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Teokotai Tarai, HOD Languages, Teacher of Cook Island Maori Language, explains how Pasifika students come to the classroom with a wealth of knowledge and experiences. This can provide a platform for better student engagement and success.
My name is Teokotai Tarai and I’m a teacher at Tokoroa high school, I teach Cook Islands Māori with social sciences and also English. One of my current roles I am also the HOD, I mean the Dean of Te Manava. So I look after all the Pasifika achievement in our school and our Pasifika students. I think we need to understand that regardless of our ethnicity, each young person comes in with a basket of knowledge. So that kete has already been filled with tatau, White Sunday church. They’ve had lots various experiences with hair cuttings, or weddings, a way of living, a way of life. We call it akoroanga. And so as teachers you need to understand that basket that comes in the classroom. It’s just not “There’s a girl, oh.” But it’s about knowing about who they internally are, from the roots up. I think that if we can make that connection with our young people, we can do amazing things. And just like the speakers spoke this morning about that creativity. So our children can sing, they can dance, they can perform, they can act, they’re helpful. They have all these skills, but when we’re put in a different landscape, in a different place, those elements that they were first taught are not being given an opportunity to flourish. And so we really need know our Cook Island students and I think we can start be learning their names. And you, there’s a difference between learning just like, so my name is Teokotai Tarai, but through school they shortened my name to “Te,” “Tari” instead of saying “Teoko”, it just became “Took,” “Chook.” So now I am left with this name “Chooks.” So I thought I would make it up myself- if you’re going to give me a nickname I’ll make my own up, and I’m gunna say you better call me “Chookz” with a “Z.” and it’s you know, but why do we have to compromise? And I think I’ve compromised far too long, and so no! And I want to encourage teachers, no, don’t shorten our students’ name. Learn the whole name. If the name is Tangoroa, then say Tangoroa, instead of “Hi Ta!” You know but I think Cook Island they children are more forgiving. They’re more and they will actually, if you keep calling them “Ta” then they’ll accept that. And I think we’re beyond that. And so I really want to encourage our, um, our teachers, especially for Pasifika kids is to learn their names, learn who they are, know them. I honestly believe it’s the be all and end all of our young people. So like I talked about the experiences that they already come with. And so if we take away this anchor, this life source away from our young people, we strip them of their sense of belonging and their wealth of knowledge. And so they become “Oh, I don’t know this.” And they revert back into themselves and they don’t give themselves an opportunity to flourish. And so I think that culture, language, dancing, in all its forms, whatever culture means to you, whether be through the language, whether it be in the way we address people, um, all those things are important to the whole being of our young people. We’re not just teaching the child, we’re teaching them, their family, and the community, so if we can’t incorporate those things I don’t think we giving our young people a firm place to stay- and you know that the thing is all about belonging. Kids want to belong. They want to learn and I believe that our ancestors migrated to this New Zealand for better education. I don’t believe the dream has changed. The landscape has, but the dream is still the same. And so I’ve been really fortunate this year- well over these last five years, to kinda like build that up in our programme at Tokoroa where culture, language is now seen as important. And I love that Cook Island Māori is a university approved subject. And so now our parents are saying, “Oh! Yes!” because we were all the time “No! Learn the English. No! Do it this way.” Because we wanted to model ourselves against the palagi world, but it doesn’t suit us. It doesn’t suit who we are. You know some people can, ah fit, into different worlds, but our people it’s just a bit different. But now we’ve got language and now we’re getting more of our academic students taking language as well as their subjects. You know so we’ve got, um, and what I love the most is the schools are buying in, and supporting these initiatives through dance, music, culture. What we’re allowed at our school is so if there’s a funeral, the whole class goes. And we teach our children this is how we can connect. And I invite our teachers, come on board, look and have a see what it’s about. We invite them to White Sundays so our teachers can have another place where they can connect with our young people. So culture and really accepting our young people for who they are, once again, if you can make that connection there’s no limit to what you can do with our young people.
It’s been my goal to make sure we’ve got a strong Pasifika contingent going all the way. And to encourage them into leadership, “You can be the head boy.” And to encourage them to become the dux, to aim for excellence. And so actually putting that into our plan, our Pasifika plan at school and I believe that that models into our greater PEP. We started with this nearly eight years ago. Our kids can, our young people can do this. They can be dux’s. They can excel and we just need to give them the platform to do it. And I love it. Be intentional. So our intention is to have leaders. To have the dux and so we tell our young people at year nine, “You will. You can.” And so it gives them that belief that, “Yes. We can.”