Teachers say learning te reo is making them better at their jobs

A class full of students raising their hands.
It comes as learning and speaking te reo has essentially become compulsory for teachers. Photo credit: Getty Images

By John Gerritsen for RNZ

As part of a series this week, RNZ is looking at efforts to ensure schools and teachers are using reo and tikanga every day. Today, teachers tell RNZ that learning te reo is making them into better educators.

This month saw the start of the first courses in a $100 million push to teach te reo and tikanga to 40,000 early childhood and school teachers over the next four years.

The courses come as learning and speaking te reo have essentially become compulsory for teachers - they have to attest to using the language in order to renew their practising certificates, and the government wants all schools using it every day.

The Minister of Māori Crown Relations and Associate Education Minister Kelvin Davis said Māori children should be able to hear their language in their schools.

"Wherever there's a classroom there's a Māori connection, there's tangata whenua of that classroom, there'll be Māori children in that school and I think those children, it is their right, it's not a privilege, it is their right to hear their language and to be able to engage in their language," he said.

Stratford secondary school teacher Erin MacDonald was in the pilot scheme of the new Te Ahu o te Reo Māori courses that began this month. She told RNZ the lessons made a big difference to her teaching and she expected other teachers would be keen to learn more too.

"Other kaiako see the benefits that you're having in your classroom with the connections with your Māori learners just through those small uses of te reo and actually what ends up happening is that those students end up holding those teachers to account and requiring them to get on board," MacDonald said.

Principals and teachers told RNZ all students benefited from learning te reo, but it had a particularly strong effect on Māori students.

Spotswood College principal Nicola Ngarewa said the simple act of pronouncing children's Māori names correctly made those children feel valued.

She said using te reo more widely in classrooms helped create a sense of connection for Māori students.

"It gives you a sense of connectedness and belonging and it takes institutions or schools that can be very monocultural in the way they look and sound, it gives us a sense of flavour, it gives us a sense of cultural richness that we absolutely need to be reflecting," she said.

At Whangārei Intermediate, staff have had after-school te reo and tikanga lessons for years.

Teacher Jeana Novaire said the lessons ensured she could teach te reo and tikanga to her pupils but it they had also affected the way she teaches.

"It's obviously more inclusive because our Māori students, they're getting their world view as well. So I feel like I can teach better to more students with that knowledge."

The intermediate's principal, Hayley Read, said all schools should be using and teaching te reo and tikanga Māori, regardless of how many of their pupils are Māori.

"I should be able to walk into any New Zealand classroom and know that it's New Zealand and that would be through our acknowledging the Treaty of Waitangi, so I don't think it matters if you have no Māori in your school," she said.

The Education Review Office is checking if schools are complying with the national education priorities, including the daily and meaningful use of te reo and tikanga Māori.

Deputy chief executive review and improvement services, Jane Lee, said the office is feeling encouraged by the progress schools are making so far.

"It's still early days, but we are seeing that most schools are seeking advice from Māori or iwi about how best to include tikanga Māori in values, practices, and organisational culture.

"Anecdotal inference is that schools are demonstrating a willingness to engage. We know that in some instances there are barriers around confidence in "getting it right", and in being authentic and appropriate," she said.