Jackie Tamaki decided she would get her Masters degree before she turned 50.
She’s knocked the challenge off with five years to spare, and is graduating with a Masters in Education this month.
Jackie packs a lot into her time: marae commitments, kapa haka, and another little thing - being mother to eight children aged 10 to 23. So you can add helping with homework, school meetings, sports and fundraising to the list. She casually suggests you need to be a little organised if you want to get a degree completed as well. As it turns out Jackie is also a night owl. “I would go to class, go home, do tea, clean the house and do other domestic stuff, if the kids hadn’t done it already. I would wait until everyone was asleep by about 10pm and then I would study.”
Waikato-Tainui, Jackie’s father was a dairy milker in Pirongia, and her mother a nurse. She’s only ever spent a year out of Waikato, when her family moved to Taranaki. When she turned 16, she left home and returned to Waikato. She went on her first course, but couldn’t decide what she wanted to do - so tried out catering, computing and administration. Her first child died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and she had two more babies before deciding she wanted a job where she could also be with her kids. Jackie discovered early childcare work, and grew her skills with a Bachelor of Education at Waikato in 2001.
When Jackie and her partner started having children they decided that one of them would always be at home. He died after a long struggle with cancer in 2015, and it became more difficult for her to work and be with her kids as much as she wanted. She was, and is still, working at Te Kohao Kohungahunga, an early childhood centre in Fairfield. Her very supportive boss asked if she wanted to upskill or do any study in the future, and then directed her to a scholarship that meant she could afford to study full time. Jackie started on a Post-graduate Diploma in Education in 2017, and transferred it to a Masters of Education this year.
Her dissertation is Ko wai au I te Ao, I te Poo? It is about identity, and that’s something that has been a theme in her own life, as well as her work and academic career. When she was growing up, te reo Māori wasn’t spoken at home, and she didn’t spend time on marae. She did a one year te reo Māori course at high school. “That’s when I started to open my eyes, and ask who I am.” She says doing her Masters immersed in te reo also made it more rewarding. “My kaupapa for my post-grad work was around identity. Ever since my first te reo course at school I had been thinking about my identity as Māori, and as a Māori woman, in today’s society. Also in my work in early childhood I have seen a lot of children unsure about their identity. They don’t know their whakapapa, and they are quite shy kids, who don’t really like taking that many risks. Where our children do have their identity - they go to their marae, they know their tikanga, they can rattle off their pepeha - they are risk takers, ready to give everything and anything a go.”
During her work, Jackie spends all day with under-5s, always on the go and everyday different. She says her work has changed the way she sees them. “It has made me look deep into each child. I really want to connect with them, and make sure every child has their identity, because it means so much to me, too.”
Driven to finish what she starts, Jackie has juggled a huge amount over the last few years, including self-doubt. Especially in the middle of the night, when her friends were not available because they were in bed, and her kids asleep. She says she would fend off the feeling she couldn’t do it. “I’d go and sit outside and look up at the night sky and I’d be struggling with hard questions. But I’d sit there longer and tell myself I want to do this, and ask myself - what’s my purpose?”
Her purpose is to be a role model for her children. “To show them them it doesn’t matter what you want to do, as long as you are determined and have the drive, then you’ll get there.”
Jackie Tamaki is graduating at Te Kohinga Mārama Marae on 14 December. She’s now looking at whether she will do a PhD. She also wants to acknowledge the help of Te Toi o Matariki, the University’s Māori Graduate Excellence Programme.