The secret to being a good teacher

19:27, Jul 17 2012
Mana Elizabeth Hunkin, winner of an Ako Aotearoa teaching excellence award
PASSION AND COMMITMENT: Mana Elizabeth Hunkin, 75, is one of 12 winners of an Ako Aotearoa teaching excellence award. Teaching is something she still enjoys doing, despite her years. "Would you believe that?"’

After half a century at the front of a classroom, Mana Elizabeth Hunkin reckons she's got the secret to staying young down pat.

Listen to your students, let them know you care - and when they cross the road years later to show off their babies, make sure you give them a smooch.

"What makes a good teacher is passion. That's what I have for te reo and that's what I have for teaching, otherwise I wouldn't still be here at 75 years old."

She stops, leaning forward confidentially. "I don't feel old. This is something that I still enjoy doing. Would you believe that?"

Mrs Hunkin, a Wairoa principal, was honoured with an Ako Aotearoa Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award in a kaupapa Maori context at a parliamentary ceremony last night.

She was nominated by staff at Te Kura Motuhake o Te Ataarangi, the private training establishment she founded in 1996.


No-one was more surprised than her to learn she was among the 12 top lecturers nationwide to gain the prestigious award, which comes with $20,000 in prize money.

"I couldn't believe it really, because most of the recipients have done some wonderful research or they've done something really marvellous at the universities," she said. "I did not for one moment think that they would look at a little [organisation] in the Hawke's Bay."

After first attending Wellington Teachers' College in 1955, Mrs Hunkin took time off to have children.

"I didn't realise I was going to have five of them," she chuckles now.

It wasn't until 1970, after years of informal playcentre teaching, that she went back to finish her degree and began teaching at Lower Hutt's Epuni School.

In 1979 she returned to her hometown, near Wairoa, where she became one of the early practitioners of the Te Ataarangi movement.

The holistic teaching method employs coloured rods - called cuisenaire rods, first used in Belgium to teach mathematics - as a way of helping pupils to quickly grasp te reo.

A good teacher made students feel cared for, and made them want to learn, she said.

"I think I've done that in most of my teaching. It's lovely when I see my old students walking down the street, and they come over and want to show me their babies.

"There's a deep respect there, and that's something that I really treasure."

Mrs Hunkin won the Queen's Service Medal in 2004, and is an NZQA moderator.


Contact Michelle Duff
Education reporter
Twitter: @michelle_duff

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