Natasha AhTune (Cohort 2014) is currently teaching English at Aorere College. Here she shares a reflection on the journey four years in.
Four hours sleep - check. Sore feet - check. Busting to go to the bathroom - check. Sniffles - check. I project my best grin as students file into the classroom. Good afternoons all around.
‘Aren’t you tired?’
‘I’m bloody exhausted. But that’s not your fault; and I’m genuinely happy to see you - there’s at least ten other places you’d rather be, but you’re in English.’
I’m rewarded with an impressed, toothy grin. Winning.
To me, it’s not just about cramming their heads full of English-y stuff. A teacher is the difference between how the world appears and how you could make it appear. Teachers are essentially magicians.
I hadn't always been of the thinking that teachers are something close to superhuman. I’ve hailed from a long history of cultural, domestic and educational failures that makes the average audience privy to my life story wonder - how on earth are you still standing? Let alone smiling.
I was fortunate enough to have boarded the Teach First NZ train almost four years ago, and I’ve never really gotten off. Among the many inspirations for joining, was the teenage me. The me that struggled with English because my Samoan cultural capital didn’t match expectations of a dominantly European system. The me that meant my heritage came attached with responsibilities at home, which in turn ensured that I always turned up to school tired and in a less than ideal physical, emotional and psychological space to learn.
Apparently, in hindsight, I was resilient. Something that most people are, but don’t realise until they take the time to really reflect on life. The teenagers that enter my classroom are no exception, and I want them to know this. In addition to the Shakespeares and George Byrons, I want them to know that they have substance, and that they are in possession of many a great skill that are just as important, if not more so, than how to use a comma three different ways. The magic is in sharpening those skills, and transfer them across any context.
Maybe I’m part of a majority, or maybe a minority - it doesn’t matter. What I want to be a part of is making a difference; which in my perspective is using all that I am, and know, to help inspire students and refine skills that are often desired by employers and society in general.
I actually didn’t realise that I was in possession of many of the skills I can now recount without hesitation, until I joined Teach First. Having a worthwhile cause to focus on (that of tackling educational inequality) gave me a platform to reflect on my rather colourful history, and skills gained in spite of the pain and obstacles. All this whilst in the company of amazing colleagues who had taken on the same cause.
So now, even though I stand in my classroom waiting for my students - feeling essentially alone and a little worse for wear some days, I remember my humble beginnings both in life and in Teach First NZ and think ‘Today, I will be the difference’.