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Vote with your feet

by Rebecca Thomas

‘People vote with their feet.’

-Russell Bishop

Today teachers voted with their feet. They let the country know how undervalued they feel, and disappointed they are at the lack of resourcing for our young people. This scene and message was echoed in the UK this week too, as teachers went on strike for 2 days.

An email from a friend in the UK painted me a picture of the educational landscape there. Sadly, the picture is one where: disillusioned teachers are leaving their jobs in ‘droves’ as the working hours are long; behaviour being witnessed in the classroom has been extreme since Covid; there has been a lack of funding to support students with trauma; expectations are high, and encouragement for the profession my colleagues once loved is non-existent.

Sound familiar?

It appears Teachers are voting with their feet on both sides of the globe.

Today they stood together united, amongst the crowds some voices felt displaced and disconnected from the profession they love, a profession some barely recognise anymore.

To help us connect back to what it means to teach, let’s identify our tūrangawaewae together, our place of belonging, our story.

Seeking a way to find grounding and belonging for our teachers to help find some connection to their job they once loved, I sought the support from my friend, Casey Kendall, to help me break down the word tūrangawaewae. I felt understanding and seeing how this word fits together might help me to unpack where all teachers connect, where they find their calling.

Tū - to stand on, be grounded

Let’s take the significance of the word, ‘Teacher’, ‘Kaiako’, ‘Whaea’, ‘Matua’, ‘Tumuaki’, or the title of your job description. What is the significance of its name/your name? How does it ground and connect you to what you do?

For me, kaiako is the ability to teach something new to someone else, to feed a mind, to pass down wisdom and knowledge.

Ranga - to rise up

What makes your heart sing? What makes you teach/lead? What are the magic moments you want more of? What is your vision? What gives you agency over the way you work?

For me, it's seeing someone else flourish and make connections, become braver, become curiouser; the moment they light up their dark.

Ra - day/time/space

Think about the environment in which you work and operate on a good day, the day that made you love your job, what does it sound like/feel like to be there? Describe it physically/spiritually and/or emotionally?

For me, its smiles and giggles, cheeky grins and sometimes tears, its happiness and discovery, but it can be sadness and hurt all at once, I feel connected there.

Ngā - the many

Who makes up the whānau in your kura/class/rōpū? Imagine their faces and describe them, picture the interactions you have with them there. What do you share in common?

For me, my rōpū are caring and honest with a strong desire to be better, to make better, to be a light, to be morally just and forthright.

Waewae - feet

What brought your feet to the door of this profession/school? What moments in time made it possible for you to teach? What moments brought you to the school you are in now? How did you find this place to belong?

For me, chance and luck, a melting pot of coincidences that seem impossible to ever predict, it’s like it was destiny and meant to be.

Now top up the meaning of this word with three more ingredients to complete your kete, your wairua, your purpose.

Whakataukī - Giving back

What wise words will you pass down to the next generation? What messages will you leave for your whenua? What advice will your offer those who come after?

For me it would be ‘everyday our children spread their dreams beneath our feet, tread softly.’ (Sir Ken Robinson)

Whakapapa - Pepeha/Tupuna

What kōrero, waiata, karakia, carving, artwork connects you to your history, place, whānau? Who came before you? Who/what helped make you who you are today?

For me, the sea, the moana, my place of belonging and peace, it brought me here to the shores of Aotearoa.

Pūrākau - Stories

What stories connect you to your job/school/land?

For me, the story Matilda (maybe as a small child I secretly wished to be someone’s Miss Honey one day).

This kete above now holds all your treasures about your professional tūrangawaewae and the skills you plan to give back to tangata whenua, your children, your learners, they all now shine in the sky lighting the way to sustain future generations. That's our connection, our story, our belonging.

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