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Cherishing cultural identity - University of Waikato

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

University of Waikato Tauranga Bachelor of Teaching student Arlenna Porteners can thank her secondary school, for all the wrong reasons, for opening her eyes to the importance of cherishing one’s cultural identity. The school did not have or encourage any cultural values or identity and Arlenna says that as a result she did not form any strong connections with peers or teachers. "I was just one of five students who identified as Māori or Pasifika and I constantly felt like I was on the outside looking in," she says.

It was this experience that fuelled Arlenna’s desire to become a teacher, and this month she was awarded a 2018 Kupe Scholarship from TeachNZ worth $25,000 to assist her university study. The scholarship is awarded annually by the Ministry of Education to teachers of Māori or Pasifika descent who have ‘the ability to lead and motivate (and) display qualities of mana, adaptability, perseverance and courage’.

Arlenna says she considers the cultural, economic, generational and learning differences of each and every student. "This is the stuff on which meaningful and authentic relationships are built that are critical for learning to occur. These relationships are founded on the basis of respect, inclusion, communication and acknowledging where people have come from and who they are as individuals," she says.

Arlenna goes on to describe a home life which was also at odds with her peers. "We didn’t have money for fancy lunches or expensive shoes," she says. ‘While I had a very supportive mother, some of my experiences were quite different from others at the school and I found it incredibly hard to engage in school work and develop any sense of identity."

Her experience and her passion for reform formed part of her successful scholarship application. She’s thrilled to have been awarded the scholarship, presented to her at Parliament on 16 August.

"To have the passion and vision I have as a teacher affirmed and recognised is a humbling experience," she says. "More than that though, this process has been a wonderful way to show my own children that they can be proud of their culture and they can see themselves as successful learners."

Tauranga Faculty of Education senior lecturer Barb Whyte says Arlenna’s scholarship success was well deserved. "She’ll be an asset to the teaching profession. She’s been an outstanding Bachelor of Teaching student teacher, both academically and pragmatically. She’s a busy family person with bountiful energy and drive who’s maintained strong academic grades alongside excellent reports for all her placement experiences in schools. Similarly, her cultural contribution to Pasifika events within the Tauranga education community has been admirable."

As she graduates at the end of this year and starts to apply for teaching positions, Arlenna knows what sort of classroom she will lead. "My classroom will be a place where students can take risks, use their initiative, reach for the stars, be okay with failure and learn from their mistakes, while cherishing each other’s culture and individuality," she says.

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