Kia ora tatou
Welcome everyone to our Celebration Day. It’s great to have you all join us to reflect on a very busy 2014 and to join us in celebrating thevery wide range of achievements of many of our students this year.
Each year I stand up here to talk about the major issues we face in an education system that has never suited our kids, and still doesn’t.
I complain that this situation gets worse every year with a narrower curriculum and very poor definitions of success and achievementwhich paint a picture of our kids as problems, that the government wants to “fix” – that hasn’t changed, so I don’t want to talk about that today.
I also stand here each year to talk about our achievements as a school – and there are many. People continue to visit us regularly to find out how we do, what we do. I speak to audiences all over the country who want to know HOW we make such a difference. Magic happens in Studio 274 where our students flock after school and Ido want to congratulate the Studio for the amazing opportunities they give our young people, and the youth in our wider community.
Our students have been successful in many different aspects of their learning – academically, in Samoan, Maori, Tongan – and Englishspeech competitions, in Pasifika performing arts – in national and regional kapa haka competitions, and in sports and I want to thank all those who gave so much time to tutor our groups and coach our teams.
But you are going to spend the rest of the day seeing for yourselves our achievements as a school, through the many achievements of our students – so I don’t want to talk about that either!
What I do want to talk to you about this year is my English class,because it has been a very long time since I have actually had to be a teacher, but this year, when our usual teacher took study leave, both Whaea Cindy and I thought we’d go back into the classroom!
I could probably say I wasn’t a teacher this year either, but I, and my NCEA Level 3 English students, were all definitely learners!
The students learned how grumpy I could be (not that they didn’t know that already!) and that I was going to stalk them until the work was done, and that there was no point in making excuses.
“I don’t do writing” Brodie told me in the first week. He has achieved Merit grades for his writing and can write really well!
“I can’t do speeches” most of them told me – “I’m too shy” – the same ones I would see at full volume on the kapa haka stage. Savili hid from me for weeks, then surprised me, and himself, by receiving an Excellence grade for his speech.
The person who learned the most, however, was me.
I learned our kids often doubt their real talent and ability, and they don’t have to.
I learned how hard it is for teachers, myself included, to stay motivated, and keep your students motivated while you are disappearing under the mountain of paperwork that NCEA requires.
My students were studying the stories of Witi Ihimaera aboutstruggle and conflict, and racism in our society – and I was havingmy own struggle and conflict with the racism and white spaces in our education system that try to force our kids into topics and assessments that don’t fit, and show them exemplars that don’t look or sound anything like them.
I also learned about the frustration teachers experience when kids just don’t turn up to school. “I slept in,” “no transport,” “family problems,” “I had to help at home,” “I had to go to work,” are all real life situations I know, and all are legitimate – some of the time – but I often wonder if whanau realise how these multiple days off accumulate, and what a huge impact they have on your child’s achievement overall. I also wonder if you realise how often the teacher has to repeat that one lesson for the students who were missing? Our teachers’ workload and our children’s learning suffer hugely from absence and lateness.
The most significant thing you can do to help your child achieve, is to get them to school on time, and every day.
I learned that Level 3 English has not so much to do with Englishitself. As any teacher can tell you, it’s about relationships, it’s aboutbeing there, as a mentor, a guide, a coach – at all times of the day or night – as the emails I’d get at midnight taught me. “What did we have to do for tomorrow” they would ask? I learned though that even when I answered immediately, Savili, having asked his question, had happily already logged off and gone to sleep!
I learned, or more accurately, I remembered all over again, that teaching is a really hard job that requires many, many, hours of preparation and assessment time outside of class time.
I learned that it can be thankless, and it can also be amazingly rewarding, when “I don’t write” and “I can’t speak” turn into statements like “I’m a writer” and “I’m a speaker” – and you see results like those you will see shortly from Claudia, in Whaea Cindy’s class, whose poetry slam impressed me so much I invited her to be our guest speaker today, and my friend, Savili, whose speech blew me away!
It has been a real privilege to work more closely with our students than I am usually able to do, and I am very proud of our joint achievements and the learning we did together.
So today I’m saluting, and thanking our teachers, and the incredibly hard work they do, day and night, weekends and holidays, for all our kids. I’m pretty certain, I am never going to teach again. I’ll stick to just being the principal, which I think might be much easier.
My thanks also to our great support staff, and to Julie, and our Board of Trustees, who all work hard in their support of our students and our school.
I congratulate all of our young people who we will honour and celebrate today and give special thanks and best wishes to all of our graduating Year 13 Warrior Scholars who will soon be joining us on the stage. They are heading off into university study, careers and employment, and I know they will all continue to make us proud of their achievements.
I wish all of you – and all families – best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.
Kia ora tatou