Teaching couple’s plans to tap into Pasifika world view

A couple graduating as teachers on the same day say their Pasifika heritage means they can better relate to their students' struggles and recognise their strengths 

Sharing the same world view as many of their students is a special bonus, say University of Auckland graduating teachers Tamausu Fa’alepo Vaotuua and Teuila Vaotuua.

The hardworking couple both received their Graduate Diploma in Teaching (Secondary) in Tuesday's spring ceremony and already have jobs at De La Salle College, an integrated Catholic secondary school for boys in South Auckland with a predominantly Pacific student body.

“Being a teacher of Samoan descent at a largely Pasifika school means we know and relate to our students’ struggles and can recognise their strengths as genuine strengths,” says Tamausu Fa’alepo.

“It means that sometimes we don’t have to employ all the ideals of Western pedagogy, but rather use the cultural intelligence we have. As a teacher, it’s rewarding to be able to tap into our own heritage and connections to the community to strengthen relationships and teaching within the classroom.”

“And we see each other outside of school because we live in the same community so when we achieve, or they achieve, we all achieve,” says Teuila.

Both have special connections to De La Salle College, with Fa’alepo being an old boy and Teuila’s father, Arthur Solomon, a long-serving teacher there. Both of their brothers were also former pupils.

Tamausu Fa’alepo started at De La Salle as an itinerant music teacher (piano and voice) as well as being the campus minister, a role funded by the De La Salle brothers who encouraged him to enrol in part-time study at the University’s Faculty of Education and Social Work at Epsom. He is now the school’s permanent music and religious education teacher.

Teuila returned to studying in 2017 with some graduate arts courses, enrolling at Epsom last year where she did her last practicum (placement in a school) at De La Salle. She started as a religious education teacher at the school this year.

She believes it’s important to be an authentic role model for students and also “the kind of teacher who never forgets what it’s like to be a student”. Tamausu Fa’alepo wants to be known as “a teacher who cares for his students”.

“Success,” says Teuila, “will follow if you experience and teach others self-belief and self-love.” And for Fa’alepo, it means “being able to provide for my family, our family being well and our children healthy and happy”.

As well as studying full-time last year, the couple are parents to seven children, three of whom are adults; two work and one is a student at the University of Auckland. The next eldest are at secondary school, one is at primary and the youngest is a pre-schooler. Fa’alepo’s parents also live with the family.

“So with 11 people living in our house, we are a modern-day village,” laughs Teuila, who admits juggling everyone’s needs during the past few years has been tough.

“Everything coming together was a huge mental, spiritual and physical challenge and mostly it was a matter of survival because so much was at stake for our big family. We knew if we couldn’t balance family, study, work and church during practicum, we likely couldn’t pull off the real deal.”

She says prayer and the older members of the family stepping in to help got them through. “We prayed a lot, and by the grace of God we got by.”

Returning to study was a way of honouring their parents’ and grandparents’ sacrifices on their behalf, she says.

“As children and grandchildren of migration, we believe in our responsibility to honour the sacrifice they made coming to New Zealand for a better education and quality of life for their offspring. And despite the challenges, continuing our education is our way of saying thank you and of giving back to our community.”

Tamausu Fa’alepo particularly wants to acknowledge their Samoan home villages of Malaemalu and Afega in Teuila’s case and Matatufu and Afega in his own. Teuila also has a family connection to Suva, Fiji.

“Our families allowed us to live the life we have and they’re still supporting us with their prayers, we’re together in spirit,” he says.

The couple is keen to raise the profile of all the good things that happen in South Auckland.

“Our South Auckland and Pasifika kids are super-talented and we want to work in the education space where we’re able contribute to breaking negative stereotypes and building a legacy of success for our people.”

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