Natalie Muller - Bachelor of Education (Teaching) Huarahi Māori

Huarahi Māori alumnus Natalie Muller says studying at the faculty has taught her that anything is possible if you show up and apply yourself.

Natalie Muller

“I didn’t grow up speaking te reo. I went to a bilingual unit at the end of primary school. Then at secondary school I took it as a subject. But I couldn’t really have a conversation.

“After I came back from living in Melbourne for three years I enrolled in Te Ātaarangi – learning te reo Māori with the coloured Cuisenaire rods. I picked it up really easily. It’s immersion so there’s no speaking English. You make mistakes, but that’s the only way you can learn.

“I loved the kapa haka and the tikanga. I never thought I’d get a job out of it. I thought it was just a hobby. Then I had my daughter. So I did two years of learning to teach Te Ātaarangi. I also ran my own night classes teaching te reo Māori.

“Two years later my son was born. My daughter was two. My mum suggested I do a Bachelor of Education. She was doing her masters then, and she’s now got a doctorate. She likes to encourage others.

“At school I never really did very well. I never thought I’d get to university. I thought, I suppose it’d be good to have a qualification and be a teacher with two children. The TeachNZ career changer scholarships, which pay your fees plus a living allowance each year, really helped.

“I was looking at another course that was online. But then I had a chat with a friend who said she thought I’d get more out of going to the University of Auckland. So I did.

“It was full on. It was tough, especially that first year, having a little baby. I would be in lectures and half way through going out to breastfeed my son. He’d be at the Puna daycare close by. The good thing is that my mum was a step ahead so I always had someone to check my work.

“Being within Huarahi there was a different vibe compared to the rest of the University. We had all our classes all together so it was nice to have that support and people you could bounce ideas off. It was like a whānau."

The one thing I’ve learnt in everything I’ve done, is just show up and do the work.

Natalie Muller

“I’m definitely glad I chose Huarahi Māori at the University of Auckland. I’ve got friends for life, and lecturers for life! Hēmi Dale and Tony Trinick have been great to me. Very encouraging, understanding and supportive.

“The highlights were the tikanga and values that it instilled that you were recognised – you had a space to go to to be Māori. I loved the marae and Te Puna Kōhungahunga, the daycare. The kids loved it.

“The most valuable thing I got out of my studies was the understanding that you can do anything. I really thought each time, ‘I can’t do it’. But I learnt that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and you have dedication. I was surprised at the end of the three years those who dropped out because I didn’t feel like I was very smart. But the one thing I did was just turn up every day and did the work. I wasn’t an A-plus student, but just being consistent and motivated and committed to going the whole way.

“Now that I’m older – 30 something – it was a lack of self-belief that stopped me achieving but also the way you were talked to at school. These days they do encourage you to make mistakes. You have to make mistakes to grow. When I went to school mistakes were considered bad.

 “My philosophy on teaching has changed a lot since I’ve taught. I don’t really feel like schools cater for kids. I feel like they’ve got their agenda and kids have to try to fit into it. In schools people think kids are naughty or won’t achieve if they don’t fit.

 “I’m more open as a teacher. I treat kids like I would my own kids – but in a professional manner. They are like family. I have that relationship with their mum and dad.

“I couldn’t stand in front of people and talk when I first started learning te reo. It’s just building up that confidence around like teaching them something – not worrying that they’re not going to learn something. I’ve learnt to be holistic – to look at things in a wide way. When I was at school it was like you’re either good at reading or writing. Instead looking at the good things they can do and working on things that need to be improved.

“After the course I went into teaching full-time at Newton Central School in the immersion unit. My daughter started the same year as me. I taught full-time for about five years."

“Then I got a TeachNZ scholarship to do my Masters. It was great. I got more free time to do what I wanted to do. I did some online papers and night time courses. Online was a bit of a challenge, but I liked it.

“I did a mentoring teaching course. I did a culturally-responsive leadership paper. For a start, I had no interest in leadership, but when I did it I was actually really thankful. If we’re not culturally responsive you might just think ‘You’re not listening’ when kids might not have had breakfast.

“As you get older, it gives you more clarity about the worth of learning. My dissertation was about increasing kids’ learning of Māori through digital technology and apps. Most Māori kids are first language speakers of English. Māori is like ESOL for them. I wanted to look at increasing their oral language through using ipad apps. My topic was probably big enough for a doctorate. So we looked at a small part of it. I’m passionate about digital technology. I feel it’s underutilised. It’s amazing how much you can use that technology to assist in school time and out of school.

“Half way through my Masters I did a personal training course. I was going to the gym and had had trainers years ago, but thought it’d be nice to learn for myself. I loved going to the gym. Because I was on study leave I was going to the gym once or twice a day. I did a 20-week personal training course, two days a week, at the same time as my Masters. I like to cram things in. I found I was quite passionate about it and interested in helping people.

“After my Masters, I went down to two days a week and three days relieving at other schools. Then I started up running fitness classes. I set up a challenge two mornings a week at the local park. I did a flyer drop – designed and printed on my computer. It went well and we carried it on.

“I started one in te reo and trialled it at the local hall. Maori TV saw it on Facebook and came and filmed it. Now it’s at Newton School two afternoons a week – teachers and parents.

“I’ve put in for Te Matawai funding for revitalising te reo projects - to do something with fitness, nutrition and mindfulness.

“I’m using my teaching skills in the fitness world. These include social and communication skills with people – relating to people and managing them - also being time-efficient so you’re not wasting anyone’s time. It’s also given me confidence about speaking in front of people, definitely.“My advice to future students is: be committed. Stick at it. Things might get hard, but be resilient. The one thing I’ve learnt in everything I’ve done, is just show up and do the work.

“You’ll have connections you have for life – with friends or teachers. It’s always supportive.”