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Bringing your kete to the classroom – A case for authentic teaching

I was told a story recently by a fellow teacher. I had noticed that she was wearing a merchandise jumper from the musical Wicked. This sparked a dialogue about how her students had once caught her at the end of lunch break listening to the Wicked soundtrack. They had never heard the musical but were eager and interested to learn more. The teacher had sparked a passion in her students, who went away and listened to the soundtrack. When they found out it was coming to Auckland, the students came together to find the money to fund their way to see the show.

The beauty of this story to me was that the students never would have known about the show, or developed an interest in it, if not for their teacher’s own passion. Their teacher acted as a conduit, sharing their passion with the students and in turn making the students passionate. This passion plays out in how we teach. Our stories, our interests and our whakapapa shape our beliefs and the way in which we respond to our learners. No one can be us in the classroom and that authenticity is crucial to understanding our learners. We often talk about how all learners are unique, that one size doesn’t fit all but how often to do we talk about the fact that all teachers are unique.

I was recently listening to a Truth for Teachers podcast with Dr. Gravity Goldberg who referred to this idea through this metaphor;

The Beatles were the Beatles because nobody else had ever been the Beatles. And there’s been a lot of cover bands of the Beatles ever since. But we don’t know those cover bands, right? There’s a way in which everyone needs to be themselves because that’s what’s needed in the world. And yes, it’s okay to sort of play cover songs at first. That’s how we all learn. But ultimately, it’s to hone our skills to be who we are, and I think that’s just the most important message. – Dr Gravity Goldberg This idea could be applied to any number of artists, Ed Sheeran, Childish Gambino, Lauryn Hill. No one could tell their stories, write their songs. Artists can be imitated, as can teachers. Sometimes that’s the best way we learn, by trying techniques we’ve watched other teachers use; that we’ve researched or read about. But when we are most authentic is when we are writing our own songs. For me what the teacher is able to bring to the classroom is reflected in this Whakataukī (Māori proverb). Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi

In Te Reo Māori Whakataukī (Māori proverbs) are a poetic form of the Maori language. They often merge holistic perspectives with underlying messages which are extremely influential in Maori society. The one above translates as “with your kete (food basket) and my kete the people will thrive. In other words; when each person shares their kete, as opposed to working in isolation we move beyond merely surviving in the classroom towards prosperity.

My sharing wall illustrates a similar idea. Adorned in cloth, it depicts people gathering around the kava bowl. This visual metaphor is meant to reflect the work of my classes; as all the students bring their contribution, they are able to drink the kava (or the shared efforts of all).

Where I think as teachers we can fall down, is in not bringing our own kete or contribution to the kava bowl. I wonder if sometimes, in the effort to be culturally responsive, we forget to bring our own stories, passions and personality into the classroom. We desire so to be culturally responsive that we equate this with having to teach the ‘right’ texts or to play the ‘right’ music. Now there is absolutely a case for Tupac to be taught and played as poetry in my English classroom, but I often wonder what capital and experiences I can bring into the classroom to enrich my students lives. You never know what opening students up to your own passions will bring. The conversation with that fellow teacher was followed by me regaling her with a tale about how my students had once caught me listening to Wagner, opening up a discussion with them around opera and classical music. The thing is, you never know what might interest you until you’re exposed to it. So, my challenge to fellow teachers is to be who you are, to share your passions and to bring your kete ready to share.

Remember no one can be who you are in the classroom, no one can bring what you bring.

That’s a pretty empowering thought.

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