Hard work pays off for teacher graduating with two masters degrees

1 December 2017

(L-R) Vicki Tahau with her supervisor Dr Elmarie Kotzé.

December’s graduation ceremony will be a very special occasion for high school teacher Vicki Tahau, who has just completed a Master of Counselling and a Master of Educational Leadership while working full-time.

Born and raised in Whanganui, Vicki (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) remembers wanting to be a teacher since the age of nine and a counsellor since she was 13 years old. “It was always part of my life plan to be where I am now. I have been disconnected from my whakapapa and what it is to be Māori, but my learning and experiences at university have reconnected me to who I am as Māori and as Pākehā.”

Vicki believes the combination of her two masters degrees uniquely positions her to support not only young people and their whānau, but also teaching staff in schools. “The emotional and mental wellbeing of students is key in raising the achievement of young people and preparing them for the world they live in – mental health statistics repeatedly tell us we are not doing enough to support them,” she says.

The Master of Counselling has been an incredible learning journey for Vicki, helping her develop strong relationships with the students she teaches, while the Master of Educational Leadership has given her “the nuts and bolts of leading in educational frameworks”.

But how did Vicki manage to combine studying and working full-time? “The demands of teaching didn’t always cease at the end of the school day, so I was always juggling my work and study demands. Often I would sit down to study from about 8pm at night and carry on through to the early hours of the morning. In the times of stress I just reminded myself that what I was doing wasn’t for me – it was for our young people and their whānau. There were definitely times when I wanted to give up, but my supervisor Elmarie was always there reminding me that what we do as an individual is what we do for others.”

The graduation ceremony is only a few days away and Vicki wishes she could bring everyone who has motivated and inspired her through the years onto the stage with her. “I am not a fan of the limelight, so on one hand the ceremony itself does not excite me, but the knowledge that I made it to the end of both degrees in one piece is awesome!”

Vicki cites a Māori proverb to describe her drive and motivation: Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, ēngari taku toa he toa takitini (my strength is not that of an individual, but that of the collective).

Vicki’s vision for the future is an alternative educational environment that meets the learner where they need it and in a way that works for them. “I would like to help nurture and grow our young people, especially our Maori and Pasifika students, in a way that not only supports successful academic achievement, but also teaches them to be confident, contributing and successful individuals in our society.”