Monday, 30 September 2013

Tawera Tahuri: Am I a Friend or a Teacher?

Karyn’s Introduction:

Starting a  new school, where the students all knew each other but very few teachers knew very few of the students was a point of difference to many of the other new schools out there. 

Building relationships with our learners was an absolute focus for us, and remains one. 

Those first 12 months building relationships was the key number one importance to everything we did.

Tawera has been with us from the start, and is in the position of having a number of students in the school who she is related to, which brings its own challenges.

She writes here on the power of relationships and explores the perennial question of whether teachers and students should be friends.

Relationships and Teaching

Am I a friend or a teacher? 

I have been told that you cant be a friend if you are a teacher. 
I have also heard in many circles that it is highly inappropriate to know your students at a personal level. 

How do I feel about this perception? Well I can say it has crossed my mind many an occasion. 

In the year 2000 we taught at Te Aute College, a Maori boarding school in the Hawkes Bay. Henare and I were lucky enough to have been targeted for this particular job in our second year of teaching. We were ecstatic to have this opportunity in such an important school in Maori Education. Where Sir Apirana Ngata made so many important decisions for his people. Where many Maori dreamers, academics and sportspeople established firm foundations for life. We were honoured to be able to establish firm teaching foundations in a place such as this. Steeped in tradition, Te Aute is like no other. 

Teachers taught and students learnt. Students taught and teachers learnt. Some were more successful than others. 

I learnt some of the most valuable lessons of my life there as a teacher and a learner. I grew, not only as a teacher, but also a student, a wife and mother, an aunty, a sister, a confidante, a councillor, a homemaker, a friend. 

I learnt that I needed to be open to change. I needed to lead as well as follow. 

I learnt that relationships with anyone were very important in and out of school.

I lost students while at Te Aute. Lost too many to suicide. Lost some to accidents. Lost some to the streets. Lost some to the world. 

I suffered, I cried, I laughed and I sung. It was a very hard time to experience and at some point I fell into depression. I hurt, but I hurt because I not only taught these students, I loved them like family. I felt It was my fault because I wasn't there. For many, I wasn't around at that pivotal point in their lives when they needed me. I asked myself "Did I do enough? Am I too close ? Have I become too involved in these students lives?" It took me a long time to realise that it wasn't my fault. Life has a funny way of presenting itself sometimes. We cant always be in control of it.

A parent hit me. She misunderstood me and basically just hit me in front of everyone. I reeled and went further into a state of depression. My relationship was better with her son than hers was. I spent most of his teenage life with him. He went home for the holidays. He lived his life at boarding school. Of course she was upset. But it wasn't my fault I worked hard on my relationships. All of them. He is a dad now and his mum? She has sadly passed away. He still keeps in touch and recently visited me introducing his new baby to me. Always there for him.

Enter stage left professional assistance. I am well. I am supported but some days are better than others. I am at peace with it. I am okay for people to know now. Ive grown even more. I suffer from depression. I am still a teacher,  and a learner. I love it.

I made lifelong friends too. Colleagues who are friends for life. Students who were like my own children. Well when you teach at a boarding school for five years it is a bit hard to not gain close relationships. It was not uncommon for our household to be hosting students from the dorms who had needed a place to stay for one reason or another. The teacher role often swayed into that of an aunty or mum. 
My students are in regular contact to this day. We often get 21st Birthday invites or wedding invites or even invitations to see them cross the legal bar. 

Relationships are important. 

I care about people. Any person is important to me because quite frankly they are family in my eyes. We are all brothers and sisters of God and we are all important. We are all of worth. 

How well do I know my students? Am I in tune with their needs, their wants and desires in life? Am I tolerant and patient? How well do I listen? Do I love my students? 

Yes it is possible to have love for your students. How can you be patient and understanding, caring or tolerant if you don't have love? 

I hug my students. They hug me back. I laugh and play with them like I would my own children. I communicate with them. We learn together. Passing judgement is not always a positive act, I try my hardest to not do it. 

I work hard at my relationships with my students. I give my all. I enjoy blessings of satisfaction and peace of mind to know that I do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I try and I keep trying. If I fall I get back up and try again. Sometimes it's just harder. Not impossible, just harder. 

The simple answer for me is, of course you can be friends with your students. It is more than possible to have deeper meaningful  relationships with your students. When so much is going on in the world everyone needs a friend, even me.


  1. Wow, thank you for being so honest. I think that your ability to be a teacher and a friend enables you to see the learner as they really are and still accept them. I think it inspires you to do the very best for them because you really care. I love that. Thank you.

  2. What a friendly teacher. What a loved friend.

  3. Ka hoatu taku arohanui ki a koe e taku whetu Tawera. He kaupapa nui rawa atu ki te toro atu o ringa ki o hoa akonga, me te kii atu ki te ao whanui te tipua e noho ana kei to hinengaro e huna ana. ko taku mihi ki a koe e te Koka, e te Whaea, e te Mama. ka mohio ke au to aroha ki o tamariki tauira, kati ra, haere hikoi tonu to huarahi ki mua, kei to taha ahau e awhi ana.