As an older student, learning reo Māori was slightly daunting for Ōpōtiki College teacher, Deborah Mckillop. But after learning she would be taught by one of her former student’s, things became more relaxed.
Deborah has taught biology at Ōpōtiki’s local secondary school for 40 years, so making the switch from teacher to tauira (student) was quite a big change.
“My teachers (Maxine Tai and Tracy Gilmer) were so encouraging. As an older person it’s quite scary but they were so kind and had such great teaching skills,” says 62-year-old Deborah who last year completed Te Ara Reo Māori (He Pī Ka Rere) level 3 and 4 at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa campus in Ōpōtiki.
After living in Ōpōtiki for most of her life, Deborah thought that she would have been able to learn te reo through listening to the many fluent speakers in the community.
But in 2021 she accepted that she was going to have to make a deliberate effort to learn and she decided to enrol in Te Ara Reo Māori (He Pī ka Pao) level 1 and 2 at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.
“I thought that now is finally the time. We had a group of about eight teachers who signed up at the same time and we all did it together. It was so fun and it was great learning.”
Studying reo Māori was about more than just learning a new language for Deborah, she also came away from the programme with a new understanding of te ao Māori (the Māori worldview) and how that could be incorporated in her own classroom.
“I teach the classification of plants but now I start with the whakapapa of the plants and I go back to Tāne and how the trees are all connected. I’ve been amazed at the added value my learning has had in my class.”
"I feel confident to read and listen for basic te reo Māori but I still need to grow my ability to whakahoki (respond) more quickly. If I don't practice, I’m going to go backwards so there is still a challenge ahead.”