Realising her dream
Early childhood teacher
Completing her Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood Education) meant that Juliette could achieve a goal she never thought possible.
Having left school at an early age, Juliette began working in various labourer positions including seven years at the meat works. “Because I had left school at 15 and I had always done labouring jobs I really never thought studying for a degree was something I was capable of,” says Juliette.
A mum at the age of 19, Juliette was at times dependent on state assistance to help her during hard times. That early financial hardship, and finding herself a single parent when her oldest child turned 15, made Juliette think about what she wanted for herself and her children in the future. Having been raised in a single parent household with high levels of stress, Juliette wanted to move forward in a positive direction.
Taking the first step towards gaining a degree felt like a big leap for Juliette, but she was determined to seek a better life for her family. “I wanted independence and not to live a life struggling to pay my bills,” says Juliette. “That’s not living. I’d lived that life and I didn’t want to go back to it.”
“I always wanted to work in early childhood education but didn’t think I had the academic skills. For me, it was a massive risk to apply for the Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood Education) programme at Open Polytechnic,” says Juliette, referring to her uncertainty about her ability to study at tertiary level. Juliette was accepted to the programme and was then granted a Teach NZ Scholarship to help contribute to the cost of her study.
Juliette decided to study with Open Polytechnic because of the flexibility it granted her to balance study with the rest of her busy life. “Open Polytechnic really gave me the freedom to be able to continue to raise my family while working part-time in early childhood education and studying, so having that was a great benefit,” says Juliette.
In addition to the flexibility, Juliette enjoyed the course content and in particular, the tangata whenua papers as well as the visits to local marae that helped educate her and her classmates about correct Māori protocol, and how to deliver cultural practices and knowledge.
Delivered as a mix of distance learning and face-to-face workshops and practicums, Juliette took full advantage of the variety of experiences offered in the degree programme. “Every practicum was very different for me and I was able to really hone in on my strengths and see what kind of teacher I was. They also helped to build up my confidence immensely about the knowledge that I had culturally,” says Juliette.
As a collaborative learner, Juliette thrived during the workshops and used them as an opportunity to bounce questions off her fellow classmates. “It can be challenging when you study on your own to know if you’re getting it right but the workshops let me exchange ideas and thoughts on the course material with my classmates which was a huge help.”
When looking for support during her studies, Juliette turned to her lecturers for the guidance and inspiration she needed to keep going through the tougher moments of her journey. “My regional lecturers were very supportive through my study and were always there for me at all hours. Sometimes I would ring them at really inopportune times but they always had time to support me whenever I needed it,” says Juliette.
In preparation for the end of her studies, Juliette began researching Pacific perspectives on education in New Zealand. Upon learning more about her culture and community as a New Zealand born Niuean, Juliette became inspired to make a difference and decided to start up a Pasifika playgroup with a fellow teacher who was of Samoan descent. “We wanted to create a space where we could celebrate early childhood education and Pasifika culture in our community, while also being inclusive of all cultures and backgrounds.”
The playgroup is now being run by mothers of the children attending, with Juliette and her co-founder supporting and encouraging the group. “The mothers are now also on their own educational journey with Open Polytechnic, and we are actively supporting and encouraging them to reach their educational goals.”
Graduating with her degree from Open Polytechnic in May 2016, Juliette is now working in a head teaching position in a community based preschool. “In my new role, I am able to help make a difference for children and families in a low social economic area who face more barriers to success. My studies have ignited a real passion for the social justice side of education so it’s such a pleasure to be able to apply that to those in my own community who I can help.”
Juliette is also undertaking Pasifika Leadership training through Core Education, and enjoys talking to her local community about culturally inclusive practices, social justice, and the plan for Pasifika Education in New Zealand. One of her next goals is to move to Niue for a while to rediscover her cultural roots and identity, and to reconnect with her father who speaks out about family violence as part of a United Nations programme.
Juliette credits her degree with completely changing her life both professionally and personally. “Professionally, completing my degree has put me on a path where I no longer have to worry financially and can instead focus on other things,” says Juliette.
“Personally, my studies have given me a real purpose and meaning in my life. Achieving my degree has given me so much more confidence to go out and take risks. If someone had said to me, “do you think this early childhood education degree is everything you thought it would be?” I would say that it’s actually much more.”
“This degree has really created opportunities to live beyond my own mind-set. It's been a transformative shift that has opened a whole new world. I no longer feel restricted, ashamed or confined by my past, in fact it's what has given me the passion and strength to do what I'm doing.”
Open Polytechnic really gave me the freedom to be able to continue to raise my family while working part-time in early childhood education and studying.