Tauranga mother of six Charlotte Hartley is one of the University of Waikato’s star adult students. Charlotte’s kind nature and positive attitude has endeared her to students and staff alike and seen her thrive in the student ambassador role she’s held for the best part of her undergraduate degree.
Last year hardworking Charlotte’s efforts were acknowledged when she was awarded a Vice-Chancellor’s Adult Learner’s Award. The icing on the cake was a TeachNZ Scholarship to pay her year’s course fees plus $10,000. Now, with a Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood) under her belt, there’s no rest for the busy mum as she takes on her next challenge – studying a Master of Teaching and Learning (Primary), this time at Waikato’s Hamilton campus. “There’s a fair amount of travel involved but I’m enjoying the beauty of the grounds in Hamilton,” says Charlotte.
Despite the travel, study and family commitments, Charlotte will also squeeze in some casual work at the well-respected Toi Ohomai Early Childhood Centre where she did her practicum and has worked as a relief teacher for the past year. “I’ve been very fortunate to be working with the calibre of teachers there to put my theory into practice," she says. "I’ll be really happy to still do the odd day here and there while doing my masters.”
But Charlotte’s was an unconventional journey into early childhood education. Born into a fundamentalist Christian family, Charlotte was home schooled from age 12 where she says it was considered a woman’s job to get married and have children.
“I wasn’t particularly engaged with learning when I was home schooled. I felt that I didn’t really fit in because I questioned everything. I wanted to do more with my life but growing up in that environment, getting a university education wasn’t an option. My job was to grow up and have children, so that’s what I did.”
Charlotte married at 20 and had her first child a year later going to have five more children and, sadly, miscarrying two. When the dedicated mum hit 30 she got a job at the Bethlehem Baptist Church as a preschool coordinator. It was her first foray into work and it was, quite literally, ‘baptism by fire’.
“That job showed me how much I didn’t know and how much more I wanted to know,” she says. After a year she made the decision to enrol at university. Her sister Rebecca recommended Waikato for its reputation in early childhood education. Charlotte admits that initially she found the tertiary experience overwhelming and scary. “I didn’t know how to communicate with people outside of my ‘safe circle’. I didn’t know how to study, I’d never written an essay. There were a lot of firsts and it was touch and go for a while that I could stick it out.”
But her lecturers saw something in her and encouraged her to keep going. “They gave me the right kind of feedback to propel me forward and to delve deeper,” says Charlotte. “That’s what made the difference.”
Charlotte’s children range in age from 5 to 13 and she juggles care for them with husband James, a senior volunteer firefighter who is just months away from completing a mechanical apprenticeship through Toi Ohomai. Charlotte says her family have influenced her learning, and her study has enhanced her relationship with her kids. “I wanted to show them that they could achieve their dreams and that they could do whatever they want to do. When they see me leaving for uni with my books and my laptop tucked under my arm it’s normalising that study ethic. It’s also been important for me, having four girls, to show that girls can do anything!”
Charlotte appreciates that being a teacher of pre-schoolers is a huge responsibility. “It is your aroha for children that will further develop you into a great teacher. This profession places you at the heart of a child’s learning and for some of the very young ones, you also become their voice and advocacy. You have to give your study the attention and dedication it deserves, as it will shape and mould you into the teacher you need to be for the children,” she says.