June 30, 2021
OPINION: Teaching by Te Tiriti: What does that mean in the tertiary classroom?
By Atakohu Middleton
Kaiako/Lecturer, Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau/Auckland University of Technology
I’ve been doing a tertiary teaching course this year, and it posed a thought-provoking question: What does it mean to teach by Te Tiriti o Waitangi? When I went hunting for resources, it turned out that there was remarkably little literature, guidance and support on teaching by Te Tiriti at tertiary level: How, as tertiary educators, we reflect and embody its principles.
What we do know is that much of the burden of teaching by Te Tiriti and “Māori content” falls on a small cohort of Māori academic staff, who tally 5% nationally and just 3% at my university. Statistics can’t tell us how many of these scholars are well-versed in Te Tiriti, te reo and tikanga, which has implications for the quality and depth of teaching about them.
I took my current role with a personal agenda to help staff and students understand te ao Māori and the business of nation-building. However, Māori can’t do that alone, and responsibility must fall, increasingly, to all tertiary staff. This is reinforced in universities’ guiding legislation, the Education and Training Act 2020, and its primary roadmap, the Tertiary Education Strategy.
However, teaching by Te Tiriti often requires non-Māori (and some Māori staff, too) to step outside their comfort zones, and the challenge facing them is how to teach by Te Tiriti.
I see two necessary paths: One of the head in that educators need to understand the differing meanings of Te Tiriti and The Treaty and what happened before 1840 and afterwards; there is no shortage of guidance here.
The other, and perhaps more difficult path, is of the heart. Teachers need to open themselves to understanding the Māori world view and how we shape a nationhood founded on genuine partnership, even if that raises difficult emotions and/or experiences.
In my experience, non-Māori academics want to do the right thing, but worry about making mistakes and/or inadvertently causing offence, a state of uncertainty research terms “Pākehā paralysis”. Otherwise competent adults may feel apprehensive about venturing into an area where they feel their competence is limited, and they may have to face their emotions about our difficult history, racism, and white privilege, a process that can be confronting.
Supporting people in this space requires a gentle approach based on manaaki (care for the other) and tautoko (support). I believe that optimistically role modelling what is required and being a safe, welcoming and non-judgemental source of information is critical. I remind colleagues that as we tell students that learning often means experiencing discomfort, so we need to apply that to ourselves.
Most importantly, teaching by Te Tiriti requires planning, and below is the roadmap, I use and recommend. It’s based on a Victoria University handbook Nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou: A guide to teaching Māori content in university courses; it’s free online at http://www.cad.vuw.ac.nz/wiki/images/1/1c/TeachingM%C4%81oriContentbooklet.pdf
Set clear goals. What do students need to know? For example, for many students, especially my first-years, that’s an explanation of what happened in the lead-up to 1840 and after, as we know the education system has been pretty patchy on this. To the compulsory school history curriculum that comes in next year, nau mai, haere mai!
Prepare adequately, which may mean consulting others. If you’re the one with the mōhio (knowledge), be prepared to share it. If you’re seeking help, see yourself as a teina, or younger sibling seeking support from a tuakana, an older and more experienced sibling, and seek that knowledge without embarrassment or ego.
Use appropriate methods, which may require replacing Eurocentric content with Māori content. I have done this in a course that was US-centric, but for which there were Māori examples that slotted in well.
Present effectively, such as using creative storytelling to teach Te Tiriti. In one of my courses, we use the bilingual comic book Te Tiriti o Waitangi (https://instructionalseries.tki.org.nz/Instructional-Series/School-Journal-Story-Library/Te-Tiriti-o-Waitangi) and the brilliant Radio New Zealand video series The Citizen’s Handbook (https://www.rnz.co.nz/programmes/the-citizens-handbook). We display (genuine) enthusiasm for the topic, which research shows is a critical factor in student motivation. Enthusiasm is infectious!
Assess the results. That means student grades, essays and feedback. Although the anonymous student surveys that universities run have their drawbacks, they can pinpoint areas that might need a tweak or two.
Engage in reflective critique. This is a teacher’s way of saying that we have to be brave enough to think critically and deeply about what we do in the classroom and be ready to make changes.
Radio Waatea and its board would like to advise that the opinions posted are those of Atakohu Middleton and not the views of Radio Waatea, its management or its board.