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To Teach or Not to Teach – Issue 10

With the recent announcement of the government’s public sector pay freeze we asked two alumni, with a shared passion for teaching, for their personal experiences. Onyx has recently put her degree to use teaching secondary whilst Jak on the other hand, well, he’s one of our designers.


Jak Rata

You’ve all heard the saying, “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”. It’s kind of fucked, right? I mean, this is coming from someone whose life passions have ranged from sparky, to police officer and then landing on teaching. It probably comes down to my inherent need to demand attention and have everyone’s eyes on me. But having that side eye glare when you tell people you want to be a teacher is enough to make anyone falter at the knees. It’s hard yakka having to defend your life choice. So that’s why I am now a designer – I’ll touch on this more shortly.


For those of you who aren’t familiar with teaching practices, here’s the low-down. It kind of sucks. While in practice I don’t have as much experience or as much knowledge as a teacher of 35 years (shout out to my primary teacher in Whangarei), I still have a general understanding. One of the biggest things I struggled with was how I could possibly be culturally responsive to 25+ students at any given time. There’s a worrisome feeling that you aren’t always listening to every pupil’s needs. That’s hella anxiety inducing my guy and it constantly has you on edge and biting your fingernails.


Lesson planning. One of the most medievil forms of torture. I can empathise with my high school teachers on this one, having been someone to form a comprehensive lesson plan myself. It’s something you look at with pride and can be a form of art I’m sure; so when these students decide to stuff about and disrupt it, of course you become annoyed. I can’t help but think back to school when I was being a little dickhead and talking throughout a lesson and being a smartass. The way I want to roundhouse sixteen-year-old Jak for that.


Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga (Ministry of Education) has a plethora of resources to help aid you in this process, but what if you want to be original? Sure you have to stick to the curriculum and make sure all the work you’re doing is aligned with standards set for a certain level of understanding, but what if the resources you want to produce are unique and fun? Well that’s just not worth your time in all honesty. Otherwise, you’re sat there till midnight creating resources with TikTok references and memes only to be scrunched up and lost in the bottom of bags.


Earlier I mentioned I’m a designer. Don’t take what I’m saying as bias or a jaded opinion, because I love the idea of being a teacher. However, I wasn’t ready to be one. I’m 22 now and if I was to go into a classroom at this age and teach 16-18 year olds about the joys of Frida Kahlo and Klimt, chances are they aren’t going to listen to (jak) shit. The respect level is different for student teachers or teachers learning the craft. While it works for others, it doesn’t work for me. I have to put myself into the industry and learn all I can about art and about design before I implement that into the minds of impressionable youth. I’m always going to be my biggest critic and that’s something that comes with being a visual artist.


You know the term “imposter syndrome”? Well I suffer from that. BAD. Constantly comparing myself to those around me and constantly worried that what I’m doing isn’t enough. And that’s just as an illustrator. You know how it goes; scrolling through Instagram and seeing artists that create such amazing work and you start to compare it to your own. Now, imagine that in the broader scope and place that same way of thinking into being a teacher. You are now thinking like Jak – I’m always looking at other teachers and how they interact with their class. Taking my imposter syndrome and amplifying it into my teaching has resulted in my inability to commit to that career path.


Throughout my life I’ve met some truly inspiring people, teachers included, and they make me want to do the same thing: Inspire people to create. I know I’m coming across as an after school special, especially after dragging the idea of teaching through the mud, but it’s true. Ultimately teaching takes a lot of charisma and nerve. You have to be able to hold yourself in the face of adversity while also restraining yourself enough not to set fire to your desk. A talent I’m sure I’ll never master but always aim to achieve.


Onyx Lily


Some people fall into teaching as a career because they don’t know what else to do. For my mum, at the tail end of the boomer generation, teaching was the best of the career options available to her; teacher, nurse, secretary or housewife. For me, the move to teaching has been a deliberate, mid-life career change because I realised I needed to do something that felt worthwhile. 


There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make you reassess your priorities. However, my own nadir (word nerd alert) came the year before COVID-19, when I lost my mum, I was pushed sideways at work, exited a toxic relationship, and supported my kid through a mental health crisis. I realised that the job I was doing felt meaningless. I was stagnant and I wanted a change. I wanted to do something that would make some small difference in the world. 


I’d thought about teaching before, but with a mortgage and a kid to support, taking a year away from work to do full-time study wasn’t an option. 


And then, in a twist of digital fate, the Google algorithms sensed my dissatisfaction and, just at the right moment, threw a suggestion in my face. Ako Mātātupu: Teach First NZ is a teacher training organisation with a difference. Highly selective and with a commitment to educational equity for Māori and Pacific youth and people from low-income communities, Ako Mātātupu is an employment-based teacher training programme. Rather than a year or more of study outside the classroom, Ako Mātātupu throws participants straight into the classroom and you learn as you teach. It’s part of a global community of “teach” organisations with a similar mission and kaupapa. 


Now, I’m not a believer in fate, horoscopes or homeopathy, but in this instance everything seemed to fall into place to show me I was on the right track. I applied on a whim, thinking I’d never be able to do it financially, and that I’d never actually be brave nor stupid enough to leave my job. And then an opportunity came up to apply for voluntary redundancy. I made it through all the application stages at Ako Mātātupu and was offered a place on the course, just as I discovered I was also being offered redundancy. I finished work on a Friday. My programme started that Sunday. After five weeks of summer intensive, on the last day before Christmas, I was phoned about an interview at my dream school. On 31 December, I was offered the job.


So now, in my second term of teaching English, do I think I made the right decision?


I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life, for a metric fuck-tonne less pay than I was getting in administration (that’ll change a bit once I’m qualified, but trust me, you don’t pursue a teaching career for the money). I have days when I just want to cry with feeling overwhelmed and out of my depth, and days when I actually do cry. I’m often working at home till 11pm or later, getting my planning just right for a class that would probably not notice if I only did half as much. Sometimes I want to bang my head against a wall at the contradictions of NCEA, and sometimes I want to revert to that angry teacher that everyone hates, because teenagers are infuriating! But then one of them will say something so sweet it makes me want to cry, or hand in a piece of work that makes my heart swell with pride, or surprise and amaze me in any one of countless small ways, and I remember why I decided to do this. 


But trust me, all those ‘holidays’ teachers get are actually more like mandatory sick leave after our bodies have spent the term holding it together because organising work for the reliever is as much work as teaching it yourself. The time not spent recovering, physically and mentally, is spent preparing lessons and course materials for the next term, and figuring out new strategies to deal with that one kid who is always stroppy, or break through to that one who is sabotaging their own potential, or find a way to engage the one who thinks they can’t do it. 


Education is a game. Some kids start that game from the middle of the field with the ball in their hands, while others can barely see the field in the distance. Teaching is harder than I ever thought possible. But if I can make even one positive change for one young person I teach, who knows what might come from that?


Ko te manu e kai ana i te miro nōnā te ngahere, ko te manu e kai ana i te mātauranga nōnā te ao.