katu Speed Reduction Rule.
The wearing of Ei Aktu (cultural head wear) by a motorcycle driver results in automatic observance of a 10km speed limit. For the safety of those around you please use as much of the road as possible.

Precipitation and Motorcycle Rule.
If there is any precipitation please slow down to a safe speed to allow for conditions. If there other road users on Motorcycles please slow to a speed to allow drowning-in-motion.

Motorcycle Weight restriction Rule.
Observance of recommended weight restrictions on motorcycles is forbidden. Please ensure weight capacity is exceeded if at all possible. Recommendation that passenger obesity is utilised in this regard.

Weather Protection Reverse Rule.
Ensure that any clothing designed top provide weather protection is worn backwards. Use of yellow polythene coats is recommended.

Insects as Ballistic Ordinance Rule
Landowners – please ensure that insects are bred to a sufficient caliber as to affect blindness, injury and personal injury to motorists on every occasion. There are government subsidies for those who are able to release said insects in low light and twilight conditions.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015



As I slipped into my first knitwear of the season, I was overcome with gratitude. Gratitude for the cooling weather and relief that I have a little more dignity in my working appearance.
Those of you who have known me for a long time, and I am sure it comes as no surprise to those of you who don't, know that I have a long standing relationship with sweat. Sweat patches to be precise. I know I am overweight, but I am convinced that even though this is the case, I sweat more than the average bear. Now to a historical examination of my sweatiness, with a warning to those who have not have not eaten yet...
White polo shirts at school was never an excellent decision for a teenager in general, the wears of the day would inevitably be strewn across my front: grass, sauce, biro, chalk. However, for the longest time I could not place the strange yellow marks across my back. Teenage hypochondria would have me dying of some strange malady, often tropical or malarial, I didn't know how my body could produce a strange yellow band across my back. Empirical investigation ensued and I discovered that the varnished wooden chairs were the culprit. My sweaty back would come into contact with the varnish and then they would make friends with one another, leaving a permanent reminder of the chair across my body. A jersey or jacket was the answer to this conundrum, so I slipped into one of these, even in hot weather. In the winter months grey serge was another poor material choice for a uniform. The dark grey patches became a constant companion even if I gassed everyone with Lynx. So I matured into my sweatiness.
The next time this became an issue was when I got a job at Woolworths. Again I was beset by poor fabric choice. Nylon is a hard wearing fabric. When they decided on a uniform, navy is a hard wearing colour, but man, when you are pushing trolleys on a hot day in the Mount, it just sucks. The consequence is that I ended up walking around like a cowboy, heat rash was my constant colleague in the carpark at Bayfair Shopping Centre. Hence my effort to shift onto the checkouts. I was learning avoidance. A good plan.
Though working inside makes for less perspiration, my sweatiness came back to haunt me with a vengeance when I walked back into the classroom. My friends at Manurewa high School can attest to playing 'spot the sweat patch' in the staffroom, not too difficult I'm afraid. Two instances illustrate my affliction vividly. One illustrates the evils of the 'wicking' material.
Rejoice! A shirt that wicks the sweat away from your body. That's a good idea! What a pile of shit. I was the proud owner of a bright orange 'wicking' shirt from Kathmandu. Probably had a stupid name: Altitude Tron 5000 or BaseCampTechFibreComfortPlus...
Anyways, I had a crit lesson where my Head of Department would come in and assess how the first year teacher was going. I was stressed out. It showed. Down the back of the class I watched Clive struggle to maintain his composure, not a confidence builder. When a group of students got the giggles, i was feeling really let down. Clive must have noticed and called me to the back where he asked me if I was alright.
Yes, I am okay.
You look a little stressed.
 Oh, really *weak smile*. Why?
 Look at your armpits.
Wicking material works on the presumption of a wider surface drying area helps a shirt dry out quickly. It takes the sweat off your body, into the material and hey presto, you are kept nice and dry.
Well it certainly did its job.
 I had two pizza sized sweat patches growing from each of my armpits. The students appreciated my feeble attempts to explain how wicking fabric works and had a great laugh. Clive enjoyed it too.
The second involved a favourite purple shirt of mine. A mid to dark purple, it had a tailored cut and I liked it. it didn't like me. Not on a hot and busy day. I had a first period running around as a busy Dean and then walked into the staffroom. Tim, never backward in offering wisdom, asked me if I had been running around. My shirt looked as f it had been tie dyed using dolly parton as a clothes horse. I had a anatomically correct sweat stain outlining every fold, crease and cranny. This was a good time to go home and change. Voluntarily. Which brings me to the Cooks.
I knew that I was coming to a humid, tropical environment. I have had sweaty days,  but then so has everyone. I found much comfort in the fact that people have sweat towels which they use throughout the day, sometimes it even lies on your shoulder. Everyone is a little sweaty.
 A little sweaty.
History repeats itself. A wicking shirt and a hot day. Very humid. When I walked into a small air conditioned room after coming in from a school my manager looks at me with a confused expression.
Did you get wet he asks.
Why no I didn't.
Really? It hasn't been raining?
 My wicking shirt was being extreme tested and was absolutely soaked. I looked down and realised what my manager saw. A soaking person. Soaking with sweat.
To his credit he managed the situation very tactfully. Instead of laughing, vomiting and turning away in disgust or posting it straight to Facebook, he suggested that I might fall ill if was damp all day. Bless. To think that I could catch the flu from my sweatiness was a new frontier. So was the fact that I got sent home to change. Sent home because of sweat - a new one to check off the bucketlist. The shame.
Another subtle hint was the manitary pads my colleague Tas gave me. Much like a Libra, with wings no less, but with two adhesive stickers and a fold in the middle.They are designed to stuck to your shirt under your arms. I decided to road test these babies and put one under one arm and au naturel with the other. One must have a scientific approach to indignity and shame. Later in he day we went to check on the results and I found that I had lost it somewhere at work. The horror. Sadly, it was just not upto the task. I did manage to locate it in a meeting room. Wouldn't you like to have found that Easter egg!
Hence, you can now appreciate my joy. My pleasure. My happiness, at once again moving into weather where I once again sweat like a normal person. God bless cooler weather!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

For Mr Smyth and Form 7 History

Well, I am writing my first assignment for the course I have started. It is one of those fluffy - 'write about an experience as a student and draw lessons from it' tasks.

I wasn't looking forward  to it, as I was stuck and I struggle to write with authenticity in tasks like this. I find them a bit contrived... but once I really started to think of a time when I was a student and how it had impact on me, there was one real go to moment.

Form 7, History with Mr Smyth. Maybe my favourite class at College. One that I had talked about my friends with over the years and still laugh at.

I had a nice trip down memory lane and when I got writing, realised what a massive impact this class - the people, my friends and the teacher, had on me.

Thanks for being awesome classmates. I am lucky to still count some of you as close friends.

To Mr Smyth, you grumpy, opinionated, National Party voting, outy belly buttoned man. Thanks for being my teacher.

Thanks for changing my life.


One particular episode of teaching and learning has had particular relevance in shaping, not only my own beliefs in teaching and learning, but also that of the career path I would eventually take. As a History student at Mount Maunganui College the teacher, and the course itself, would have a powerful effect on my world view and those of my class, but would also serve to demonstrate the dynamics of the teacher and student relationship. 

In terms of the teaching and pedagogy of the class, we were introduced to and engaged in effective debate and discussion. Throughout the year our teacher created an environment conducive to debate. Not only did he choose an environment where he got his students from out behind our desks physically, he worked to do this mentally. His effective use of questioning, moving from different perspectives and his insistence that we develop and defend our response, shifted us from simple assertion to dialectic. Debate became involved and drew in others ideas and opinions. The teacher responded to easy platitudes and generalisations with challenge, which invited response, humour and heated exchange 

The learning context contributed to the exploration of our own beliefs and was an effective compliment to this pedagogical approach. The context was focused around 19th Century New Zealand History, which initially we complained bitterly about. We were not interested in our own stories and were thirsty to find out about the world around us. A single critical incident radically challenged this complacency and doubt. We were collectively complaining about our year's subject to a relief teacher, who duly listened to our angst about the relevancy of New Zealand History. The teacher then responded passionately, challenging our viewpoint; the ignorance and paucity of our own knowledge about our country, our cultural prejudice and our socio-economic position in society. This was a direct affront to my own worldview. I did not see myself as ignorant, middle class and I was proud of my own Maori heritage, yet there was sting in her words. That one incident forced us to re-evaluate our beliefs and confront how we understood our place in our culture and society. It enabled us to open our minds to an entirely different perspective of New Zealand, a country we thought we knew. We were able to approach our study of this context with an open mind. 

With pedagogy that helped us into this space of discovery, challenge and justification, our exploration of the learning context became exciting. We found that we were just as thirsty to find out about who we wereThe class became a re-examination of how we learn and what we learnt. 

What is so powerful and why has it remained such an important narrative in my own teaching practice, is that this teacher and class demonstrate key lessons and issues in the formation of my own philosophy of teaching.   

Firstly, there was a shift in the pedagogical locus of the classroom. This was the first time where I felt the power dynamics of learning tip from teacher to student. There was acceptance and encouragement of student led discussion. Often we would argue amongst ourselves for long periods of timewhile the teacher would moderate and facilitate. This student-centred approach to learning, where I was engaged as the leader of my own learning was a dramatic departure from what I had come to expect. A student centred approach to learning became a key motivation in my own teaching practice. 

Also, this class taught us about academic resilience and relationships. We had to negotiate between the personal and the conceptual and learn how to build arguments based on what we knew, in addition to how we felt. It was not simply our interpersonal dynamic that was examined but also the dynamic of the teaching relationship. The lesson I take from this is the complexity, depth and delight of the role of a of teacher. Our teacher was very different to most us: in age, background, and, politics. He enjoyed goading and challenging us. He revelled in our difference and so did we. Despite our difference and sometimes outright disagreement, we had a collective sense of trust and integrity. This class showed the importance of the dynamic between teacher and student and how, despite diversity in perspective and background, the essential nature of trust in forming meaningful learning relationships. 

Furthermore, this was a crucial time in my own personal development and understanding of the power of perspective, teaching and social justice. It was a class that encouraged me to articulate who I was and what was important to me. It was the foundation of my understanding of social action and change, anfurthermore, the recognition of the cultural and historical tradition of these movements in New Zealand. It would be the beginning of my own interest in social justice and as a passionate advocate of New Zealand history. 

As young people ready to finish compulsory education we were impatient. We were for ready for interaction and a shift from the didactic, industrial model of schooling we were so familiar and dependent on. We were also complacent and arrogant in our comfortable perspective and worldview. We were challenged, albeit with support, clever facilitation and in an environment of trust; we were pushed. Therein lies the powerful lesson for me as a teacher; it is the profound influence that you can exert on the identity and future of your students, that is equally inspiring and frightening at the same time. 

This teacher influenced my identity and how I viewed myself. It shows the ability of a teacher to affect social change through the teaching and learning process. This year had a profound impact on my future and career path.It was then I settled on my desire to become a teacher, a teacher of New Zealand history. The impact that this teacher had on my own life is powerful and serves to illustrate the unintended consequences of teaching. The strongest and most lasting lesson I can draw from this experience is the power of the 'unintended consequence', which is the privilege and the responsibility of being a teacher.