Teaching and Being Taught - Mitchell Denham

Voices - 3 April 2017

Mitchell Denham (C15) has spent the past few years teaching at Northland College. Read on to hear about his experience teaching in "the forgotten region" and his reflections on being part of the Teach First NZ Programme.

Teaching and Being Taught

Mitchell Denham

The best part about teaching is the students. After a tough lesson, There's nothing like an enthusiastic smile and a “hello Mr. Denham” as the next class comes in; or a student wanting to shake my hand and wish me a good weekend at the end of a busy week. This always reminds me of why I wanted to join the Teach First NZ programme in the first place. When I first read about Teach First NZ, I was instantly captured. Teach First NZ offered hands-on training, the opportunity to learn from those in the classroom, and a commitment to the community. It has given me the opportunity to challenge myself and to work with enthusiastic and forgiving people everyday.

When I first learnt that I would be teaching at Northland College, I didn’t realise how lucky I was. My grandad was born and raised in a small settlement in the Hokianga called Mitimiti, so for me, the Far North was always somewhere we went for tangi, a place in my grandad’s past. Now, my partner and I are deeply in love with ‘the forgotten region’ ; we’ve bought a house and we’re proud to call Northland Home. Aside from the weather, the beaches and the house prices, there is a deep history that runs through the veins of Northland’s landscape. The complex and tragic history has had real implications for all of those that live here today.

“There is a deep history that runs through the veins of Northland’s landscape”

Living and teaching in Te Tai Tokerau has also given me the chance to fully embrace te reo me ona tikanga. I grew up as the lucky one in my family because I had fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes. Being Māori wasn’t something that we always felt comfortable celebrating openly, but now I get the chance to start every morning with my whānau class doing karakia and whakatau. Sharing and learning tikanga alongside my students daily is a powerful experience for my own cultural identity.

Being part of the programme I have developed and grown as a leader. Through the help of my in-school mentor, colleagues and Teach First NZ, I was constantly able to reflect and adapt my leadership skills. I realised that the culture in the classroom started with me as the teacher. I was the one responsible for setting the tone and keeping the expectations high for every student that came into my class. This year, I have been given the opportunity to lead the digital learning at my school  ̶  Teach First has given me the experience to continue to grow as a leader.

When I applied for Teach First NZ I was so focused on the changes that I thought I could make to a school and a community, I didn’t even consider that I would be transformed. The past two years have really taught me the meaning of resilience and reflection. Failure in the classroom is important and inevitable. The real test is being able to pick yourself back up, and reflect on what’s happened so you can continue to become a better teacher. If you are considering the programme, don’t think twice. It’ll be the most challenging thing you’ve done, but nothing is more rewarding than watching young people realise their full potential.

“Failure in the classroom is important and inevitable”