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What’s it like being a Teach First recruit? One teacher shares…

Teach First recruit, Sarah Dodd, is a maths teacher at Southern Cross Campus in Mangere East, south Auckland. Ms Dodd relays her first week in the classroom when school started this year.

I start my first day alongside my fellow teachers in my new school being welcomed with a powhiri. We share a waiata and karakia and it dawns on me how fiercely proud I am to be here.

We talk about staff perceptions of working at Southern Cross Campus – one word used is “challenging”. I am filled with hope for the year and admire the team who choose to see their work as ‘challenging’, as opposed to ‘difficult’ or ‘hard’.

I feel more and more excited about being a part of this community as we discuss the values of the school (Respect, Responsibility, Relationships and Resilience). I discover that the Senior Leaders have visions in line with my own values, for instance our school advocates PB4L (Positive Behaviour for Learning) through Restorative Practice. Thinking about my own teaching practice, I really want my students to know I trust them to take ownership of their education and to behave respectfully. I want them to know that I have high expectations for them.

The week draws to a festive close with a staff inter-house waka ama race. I am moved to see staff from various departments, experience levels, cultures, ages and fitness levels come together to move the waka across the water as one. People step bravely out of their comfort zone into a new challenge. Encouragement is shared generously and the aroha is abundant.

We are brought together by paddling in unison towards a common goal and mahi tahi is embodied. We follow our leaders and support our followers and through resilience, respect and cooperation. The finish line is reached with rejoicing.

We are energised and excited to receive our students in the coming days.

Week 1, term one
Rested and energised by a long weekend, we welcome our junior students into our college on Tuesday. Goosebumps catch me off guard while our head girl gives thanks to “our Lord and Saviour” for the blessings the year has in store for our college.

I am again filled with great pride as our principal addresses the students, telling them that a most dedicated and talented team of staff are serving them this year. I am so humbled by these humans. I am so honoured to have this opportunity to walk their educational journey with them over the next two years. I feel immensely privileged to be a new member of the beautiful and diverse whānau that is Southern Cross Campus.

I’m not sorry that this sounds corny. It’s just the way it really is! Besides, when the prophesied challenges arise, my resilience and resolve will be strengthened by the memories of these moments.

I need to draw on this strength when I am mocked by my year 11 students in our first meeting. Some of them are plagued with terrible cases of “I hate maths”. Harder still are those struck with cases of “I don’t want to do this”. I need to take a deep breath and draw on every reason I’m here in order to pick my ego off the ground and serve these students. This is not of their making and they own every fibre of my heart in these hours.

Coincidentally, Philip posted in our C17 group chat that “If you want to feel like an adult, be a teacher”. Oh, how strongly that resonates today!

It feels like they are my challenge, but I know that truer than that, this is their challenge and I’m not here for me. I want to run away and take a full-time nap… Resilience. (A ship in the harbour is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.)  I get up and I persevere. I reflect and I adapt and I plan again for our next encounter. I know we are all going to grow. I am hopeful.

Teach First NZ is a non-profit organisation that recruits graduates and professionals and places them in low-income communities to help address educational inequality.
It aims to fill teacher shortages in subject areas like maths, science, and Māori, by paying trainees an on-the-job salary for two years following an initial eight weeks’ training.

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