I have been following this election more closely than past ones. Partly because, as a middle class white woman voter with a single child living in Dunedin, there is actually no party that will impact me in particular. So I have been forced to change my voting strategy, which has always been to vote selfishly, as in what is best for me. Which no longer applies, because I am in the fortunate place where a tax cut of an extra $20 a week might mean I buy another bottle of wine, or some more chocolate, or (heaven help me) more lego. But I have been seeing (and blogging) more and more inequality, larger and larger cracks and more despair around New Zealand, and so I have been spending some time looking into the social, health and education policies of all the different parties as these are important to me and I see them as a way to move forward.
So I was STOKED when it was announced at staff briefing that Jacinda Arden would be coming to our school to talk to our students. (I think our resident Labour campaigner Logan had a bit to do with it). It is a big deal for Taieri College.
Credit to our SLT team, I think it cause them minor heart attacks, but it was awesome. The TK block (yr 7&8) welcomed Jacinda with a Haka, and she did a brief Q&A with them – which delighted the kids as they hadn’t expected it.
She then came through to where the yr 9-13s where crammed into our indoor training center – sitting on the floor. She was introduced by our principal, who made a point about not being political but commented along the lines of having respect for Jacinda for being a role model and for kick starting lively debate about politics (including in the staff room).
Jacinda then spoke, and she was awesome. She avoided too much political speak, and mostly talked about her journey – from a slightly smaller state co-ed school in Morrinsville. ‘Who knows, you too can spend 9 years in opposition’ was a favourite sound bite when she was talking about not letting your own lack of self confidence prevent you from accepting and acting on opportunities. She had always cared about and been interested in politics, but never thought that would be her career, until one thing lead into another. She talked about the value she placed on young people, and how they too, could be anything they set there mind to.
I think she spoke for 15 minutes tops, and then took some questions. First off their were some careful chosen students with vetted questions – she answered one about mental health of students undergoing NCEA really well, not just with promises around support and more nurses in schools, but also a comment about how we are over assessing students.
Then she called for any more questions, and a wee yr 9 put up his hand. My boss, to his credit, not only knew his name our of 800 or so other kids, but invited him to ask it. And so started some great questions from the floor (and the principal knew all the names, he really does know the kids. Although he avoided my frantic hand waving…) what will you do to help me? Do you get nervous speaking to people and what are some tips for others? (Jacinda answered this one really well – she made a joke at her own expense about her tongue sticking to her teeth and getting tongue tied). What will you do about a teacher shortage (from a student no less) (support teachers and training, and the for Auckland specifically reign in housing prices so teachers can live there). She talked about the rebuild of schools being too slow (we are still waiting for our school hall to be rebuilt, hence the kids sitting on the floor of the training center), and the one policy type thing she mentioned was supporting free tertiary education and upping living costs. But she also talked about apprenticeships, and how they will also support more of these and offer a $2000 scholarship to the top ‘tradie’ (my words, not hers, I can’t remember exactly what she said) from each school. We have a very successful trades academy at Taieri, and this would be a real plus for us. She was asked about taxes. One cheeky wee kiddie asked what she thought of John Key, and she was very tactful as she replied he was a great finance minister, but she thinks he has done what he came to do.
There were two questions that really stuck out for me though
- What did you learn at high school that was the most important thing
She answered this in an interesting way. She said she learning some school type things like Chemistry is hard…(sigh) but the most important thing she learned was while she was board of trustees rep and on the ‘exclusion’ committee – she was trusted with a lot more background on students. So they stopped being just play ground bullies and became people with real issues who needed help not punishment. And that this kick started her drive to life children out of poverty and have a more equitable New Zealand.
- How does it feel knowing in 8 days you could be prime minister?
Jacinda sounded like a ‘real’ leader when she spoke of this. She talked about how she had backed Andrew, supported him to wait it out, but when the time came and she was voted in, she just stepped up. She is the youngest labour MP and was chosen to be the leader. So it was interesting for me, as some-one pondering leadership and change, to be reminded that sometimes, despite not wanting to be the leader, the leadership finds you anyway. And that is not a bad thing.
Time was up, the was a round of applause and the head girl thanked her and more clapping.
And then, on her way out the door, she stopped at me, and said ‘ you had a question’. That she saw, remembered, and took time to ask me, well. It blew my mind.
So I scolded and said Chemistry isn’t ‘hard’, but my questions was about Science and Technology in schools and how would you propose to encourage more woman into these fields.
And she nodded, smiled and said, ‘I know, we need to. but not just Science, STEAM…’ and then she got ‘mugged’ by the selfie hunters.
But she had said enough. I wanted to ask more questions, and maybe one day I will get to spend an hour chewing the fat about education with her. I doubt it somehow, but dreams are free.
My impression was that Jacinda genuinely gives a damn. She is driven to challenge inequity and inequality because she has seen exactly what it can do and how it impacts everyone. She took time (and a bit of a risk I might add) to ask a group of teenagers what they thought. She made a point of finding out who Logan was, and making sure he got to ask a question. She made a point of asking me for my question. She spoke carefully, but it felt truthful, heartfelt and real.
So I am super thankful I got to meet her today. Thankful for the debates happening up and down the country, in staff rooms, in pubs, over diners. What ever the outcome of the election, people are talking about it more than I ever remember. Make sure you get your voice heard and vote.
However, the overwhelming feeling from today was how proud I was to be part of Taieri College. The student were outstanding (even the ones wearing national stickers on their blazers….), they were respectful and they asked amazing questions. They represented the school so well, and I was proud to be a part of the school too.
Kia Kaha Taieri.