Giving teen parents a chance
Amy Jackman visits Linden to talk to He Huarahi Tamariki teacher-in-charge Helen Webber about why she loves teaching, teen parents and social work.
Did you always want to be a teacher?
When I left school in the sixth form I went straight to teachers’ college. When I was young we weren’t exposed to as many options as you get now. It was the option that interested me most and I enjoy learning, so that aspect of it was great. I also did social work. Where have you taught? I’ve worked all around Wellington. Maraeroa School in Porirua, Aotea College, Mana College, Whitireia, Victoria University – a whole range. At one stage I had three education jobs at once. Why social work? When I started teaching the classes were very big. I was in primary. I felt a bit disillusioned by it, so I became a social worker. But then I ended up with a big caseload there as well. I also had a year as a relief matron at a prerelease hostel. It was with people who were exiting prison and reentering the community. They were really motivated to change. That was fabulous.
What drew you to the teen parent unit?
All these experiences have led me to my job now. I was in charge of learning support at Aotea College. With the correspondence school, I would often end up working with people in the penal system. I work with people needing and wanting a second chance, and that sits well with me. I was at Mana College and a friend cut out the advertisement for the job here for me and said, ‘‘This is so you. Apply.’’ I never saw it and wouldn’t have found it if she hadn’t. It’s now nine years later.
What’s special about the school?
It’s really satisfying to see students make positive choices around their education and lives. I have always been attracted by the context around people and supporting their lives rather than just teaching them. It’s very satisfying. Our model allows us to offer teaching and learning in small groups and also to support the students with wider pastoral care. It’s a successful model for education.
What is your favourite part of teaching at He Huarahi Tamariki?
I work with fantastic staff and we really have the support of the community. I love seeing students discover the joy of learning and parenthood. One of my favourite times of the days is home time. When the girls are re-united with their little ones you can just see the joy they feel at being parents. It makes such a difference to their lives. You can see how much the children love their mums and how much they thrive here.
Do the students interact with their children during the day?
If they are breastfeeding then they are called when their child needs a feed. Otherwise we restrict it to breaks and lunchtime. We all have lunch together like a big family. That keeps the little children settled in the early childhood area and allows the students time to just be teenagers.
Do the students keep in touch when they leave?
Yes. We have a graduate coordinator who networks with our past students. We hear about their lives and celebrate their successes. They drop in and say hello, and send us drawings for the fridge. A growing number are going to university and completing degrees. We have just had the first one of our students complete a master’s and she is going on to do her PhD. We also hear great stories about our students in the workplace, getting promotions and being valued members of staff.
Why do you think schools like He Huarahi Tamariki are important?
It’s life- changing for the students. It gives them a second chance. One of our former students, Layna, wrote: ‘‘ I feel proud to represent teen parents . . . and the school that gave both me and my child a chance. I truly believe that some things in life just stall us or put us on hold. They don’t actually stop us from accomplishing what we want to achieve.’’ That sums up what we are about for me.
Is there still a stigma attached to being a teen parent?
Our mums feel like they are more challenged by public perception. There is a negative stereotype, particularly in the media. They feel they have to work harder to prove themselves. When the media is talking about problems in a place, it often mentions poverty, crime and teen parents. It’s listed as one of the negatives. It’s not really justified.
Does having a child change the mothers?
It is a catalyst for change. A lot of them say that they want to be the best for their son or daughter. They are motivated to work well and be the best they can so they can be the best parent.
Have you always lived in the Wellington region?
I was born here, but I have lived in the Bay of Islands and Taranaki. I came down here again for university and then I have taught here. I love Wellington. I love the physical beauty, its size, its arts focus and the friends I have here.
Helen Webber: ‘‘It’s really satisfying to see students make positive choices . . . They want what’s best for themselves and their babies.’’