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Pelenaise Taufu’i gently ushers her centre children to sit in a circle on a blue and white woven mat. The children bow their heads in prayer before singing and introducing themselves in Tongan.
The New Zealand Tertiary College (NZTC) graduate teaches at immersion Tongan centre Akoteu Kato Kakala in the heart of South Auckland’s Otara.
At Akoteu Kato Kakala (the basket of flowers) Tapa cloth lines walls and strands of brightly coloured plastic hangs from the ceiling. Pelenaise joined the team in 2015 just before she began her Graduate Diploma in Teaching (ECE) studies with the college.
“Moving from a big centre to a small centre, a mainstream centre to a language nest centre was a big shift. There is a big difference - even though I'm Tongan. Finally I settled in and now I think that I'm really blessed to work with my own community,” she said.
Pelenaise, who has six children of her own, feels that her centre children are an extension of her family and said early childhood education teaching came “very naturally” to her. “But I knew I wanted to learn more. I decided I needed to go back to school.”
Encouraged by her manager, she chose NZTC due to a friend’s positive experience at the college.
“I am very busy with work, family, and church commitments, but the NZTC team were so supportive and the college felt so homely. I'm so lucky to have chosen NZTC. I am not sure I would have been so successful without the support offered by the college,” Pelenaise said.
NZTC has given Pelenaise the confidence needed to build relationships with children and parents and to have difficult conversations.
“I've now got the belief that I know what I am doing and can do it myself – rather than relying on my manager,” Pelenaise said.
“My kind of personality is the kind to hold back, to not really be ‘up the front’. NZTC has really encouraged me to step up. It’s boosted my confidence. I now think, actually, I do have knowledge and skills to share,” she said.
“I would like to show my children, centre parents, the community and other teachers that they can pursue higher education too.”