A passion for nurturing young minds
Full-time teacher, My Treehut
From a reluctant high school student, to butcher, and now early childhood (ECE) teacher, Rangikihia Kalman (Ngāti Manawa) is motivated to create a safe space for tamariki to flourish and develop.
Working as an early childhood teacher at Te Puna Reo o Ngā Kākano, Rangikihia (Rangi) says caring for tamariki came naturally for him before he ever thought about a career in early childhood education.
When he was growing up in Murupara it was quite common in large Māori families for the older cousins to become designated babysitters, says Rangi.
“At the age of 14, I was helping my aunties with the infants. I was looking after six months to two-year-olds, and I learnt how to do all those little care things, like how to feed them, put them to sleep and change their nappies. I had built those skills way before I actually thought about ECE being a career for me.”
Being a natural at caring for ngā pēpī when he was still young himself helped Rangi on his career path, but he explains that other aspects of his life guided him towards his current career and his drive to create an environment for tamariki to thrive in.
“When I was growing up, sometimes my house wasn't necessarily a safe space, so that's kind of one thing that I try and create at work.
“The ECE centre is like a second home for the children because they spend a whole lot of time there. So, for me personally, it's about giving the learning context, a safe home type of feel.”
Teaching the tamariki and witnessing their development and learning milestones is special, says Rangi.
“I like sharing and celebrating those moments with their families and recording the children’s achievements in their assessment books.”
It is important to get to know the tamariki and build relationships with them, says Rangi.
“Relationships were highlighted to me as an important aspect of life, especially when it comes to caring for, and teaching our tamariki. This is something I carry forward with me as an early childhood teacher as it is important that we know who they are, what and who they love, and what is truly important to them to ensure that we provide a service that is warm, caring and empowering.”
Working as a butcher for eight years from the age of 16, returning to study wasn’t an easy decision for Rangi, explaining that he left school at a young age and didn’t feel confident to try again.
“I actually finished school just after my fifteenth birthday, and I didn't do very well, that was my last reference of studying so I thought I didn’t really have it in me.”
“I doubted myself a lot, taking on this huge thing such as a degree, I thought I was out of my depth.”
But with encouragement from his friends and whānau, Rangi took the first step back into study with a Te Reo Māori course and thought, “if I can do that, I could possibly do a degree as well.”
Rangi also credits He Whānau Manaaki (Wellington Kindergarten Association) for opening doors for him in his study and career journey.
“They provided a programme that supported young men in developing professional skills, finding jobs whilst working in an early childhood context,” says Rangi.
“I have so much love for them, and my gratitude will never end towards them for what they did for me in terms of helping me achieve my degree, and giving me the opportunity to work alongside children. So, they're pretty integral in me achieving what I have achieved so far.”
When asked how he overcame the challenges of study, Rangi replied, “I just put my head down and got it done. But also having friends and family around, that encouraged me to just carry on.”
Rangi also credits his partner for being next to him, motivating him to keep going.
“You know, there were heaps of times where I was just at home thinking to myself like, nah, man, I can’t do this, I don’t want to do this, and then I’ll talk to my partner and she will be up at 11pm with me before the assignment deadline and saying you can do this, you just got to finish the references and send it.”
Not only did Rangi have his supportive partner, his mentor Debby was also pushing him over the assignment finish line.
“My mentor, Debby, would also be up with me at 11.59 PM before the midnight assignment deadline. Almost every single assignment that was me. I was Mr 11.59 PM submit.”
The other ECE learners formed a strong support system and often saw the online course channels come to life with words of encouragement, especially late at night right before an assignment hand-in.
“We just backed each other, and whoever finished first would reach out and be like, oh, I can help you with this.”
Studying has transformed the way he thinks both professionally and personally, says Rangi.
“I think personally, studying and getting my degree just made me think like I can do almost anything now.”
“You know it sounds cheesy as when somebody says that, but that's like the actual feeling is that I can do that. It just makes you really believe that you can do anything.”
As an early childhood teacher, Rangi says his studies have given him confidence and made him feel like a professional. “I know what I'm doing. When people ask me questions, I can give them answers and back it with facts and theory.”
Selected as graduate speaker to represent fellow 2021 graduates in Wellington, Rangi yet again showed his persevering nature to put aside his fears and take on the challenge.
“It was a cool experience but scary at the same time. Standing up speaking to all the students. But all I wanted to do was just give something for my classmates to laugh about and just share our experience as much as I could from a shared perspective rather than just my own.”
When asked how he felt after the whole graduation experience, Rangi replied that he felt proud to graduate in front of his family.
Before the ceremony, Rangi got some tips on public speaking from fellow guest speaker, Minister of Education, Hon Chris Hipkins.
“He just said take a breath when you're going too fast, stop, take a breath, and that helps. And it did. It helped a lot.
The Open Polytechnic Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood Education) programme requires learners to attend workshops and noho marae which was one of the highlights for Rangi who enjoyed meeting lecturers.
“It was nice to get to know the lecturers and put a face to a name. At the workshops they share a little bit of their own knowledge and stories of when they studied, which helped us in our studies,” says Rangi.
As a requirement of the programme of study, Rangi had to complete practicums at an approved licenced early childhood centre.
“Through one of my placements that I did with Open Polytech I was first introduced to Te Puna Reo o Ngā Kākano, the place that I work at today. I really enjoyed working there as part of my degree and at the end of my studies they offered me a job which was pretty great.”
Asking for help didn’t come naturally for Rangi; he says it was one of the hardest things for him to do when studying because he didn’t want to look silly.
“In my first year, I was quite apprehensive about showing my work to others and seldom would because of fear of being belittled or shamed.”
The amount of love and support from friends and whānau was obvious, says Rangi, however it took a while for him to build that confidence to accept help.
“If it was not for all my kaitautoko, it might have taken me a little longer to complete my degree.”
“Having people supporting you feels great, and once you open up and let that happen, everything becomes much easier.”
Now out the other end of his studies and growing in a career he enjoys, Rangi has encouragement for others currently on their study journey or thinking about taking the leap.
“Don't give up. Ask for help when you need it. Find like-minded people for support. Just keep going, although it’s hard, just go hard.”
Don't give up. Ask for help when you need it. Find like-minded people for support. Just keep going, although it’s hard, just go hard.