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Tamara Grace-Tonga
Photo: Tamara, left, with her kaiako Salote Panapa.

Like many parents during the pandemic, Tamara Grace-Tonga had to become her daughter’s core teacher. Quite unexpectedly, this sparked her wanting to change her legacy.

“I became aware of the impact I was having on my daughter’s education, and I thought, if this is what I can do for her, imagine what I can do on a larger scale”.

And so, Tamara’s journey to become a primary teacher began.

With the full support of her husband, Tamara left her corporate customer service role, and enrolled in He Korowai Ākonga at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

Now in her second year of the teaching degree, Tamara is proud of where she is and where she’s going.

“I’m so thankful to be in my second year. I’m super excited about next year, it’s the most amazing and fulfilling industry to be part of”.

Tamara’s journey toward her new career has been a bumpy one so far. Her husband received a health diagnosis that left him unable to work, several close whānau members passed, and she has had to adapt to life as an adult learner, while caring for her husband and daughter, yet Tamara wouldn’t change it for anything.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’m continuously learning, I can understand people better. My parenting is better.”

The manaaki offered through the uniquely kaupapa Māori environment at Te Wānango o Aotearoa has helped Tamara get through the challenges thrown at her and her whānau.

She is immensely grateful for the connections she’s made with kaiako, fellow tauira and student support.

“The support from my kaiako has been a game changer. To be able to call them at any time, for any help or clarification has been huge.”

She recognises that her experience as a child also played a part in where she chose to study.

She recalls being able to count on one hand the number of Māori children at her primary school and believes that if she had a teacher who looked and sounded like her, she would have been more engaged.

He Korowai Ākonga, with its indigenous lens, was the right fit for Tamara to help her understand how to be a more inclusive teacher.

This year, Tamara applied for and won the Te Hiringa Scholarship. The award is intended to support a tauira studying a degree in education and demonstrates a strong future commitment to their community.

Tamara has used the funds towards her programme fees and help ease the financial pressure on her whānau.

She intends to work as a teacher in the South Auckland community where she lives when she graduates.

Tamara is proud of the example she’s setting for her daughter, to set a goal and work hard towards it, even when life throws you obstacles.

She has also inspired two of her teenage nieces to consider tertiary education.

“They’ve seen the way I’ve been treated here and are thinking about it. One is even thinking about doing the same degree. It’s just a different whanaungatanga. It feels different being here."

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Published On: 28 March 2024

Article By: Gemma Bradly-Jacka

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