The real influencers of Aotearoa

Issue: Volume 101, Number 16

Posted: 7 December 2022
Reference #: 1HAYUY

A current campaign by the Ministry of Education, Become a real influencer. Go Teach, aims to encourage more young people to enter initial teacher education and influence the next generation. With real young people talking to other young people about the positive influence teachers had on their lives, this campaign highlights how rewarding a career in education can be.

Savannah Sullivan

Savannah Sullivan

Teachers are part of the formative years of all young New Zealanders. Their presence is undeniably influential in how the next generation sees and takes their place in the world. 

Teachers can elicit hope and ambition in students that they may not find elsewhere. By highlighting this mahi in communities across the country, the Ministry of Education is inviting those wanting to make similar positive impacts to look at how a career in teaching is the way to go.  

A teacher’s legacy lives on outside the walls of a classroom. 

“Being a teacher is so underrated, but it is so crucial,” says Savannah Sullivan. She recalls countless times teachers at Kamo High School in Whangarei helped her get to where she is today. 

“I think with school we often think it’s just the educational side. But I think my teachers definitely went beyond that.” 

Savannah, 22, is in her second year of a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in criminology and social policy. Even four years after leaving high school, she remembers teachers like Sonya Lockyer (now associate principal at Whangārei Girl’s High School) and Gemma Parker (learning leader, health, at Kamo High) who showed up for her, and other students, even when they weren’t obliged to.

Savannah attained good grades all round, until it came to NCEA Level 3 Statistics.

“I sucked at maths… I hated it so much.” 

Even though the subject involved a degree of writing, which she excelled in, she was barely scraping by. The thought of maths made her stomach churn, but the thought of failing made it churn even more, says Savannah. 

She didn’t want to fail or retake the class, and her maths teacher at the time, Sonya Lockyer, certainly didn’t want that either. Maths may have been Sonya’s subject of choice, but she seemed to know it wasn’t for everyone. 

Sonya went the extra mile to ensure students could end the school year with all the credits they needed. Savannah doubts she would be where she is now at university without the perseverance, care and understanding shown to her by teachers like Sonya. 

“I think they could probably recognise that not everyone’s got the same learning pattern or style and so they would do the best to accommodate that.”  


In Year 9, Savannah remembers how the senior students always had positive and respectful interactions with teaching staff. She was glad this whanaungatanga became part of her own everyday school experience. 

“It wasn’t weird for teachers to be in a great relational space with the students, that was kind of a pretty solid pattern in our school, to be honest.”

Savannah had the same teacher for health and physical education over her five years at high school, Gemma Parker. She says Gemma was bubbly and always gave a lot of energy to whatever she was teaching.

“She was pretty much like an aunty to us, she was very interactive, and you could pretty much tell your whole life story to her… She was there for us during life’s ups and downs, through all of it.”

As she approached NCEA and took on extracurricular activities like netball, Savannah’s life became a juggling act, just like many other students. Rather than having a tunnel vision approach to the subject she taught, Gemma was understanding of just how much students had to manage in and out of school. She didn’t take a forgotten piece of homework or one-off lateness as a sign of defiance, nor something to scold. 

“She was great at just being aware of how busy students were in general. When we were in class, she would make sure we would crack onto our work, get it done, and then she’d make herself available to us in her own time.”

Inspiring pathways

Kamo High wasn’t exactly a small school when Savannah attended. She recalls that her Year 13 class of 2018 had over a hundred students. Regardless, she never felt like just another pupil to mark off the roll. 

Even in the years since Savannah left, she feels she fostered professional and friendly relationships with her teachers so that she could reach out to them whenever. She says Sonya and Gemma were always willing to assist students when it came to planning their futures. 

“They didn’t want us to settle or stay where we were. They wanted us to get out there, give university a go, or get into trades. They were comfortable helping us explore options.”

These teachers were, and still, are her go-to people when she needs character references or assistance with university scholarships. 

Helping students connect with culture

Former Rosmini College student Noah Jones, 19, credits his journey into his own culture to Māori studies teacher, Matua Rankin. 

Noah Jones

Noah Jones

Since finishing up at Rosmini College in 2021, Noah is studying towards a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and Māori studies at the University of Auckland. 

School wasn’t really built for him, says Noah. The one-size-fits-all approach to teaching meant students with learning disabilities or any kind of neurodivergence, struggled to engage in education to their full potential. 

Noah found it difficult to motivate himself to learn as it felt like he had to put in far more effort than his peers to pass. Matua Rankin recognised Noah’s struggles and saw it as his responsibility to provide Noah with alternatives to mainstream learning styles. 

“Matua Rankin helped me motivate myself to explore pathways in education that interested me and that I worked to my strengths.”

This work led Noah to a decision to major in Māori studies at university. Noah says Matua Rankin assisted not only him, but many other students in connecting with their whakapapa and Te Ao Māori. 

“He basically built the kapa haka group and the Māori department from the ground up. It was a place students could come and just be themselves. It really helped a lot of Māori students get in touch with themselves and their culture, which had a positive influence on them.”

While Noah did consider getting into teaching, he finds it easier to connect and help youth outside of a teaching environment. Nonetheless, he maintains that teachers can really make or break how far a student wants to pursue a particular field of study, and thereby their connection with the world. 

Just good people

Occasionally when Savannah is back home in Whangārei, she will call in to Kamo High to catch up with teachers who still work there. Although they have taught hundreds of students over the years, they seem to distinctly remember each student, like Savannah.

It is this familiarity, genuine care, and respect that Savannah believes makes a world of difference in her own, and other students’ lives.  

“As a society, we’re always like ‘get the business job’ or ‘get the nice job’ or whatever. But at the end of the day, if you didn’t have teachers, young people wouldn’t have other, or extra, positive role models around them with these sorts of teaching abilities. Not just on the academic side, but in life, like how to deal with issues that come up, and advice that your parents might go about in a different way.

“At the end of the day, they’re just good people.”

Teachers teach, but they also comfort, care for, and inspire confidence in the next generation. The next generation of rangatahi, and of teachers. 

Become a real influencer

InfluencerThe Become a real influencer campaign has been targeted at 18–24-year-old students and graduates. It has used real stories from students and Ministers to encourage them to become teachers by reminding them about the positive influence teachers have on student lives.

This is the first campaign done by the Ministry of Education aimed at this demographic.

The campaign has just ended and over 63,000 people visited the dedicated website to find out more information, with 400 looking for further information into becoming a teacher.

Resources coming in 2023

To support the campaign, the Ministry will be creating a new web section for career guidance counsellors, teachers and principals that will provide information on initial teacher education and the scholarships available so you can share this with students who are interested in becoming teachers.

Got students who you think would want to become teachers?
Let them know about the Become a real influencer.
Go Teach campaign at link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:28 pm, 7 December 2022

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