Teach First, Sleep Later

Voices - 12 February 2014

Sarah Watt, from the 2014 cohort, walks us through the journey of the new participants so far.

The second cohort of keen Teach Firsters started their journey into secondary schooling on 17th November last year, as 20 bright faces from a wide range of backgrounds embarked on the two-month Summer Initial Intensive (SII).

Some of us came fresh from many years of tertiary study, while others were making a major mid-life career change, but for everyone the SII proved to be challenging (moving into halls of residence at the University of Auckland, where we ate, slept and studied together over the summer) as well as incredibly rewarding – by some miracle (actually, the rigorous Teach First NZ recruitment process!), we found ourselves bonding quickly with others who share our commitment to overcoming inequity in education and wanting to do something fulfilling with our lives.

And boy, is “intensive” the operative word.

Quite aside from the ups and downs of institutionalisation (though it must be said the excellent facilities at University Hall would rival any youth hostel or boarding school), SII proved to be excellent grounding for getting to know complete strangers well and quickly. This was fostered initially by our spending two days on a marae noho in Week 1, learning te reo Māori, tikanga and writing our own Teach First NZ waiata (Te Whanau Ako Mātātupu) which we proudly sang throughout the rest of the programme.

Then, following the preliminaries of getting to know one another and visiting a range of high schools to talk to “typical” students about their learning experiences, the hard graft began. Up early every morning for a hurried breakfast before class, we studied under a range of lecturers and guest speakers from the School of Education and other organisations, often then gathering for sessions after dinner in order to learn more about the Teach First NZ ethos and the purpose of our mission. We spent many an evening labouring over coursework, analysing and discussing the issues facing education in New Zealand today before presenting our findings to the rest of the cohort in class. And through it all, our appreciation for what Teach First NZ is about grew along with our commitment to having high expectations of our future students and turning this inequity around.

It hasn’t been all work, of course. There were karaoke sessions, movie evenings, late-night chats in our common area at Halls, as well as community visits to markets on the weekend and attendance at spoken-word competitions by night. When we were let loose on actual-real-students to deliver a week of Summer School, we were honoured to teach a wonderful group of pupils from Tangaroa College and Auckland Grammar whose enthusiasm for learning matched our excitement at getting to try out newly-learned strategies.

And now it’s happening for real. As I write, most of us are in Week 3 of our new lives, with 97% of our students’ names committed to memory, already dishing out the bouquets and brickbats. As steep the learning curve is for any new teacher, what a relief it has been to see how well prepared we are to tackle this new environment, where an average of 30 “clients” turn up every day to engage with the world around them. How happy we are to have been granted the opportunity to get our feet under the desk (or rather, in front of the whiteboard) so swiftly, to where the learning really happens.

Our journey continues for the best part of the next two years, as we’ll be meeting periodically for refresher sessions and residential weekends. So for the time being it’s enough to know there are 19 other “beginning teachers” out there across Auckland and Northland, tackling the same challenges and then gathering on Facebook each night to share stories and strategies.

We’ll let you know how things go!


Sarah Watt graduated from the University of Auckland. She is now teaching English at Onehunga High School.