Online learning inspires Ohakune teacher

14 December 2020

Miriama McLean-Bell

It took hard work and perseverance, but it has all been worth it for Miriama McLean-Bell, who graduates with a Bachelor of Teaching from the University of Waikato.

Successfully overcoming odds against her, Miriama has completed her entire degree as an online student based in the small town of Ohakune.

Now Miriama is working part-time at Ohakune Primary School and Waiouru Primary School as a reliever and a release teacher, the same schools she did her practicums at.

Studying online was the only way Miriama could have completed her degree.

“There was no way I would have been able to uplift my family and move towns for me to study. I was very fortunate that Waikato University offered a teaching degree online. It is something that I think Waikato should be very proud of.”

Miriama grew up in the small rural village of Jerusalem/Hiruharama on the banks of the Whanganui River. Attending a small primary school with only 30 students, Miriama was offered many opportunities by a number of teachers who inspired her decision to go into teaching.

“Growing up, I wanted to play basketball for a living. I wanted to be in the WNBA and those were the types of dreams my teachers supported. They made us feel that we could accomplish anything we put our minds to,” says Miriama who was heavily involved in sport.

She loved playing sport, as well as coaching and refereeing. She went on to complete a Certificate in Sports and Exercise Science.

Fast forward to 2017, and living in Ohakune with her partner and then 6-year-old son, Miriama enrolled full time in the Bachelor of Teaching programme as an online student.

“I knew I always wanted to work with children especially after having worked as a teacher aide for a couple of years before I started my teaching degree,” says Miriama.

“People would tell me that I would make a great teacher and I started to believe that I would too”.

Miriama’s study journey wasn’t always easy. She faced a number of challenges, including working full time to support her family, a pregnancy loss and loss of her mother, followed by the birth of her daughter who ended up in Wellington NICU after arriving 13 weeks early. These all added an extra layer of stress and pressure to Miriama and her studies.

“I tried to stay on track with my study, I was so focused on not failing. Every day was a challenge but I got my Uni mahi done”.

Miriama persevered and was eventually able to focus on her studies full time while her very supportive husband worked and was the stay-at-home dad. Miriama feels she owes a lot to her husband for the sacrifices she made while she studied.

“He was the main parent and it would not have been possible if my husband didn’t want to be the stay-at-home dad,” says Miriama.

Even though the majority of her study was online, there were a few weeks that Miriama needed to be on campus. For those Block weeks, Miriama stayed on campus at the Marae, with her young baby in tow, which was not only hugely convenient but also became a huge highlight of her studies, particularly as an online student.

“I was told that when you stay at the Marae on your first on-campus week it would be the best decision you could make, which was very true! I am still very close friends with many of those I met who stayed at the Marae in our first year” says Miriama.

It is with the help of those people, and many of her lecturers, that allowed Miriama to succeed. “I would not be here graduating if it weren’t for many of the people in my cohort. They helped me through a lot of trying times and understood the stresses and workload, which helped me to not feel so alone. This is extremely important for online learners.”

Even though her Mum won’t be there, Miriama will be graduating with her husband, two beautiful children by her side and a number of close family members, who have always been an inspiration to her.

Four years down the track and upon reflection, Miriama is so glad she persevered and gave her study everything she had.

“No matter what life throws at you, just know that deep down in your soul you can get through it. I am living proof of that, as I overcame every obstacle that was thrown at me during my study years.

“I want women, ladies, girls, and our Māori people to believe in themselves. For them to know that they can do this too, that anything is possible, they just have to set goals and believe in themselves and then you are halfway there” says Miriama.

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