By Jessica Compton, Rotary Global Grant Scholar to New Zealand
As a child, I dreamed of teaching. But it took until my junior year of college to return to that dream. My undergraduate coursework had prepared me for the content, if not the pedagogical strategies, to effectively engage and teach adolescents English – reading, listening and viewing; writing, speaking, and presenting.
I figured I would pick up the rest of what I needed in graduate school in order to be able to teach. But I had no idea it would be in New Zealand. Through the benevolence of a global grant scholarship sponsored by District 7570, I earned a Master of Teaching and Learning at the University of Canterbury in 2016.
The experience of living abroad in New Zealand was both memorable and life-changing. Along with all the tramps (Kiwi lingo for hiking) in such a stunningly beautiful country, I learned to be a culturally responsive teacher. My courses and teaching placements intentionally focused on how to improve the learning experience and outcomes of students from low socio-economic backgrounds, predominately in Māori schools. Last year, I arrived quite ignorant, but ended up learning so much (“heaps,” as they say in NZ) about Māori culture, the fundamental importance of relationships in the classroom, and how to teach in a discourse of inclusion that benefits all learners.
I think my living in New Zealand achieved “the advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace,” which is Rotary’s fourth guiding principle. I understand a different culture; indeed, one that didn’t seem all that different on first landing.
Back in the United States, I have effectively become an ambassador for Māori tikanga. In August, I will begin my first year teaching English in an impoverished community, with a largely marginalized student body. The specific circumstances of my future students may be different from those I taught in New Zealand, but after my year there, I am so much more aware of people’s cultures and how to embrace and build on place and space in the classroom.
In teaching – and in all of life – seeking service above self, I have found one whakataukī, or Maori proverb, to ring particularly true:
He aha te mea nui o te ao? (What is the most important thing in the world?)
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. (It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.)
As I venture into this coming school year, may people and the building of relationships be the core of my teaching, service, and love. My deepest thanks will forever extend to both the Roanoke-area and Riccarton Rotarians for your partnership and support in aiding my career as an educator.
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