Country of birth: Tonga
In this video
|0:00||Early Years and Primary School|
|3:50||High School – Senior Years|
|4:31||Cultural Practices and Balancing School and Community|
|7:05||University and Moving away from Home|
|11:13||Challenges at University|
|13:52||Work and Reconnecting with Family|
|15:58||Volunteering and Starting Teaching Career|
|20:30||Teaching Pasifika Students and Cultural Strengths|
|27:17||Role Models and Finding Work|
|30:58||Teaching Pasifika Youth|
|34:45||Parent’s Support of Education|
|40:34||Family Influence and Home Life|
|51:03||Advice for Pasifika Youth|
- Early Years and Primary School
- High School – Senior Years
- Cultural Practices and Balancing School and Community
- University and Moving away from Home
- Challenges at University
- Work and Reconnecting with Family
- Volunteering and Starting Teaching Career
- Teaching Pasifika Students and Cultural Strengths
- Role Models and Finding Work
- Teaching Pasifika Youth
- Parent’s Support of Education
- Family Influence and Home Life
- Career Aspirations
- Advice for Pasifika Youth
Early Years and Primary School
I grew up in Mildura. We moved to Australia when I was three years old. We came to Australia because dad was studying his Bachelor in Theology. So we had first moved to Melbourne and then around ’97, we moved to Mildura. We went there for Christmas, mum felt it was a better environment to raise all of us kids in, so we ended up moving and living in Mildura and family’s still there. So did all of my, I started primary school here in Melbourne, so prep to grade two and then three to year 12 in Mildura because we moved around so much with the family dynamics, because dad and mum worked out picking grapes, working at the almonds. That’s how they supported us. Dad gave up studying theology and furthering his studies because he felt that with all of us children, our education was more important.
So then he gave up studying so that he could work to pay for our education and put us through school. We spent about two years at each school because we were constantly moving around trying to find housing that was more stable and we went to public schools, so all throughout prep to year nine, I was at a public school. And then dad decided that it was more important to invest instead of sending us to public schools to try and send us to a private school, to help us with our education. Dad also did a lot of trial and error with the older kids. Mum and dad did a bit of trial and error with the oldest sibling. She went to public schools and was with a lot of Islander children and got caught up in not studying and not paying attention to her education.
So mum and dad were like, right, that’s not going to happen with the younger kids, let’s change it. So we ended up going to a lot of schools where there weren’t many Islander children. It was hard because you didn’t have anyone of your culture there, there was a lot of racism at the time because we were the only coloured students at those schools. But I think it helped build our resilience. Mum was always at home, so it was always like, no, that’s okay we can deal with that. Mum’s like, “You just pray for them, it’s just different for them to see you.” And because our parents were the grape pickers for most of the farms around the school, there was a lot of also the kids of the farmers would be looking down on us because we were their workers.
So that I think is part of what inspired me that I was like, okay, it’s fine to be a grape picker. I don’t care that my parents are grape pickers, but I’m going to be somebody because that’s not okay. So we went through primary school, then my dad and mum worked really hard to put us all into a private school.
High School – Senior Years
And I started in year 10 and finished in year 12 from there, and my youngest siblings all started from year seven up to year 12 because it worked so well with us older two, where we were able to get into uni after year 12 from the private school. Mum and dad then decided, it doesn’t matter how much it’s going to cost. They were going to work as much as they could, and mum was going to budget as much as she could to make sure that the younger siblings could start off high school at the private school and get the best education they could.
Cultural Practices and Balancing School and Community
So from year 12, got into uni. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, mum and dad were both teachers back in the Islands. And being a Tongan child brought up in church and was first priority and then education, God’s always number one. We did a lot of church extracurricular activities, there was always youth every Friday. There was Sunday school before May because of White Sunday. There was always extra Sunday school lessons because we had to learn our Bible verses and learn the dramas and the skits for things like that. Dad was also very much into the music side of things. So we always had to be the entertainment at church. So we had to do a lot of singing practice at home. We had to try and balance church and education. There was no giving up one for the other. We had to balance both because to dad, both were both was very important.
That was a bit of a challenge sometimes because we knew we had a lot of assignments due, but we had to make the sacrifice of sleep during the week to make sure that the weekends were available for when we needed to go to church events. Mum and dad were very active members of the community and once they started stepping up in the community, we also had to give up a lot of weekends for performances in town where we had to sing and if there was any festivals we had to give up time, our weekends for that. But I think that also helped us to prioritise our time and improve on our time management skills. I think mum and dad were very easy on us saying, you know what? Just do your schooling. Don’t worry about this. Then we’d kind of just give up on one stick with the other. But because there was no choice, we had to do both.
That kind of helped with our time management skills and with our studies that also really helped, especially moving into uni.
University and Moving away from Home
I moved out of home for uni, we spoke about, I got into the uni course I wanted to do in Mildura. I didn’t want to move away from home. I was very, very comfortable. Loved staying at home and loved Mildura and dad after sending my oldest sister to Canberra, she went to uni there. Dad decided that I needed to grow up and find some independence and move away from home. So I didn’t know he saw my offer to a school in Warrnambool and he woke me up early one morning, said, “Hop in the car. We’re going to your enrolment day in Warrnambool”. So we drove all the way down and I was like, “No, no, no, I’m not going to that uni. I’m going to stay here. I’m going to go to uni here. I’m just going to live at home”. And dad said, “No. For you, you need to move away from home because you need to be independent.
“You need to learn those skills and you need to be on your own for yourself.” So I woke up with him and we drove about five hours to get to the uni and we enrolled. And honestly it was the best thing that ever happened to me. And I’m a big advocate for parents during the same thing. I cried many nights, especially the night that they all waved goodbye as they drove off in the HiAce and went back to Mildura. I cried myself that night and many nights after that. But the experience I think is priceless, learning to be independent, my parents supported me through uni. I wasn’t allowed to work. Even though he was like, “Yes, you can do church and schooling together when it came to uni”, it was “No, you still do church, as long as you’re focusing on that in your own time”, he’s like, “But you do schooling”. And there was no option of working during uni. So my parents supported me throughout uni because I am a Tongan citizen.
I’m not an Australian citizen. I’m just a permanent resident. I did not qualify for HECS. I did get a Commonwealth Supported Place, which means I had received the discounted price for uni but I had to pay the fee upfront before every semester. And my parents paid for that. With my older sister when she started uni, we weren’t permanent residents yet, so my parents had taken a loan out to pay because she was also in the medical field. It was a ridiculous amount of money and we had to pay as an international student at the time, but to my parents, it was worth it because they were like, it’s education and there’s no better investment than your child’s future.
So my parents made that decision, and when I was at uni, my parents were supporting me financially the whole time. So it was learning how to budget myself, because my mum’s normally the person who budgets everything, filling out paperwork and learning to live by myself. I lived on res, at the uni campus, I got to live there thanks to a scholarship that I got from Mildura, where they paid for my accommodation, and my parents paid for my schooling, my books and basically feeding me the whole time.
Challenges at University
In terms of your journey at uni, did you finish the degree all in one go or did you, how did you find the actual journey at uni and then what was your transition like from uni to your first job?
I didn’t finish it all in one go. My mum always laughs at this when she finds out, well, when she hears about it. My mum had a rule that you weren’t allowed to have a boyfriend until you were 21, or when you finished uni, whichever one came first. They said he was an unnecessary distraction, and I didn’t believe them. And then I found out that they were right. It is an unnecessary distraction. I did fail a few units and had to go back and redo the units. And my parents, even though they would have to pay for it not once did they scold me or anything, they were just always encouraging me to, it doesn’t matter just go back and finish. We just want you to finish, as long as you finish. So they paid for everything and they were always encouraging. I am the child who wasn’t the brightest in the family and I’m not the brightest in the family.
I have lots of siblings who are much brighter than I am, but I am very stubborn and determined. So to my parents, anything that I achieved was amazing to them because they were like, oh, we didn’t expect much because I never really gave them much to expect from me. I was just like, whatever I go with the flow. So to them, the fact that I was at uni and I was trying, to them they were like, it doesn’t matter if she fails. If she’s willing to go back, we just keep going. We’ll just keep encouraging her and keep paying for it and we’ll just tell her what the most important just to pray about everything. So after being a bit silly, I finally finished, I graduated with my degree and decided instead of getting a job in my field that I was going to go home and go back and work out on the block. And it was just a way of me reconnecting with my why.
Work and Reconnecting with Family
So every holidays, because I couldn’t work during uni time, when it was the holidays I would go home and I’d go out on the farm and work out on the farm. And there’s nothing I hate more than grapes because I am so scared of caterpillars and there’s caterpillars everywhere at the grape farms. So I hate them. That’s my fear. I’m not scared of snakes. I’m not scared of spiders, but caterpillars I’m petrified of them, and I would go in summer and pick grapes just so then to help save some money for when I went back to uni and would work out on the almond farms every winter holidays to try and save some money for work as well, and to help mum and dad out with my school fees. So when I actually finished I decided to go back home and work out on the farm just to remind me of where I came from.
So I went and worked out on the farm and then I stayed at home and decided just to reconnect with my mum, because I’m daddy’s girl where dad can tell me, say one thing to me and I will do it, as for my mum, my poor mum had to deal with me always saying no to her and I was the difficult child towards my mum. And I spent about a year just sitting at home after work and sitting with mum. And then my sisters became mums, and I became the travelling babysitter. So as one would have a kid and then the other one would have a kid and I was sent to Melbourne, I was sent back to Mildura for the babies and after maybe two or three trips of doing that, I decided that was enough. And that I was actually going to go and get a job in the field that I spent all these years studying for.
Volunteering and Starting Teaching Career
And because it had been a while since I had done my last set of teaching rounds, I thought I’ll call around schools in Mildura and Robinvale and see if I can do some volunteer work.
Just to get back into the classroom, get a feel for being back in the classroom again and then we’ll see how we go from there and I’ll start applying for jobs after. I called a few schools in Mildura, I didn’t hear back from them. And then I called a school in Robinvale, and they called me back and they said, “Oh, we’re always looking for volunteers. If you’d like come around tomorrow and we’ll meet you and we’ll see what we can do.” So I went to Robinvale and they straight away said, “Oh, well, we’ll take you if you want to start next week. And you can come in and do some volunteer work just to make sure you have your Working with Children’s Check and everything organised.” And while I was there, I was talking to one of the, I think she was a leading teacher at the time, and she asked me why I was there, why I wanted to volunteer, and I told her that I have my teaching degree. I just haven’t done my VIT.
So my returning student teaching registration, and she’s like, “Oh, so you have a teaching degree.” And I said, “I’ve finished I’m just coming back in to try and get the feel of school again.” And she was so excited. She said “We have so many Pacific Island children at this school.” She’s like, “If you can do your VIT we can get you in. Sometimes when we need a CRT, you’re already here volunteering we can just throw you in where you can actually start teaching instead of just volunteering in the classroom.” She was lovely encouraging me to do that. And so I went and I started volunteering, funny enough the second week of volunteering, they needed someone to go on camp. And so I went on camp with them. They needed a female to go on camp with the numbers. So I went on camp and then when I got back from camp, they said they needed a Wannik tutor. So it was working with Indigenous students, the Koori students, teaching literacy and numeracy, and they were like the same lady who encouraged me to do my VIT.
She came up and said, “We needed Wannik tutor would you be willing to do it?” And I was like, “Sure. Okay.” And she was like, “You were great on camp”, because she and I were the only female teachers on camp. So she was like, “We need a Wannik tutor, I’ve put your name down. I think you’d be great.” So then I started working with small groups, teaching literacy and numeracy to the Koori students. After that they offered me another position, not a teaching position, but still working with the Indigenous students for literacy and numeracy for the following year. And I was like, yep, I’m more than willing to do that. That’s fine. And then they called me about two weeks before school started because I did my VIT. They called me two weeks before the school started the following year and said that one of the five/six teachers unfortunately had a stroke during Christmas break.
And they’ve seen my VIT has come through, am I happy to go in and teach five/six? Just fill in for him until he gets back, and I was like, yep, that’s fine I can teach five/six. And it just ended up working out that we had an influx of student enrolment in five/six that we needed an extra teacher. And they just said, “Are you willing to go in and be the actual classroom teacher? The students already know you.” And in I went and started teaching five/six, and I was there for about two years.
Teaching Pasifika Students and Cultural Strengths
And then I was planning on getting married. So I applied for a few schools here in Melbourne. Got a call saying that I’ve gotten a position here and spent the last days of that year crying because I realised that I was leaving all my Pasifika kids and I was moving to a place where I didn’t know what kind of students were there?
The dynamics of the school, things I knew, I knew a lot about the families of my students because it was such a small close-knit town that the students that I was teaching, I knew their parents. So it was lovely because during parent teacher interviews I’d be there late at night and one of my students, the mum would come in for parent teacher interview and bring me dinner because she’s like, “Oh, we knew that you’d be here late so we thought we’ll just bring your dinner for you.” And I’m like, “Oh, thank you.” It was those little things that I knew I was going to miss coming into the city because in the country, everyone knows everyone, everyone just goes far and beyond for everyone if they know you. So moving into the city was very eye-opening experience, very different, but I find it is still very similar when I meet parents who are of Pacific background.
They all get very excited when they see me. I remember the first year of being at the school that I was at, I had students who went home and told their parents that I was Samoan even though I told them I was Tongan. They went home and told their parents, “My teacher’s Samoan, we have a meet and great, you have to come to school to meet her because she’s Samoan.” So I had all these parents come up to me and they started talking in Samoan to me and I had to apologise. I’m like, “I’m so sorry I’m not Samoan, I’m Tongan”, and it didn’t matter to them at all that I wasn’t Samoan, they were just so excited to see a Pacific Island teacher in the school. And then I realised how valuable it is to have a Pacific Island representative in different fields because our students are known for being behavioural students at school.
The schools, they know Pacific Islander kids to be naughty or they don’t follow rules, they’re defiant. But when I was at the school, well, when I moved to the school and the school realised, wow, this is the first time we’ve seen so many of our Pacific Islander parents at a school function. They never ever come. And this is the first time. And all of them were there just to meet me because the kids had gone home and said, we’ve got a Samoan teacher. So they were all there to meet me and they were all just excited, you know our Islander thing, you know what to do if they’re not listening. And of course, no, I can’t do that. That’s the Islander way, but I love my job and I want to keep it. But I do just say to the kids, I’m like, “We’ve spoken to mum and dad.
“I’ve spoken to mum and dad, I know mum and dad, and you really need to start focusing.” And the students, because they saw me in the classroom, they were like, oh, we can be teachers. I’m like, “Yes, you can be teachers. You can be anything you want to be.” So then it was tapping into what they were really good at and encouraging them to go in that field that, no, you don’t have to always be book smart. Some of our kids are very musically talented, and if you love that, go in that field, there are so many opportunities. You don’t have to be a famous guitar player or a singer, but you can be a music teacher and you can teach your cultural dance as well in the classroom. So I think that was one of the things that I’ve noticed about being a teacher, I’m in the primary sector, I just finished a meet and great yesterday afternoon. And when I first moved into the classroom, I noticed that my Pacific Islander girls don’t stop talking and I don’t blame them because I talk a lot too.
And I know I like to waffle on and talk and talk and talk. But they don’t stop talking even when I’m looking at them. And when I’m saying, “We need to focus.” They still just talk and smile and laugh. And then meeting with their parents just yesterday, today my teaching partner commented about the difference in those girls, just from yesterday to today. And it was just from a meeting with their parents and some of the parents didn’t realise that I was Tongan. So when they came and one of the dads I met was Tongan he was surprised to see me. And he was like, “She told me that I needed to come and meet her teacher, but I didn’t realise that she was Tongan.” And we just spoke about, oh yeah, she does get a bit chatty but this is what we’re putting in place to help her. And having the parents on board saying, “You know what? We’re happy that you’re doing that.”
We’ll talk to her, and we’ll also let her know or let the students know that this is the expectation, you and I are on the same page. And my teaching partner was saying how great it was to sit in on that meeting as well and hear our Pacific Islander parents saying we support you because normally they don’t come in. So just having someone in that area has bought the parents to school, and now they’re all on board and the teachers, the whole school, the teachers at the school all feel that they have an avenue to get to those parents.
Role Models and Finding Work
Well, thanks Betty. Did you have any mentors or did you have anybody encouraging you to say right, when you finish uni these are the things you need to do or did you learn that at uni or did you learn that from anyone else in particular in the industry? How did you find your way to, how did you know to just pick up the phone and go I’ll just call these schools and see if there’s any voluntary positions?
Well, because I was at home with mum the whole time and living off her, she was one who was like, “You should go and find a job. You should try and do something about this. You finished your degree you should try and find your way in life now.” So she was always in my ear, but I think it was just, I was too scared to just start applying for jobs and that’s what it is. I hate interviews and I don’t like sitting for interviews, the nerves get to me, so I was just like, I prayed about it, and I was just like, I’m going to go and volunteer first. That was me chickening out of actually applying for jobs that I was like, let’s find the easier way, I’m going to go this way and also get my name out into the community is what I was thinking.
If I call and do some volunteer work at different schools, then at least my name, they know that I’m available and that I’m a teacher so that when I do apply, they know me. That was the way I was thinking about it instead of just…because I had spent all those years out of Mildura, I was like, I don’t know many of them. So I was like, I’m going to just try and do this to try and get into the education sector in Mildura. And Robinvale was one of the options just because all the schools I had called in Mildura were not getting back to me. So then one day I was like, I’ll try Robinvale because I know that they already had some Pacific Islander teachers there. They had two high school teachers at the school, a husband and wife in the high school sector. And then the chaplain at the school was also Pacific Islander and the band teacher, he was Tongan as well.
So I thought if all else fails I’ll call Robinvale and see just because the experience that I would gain from being in Robinvale with all those Islander students and there’s a high Pacific Islander community there and Indigenous community there. I was like, what I would learn from being at that school would be priceless. So that’s why I thought, okay, if Mildura doesn’t call me back, I’ll go to Robinvale because what I would learn from there would be very beneficial. And a few, I think over the Christmas break, I had gone home to Mildura and while waiting outside Vic Roads the Tongan teacher that I worked with in Robinvale, he pulled up and we had a nice conversation, and he was saying how some teachers who come to Robinvale from the city don’t know how to handle our students.
Teaching Pasifika Youth
And I actually spoke with him, and I said that, I think that the thing with me that stood out at this school to the teachers at my school here in Melbourne is the way I handled students, the way I dealt with issues and problems.
And that it wasn’t just like, no, this is not okay. And saying, this is the expectation, do this. It is the more nurturing and caring and understanding of cultural differences and expectations and bringing that in because that’s how I dealt with it because of Robinvale, because of what I learned dealing with the students in Robinvale. And there were many times in Robinvale where I had to stop myself and take deep breaths because I would be talking to my little cousin, because I was teaching my little cousin and they would be getting angry and throwing chairs. And I would be like, okay, just take a big deep breath. We need to get to the bottom instead of having a go at the behaviour, it was finding out the reason for the behaviour. And I think because of what I learnt in Robinvale of trying to understand, I understood our kids. I understood them because I knew their families and I knew what was going on. If there was any problems that were happening, I already knew that.
So when they’d behave like that and react like that, I knew the reasons why. So it was always like take deep breaths, you know the reason why this is happening, it’s not them being defiant because they’re angry at you or annoyed at you, it’s other reasons. So you can’t go at him full bull because this is not him and because of that, I came to Melbourne and that’s how I address kids and students here that they were like, “Oh, that’s really nice. That’s really good that you also have that, and that’s our vision and that you’ve just come in and you do that normally”. But talking with the teacher from Robinvale, he was saying, that’s one of the struggles that they’re finding with teachers who are not Pacific Islanders because they don’t understand what’s happening at homes or they don’t understand the cultural expectations. And our culture is very heavy on church responsibilities and growing up with those responsibilities I understand it.
Dad was always, if he didn’t spend Christmas with us, he was spending Christmas with the church. So I understood them, some of these kids are just crying out for some attention or wanting to be with family but can’t, so I think I understood that with our Pacific Islander kids in Robinvale and Mildura. And I also understand working out on the farm, whether it’s the grapes or the almonds, you have to go early in the morning, especially in summer because it’s so hot. So these kids were waking up and mum and dad were already gone to the grape farm to pick because when it gets too hot, that’s when they’re home. And then once it starts to cool down, they go back to the farm to pick. So I understood that and I understood that kids are just wanting some, oh, they liked that I was there to be like, oh, blah, blah, blah. Ask about their day and talk to them, because I understood what was happening at home, because I’ve been through the same thing. I think we could connect on that level.
Parent’s Support of Education
I have really enjoyed just listening to you Betty, talk about your whole journey. But I just think too that you highlight a really important and powerful role in what you play in terms of really understanding our children. But I find too that often our children, the ones that don’t have the luxury of being taught by people like yourselves, that even if they have struggles at home, they’re falling those gaps because the education system just doesn’t understand. When you remember about how you were going through your schooling years, how did you find doing homework and learning about particular subjects? Did you have the support at home where you could call on your parents to come and sit with you and help you do particular homework tasks, or did you have to just sort of work it out yourself?
I was really lucky because my mum had come to uni in Tasmania before settling down and marrying dad. So she moved to Tasmania to study English at uni there. So I was lucky that both of my parents were very educated to some stage. So when it came to schooling, especially high school my mum was really good with the English side of things because she went to the school in Tonga where you’re only allowed to speak English. Her dad was a principal and a teacher in Tonga as well. So she was brought up in the education system as well, because mum, that was her background. When she went into teaching, she’s like, “Oh, I’ve seen this, my dad did this”, blah, blah, blah. With English work, my mum was very much there to help.
Like I said, I was the one child who always clashed with my mum. You wouldn’t guess it now, but I was the one child who clashed with her all the time. I actually hated getting her help. So I tried to manoeuvre through school myself without any help from mum. With maths I’d go to dad, because dad would explain it to me the way I needed it explained to me where my mum was just like, “How do you not understand this? You’ve been in school in Australia all your life. How do you not understand this by now?” But dad was very like, “Okay, let’s look at this” and I learnt Roman numerals from dad. I learnt using tally marks from dad and dad just knew how to teach me numeracy, as for my mum, she was very much like, “I don’t understand why you don’t do this.” And I remember very clearly the night before my year 12 exam, my mum called me and she’s like, “Right, I have not seen any of your English work.”
And she’s like, “You’re going to write an essay for me tonight and I’m going to time you.” And she’s like, “What were your texts that you covered this year?” And because my sister two years before me had covered those texts and she was great at studying. So she worked with my mum all the time with her English work. So some of the texts that she had covered, I covered as well. So my mum decided that she was going to make up an exam question, an essay topic for me on one of the texts that I had done throughout the year. And my mum timed me and said “Sit down, right, answer this question.” And I wrote an essay, and my mum corrected that essay and there was crossed, there was three paragraphs crossed out. Mum’s like, “You’ve just repeated yourself. Mum’s like “I don’t understand issues like you can say this in two sentences and you spent a whole paragraph saying the same thing.” And mum’s like, she was like, “I don’t know how I’ve left you to get through this long without correcting your English.”
Funny enough, when I went and sat my year 12 exam, the question my mum had come up with off the top of her head was the essay topic. So I was like, well, can I try and remember what my mum had told me I should be writing? I was lucky mum was really good with English because she would push that and she would also correct our English to the point where we’d say, “Ow”, and my mum would say, “No, the correct word is ouch. There’s no such word as ‘ow’ it’s ouch.” So I think I was lucky with that because mum and dad did understand certain things to help us with schooling. But they also were very much when it came to science, anything that went against their religion or our beliefs, mum and dad were like, “No, no, don’t listen to them.”
So it was very much, we had to try and manoeuvre our way through and be like, okay, this is what science is saying, but this is my belief. So for school, I will write down all the answers that the science is telling me, but this is what I believe and mum and dad were very much like, “You believe this, don’t let them tell you otherwise.” I think we were just lucky with that mum and dad could help us.
Family Influence and Home Life
Oh, I just think that’s really beautiful because I often find too that obviously with the children that don’t have that sort of support at home, it really impacts the way that they learn. And a lot of it is really just out of their control like you said, often our parents have to get up really early and leave home at weird hours. And so we’re left to kind of, well, that’s how I was raised, because I never really saw my parents. I spent all my childhood raising my siblings. Because you come from a big family and you would have seen all the sacrifices your parents made to get you to where you needed to be, especially with supporting you and your older sister going through the university paying for all that stuff up front.
How do you think that impacted you in terms of living as a big family? Because some children and I say that too, because some of our kids don’t react well to that and then they often rebel. How did you find that you didn’t find yourself going down that wrong track, but you continued going, thankfully your parents got it, so you didn’t go that way? What do you think are some things that your parents instilled in you to kind of continue? Because I’m sure even when you were growing up, you wouldn’t have understood. Even I felt quite resentful at the time, but I obviously appreciate that now. What are some things you think that would’ve got you through some of those really difficult years for yourself and also for your parents and your siblings?
I think we…I spoke to someone about this recently, that everything bad that happened when we were dealing with the racism and even anything that happened at home, my mum would always say to us that she didn’t want us to keep anything from her. So we were lucky that dad, as soon as mum started having kids, dad just said to her, you’re not working anymore. So even though she was a teacher in Tonga, dad just said to her, you’re not working anymore. She would pick grapes on the holidays, and she would pick grapes when she could, but she had to be home when we woke up in the morning to go to school, and when we got home, mum had to be home. That was something that dad was not going to budge on. And mum was always the person who said, it doesn’t matter what you go through in life, no one will have your back the way your parents will have your back.
So if anything happened at home, we could go talk to mum because mum would listen and then mum would always, it was always the same reply that, God only gives you what you can handle and that you just pray and give it to God. And it was always, sometimes that was frustrating because we’re like, “No, we want you to say something.” And we had a big family as it is, but we also had a lot of other kids come and live with us for schooling. So at one stage we had about four or five extra kids in the house, even though we were already a big family, we had four or five extra kids who came and lived with us to go to the school. Because their parents were like, “Okay, we’ve noticed our child has started high school and we’ve just gotten the report saying that they haven’t been to school half of the year.”
So they were like, “Right, let’s nip this in the bud, let’s send them to Mildura to my parents and they’ll go to school there.” So we always had people at home and it got messy at times especially with having so many girls in the house and we’d all get very angry and hormonal and we’d start screaming and mum would always be the person to be like, “What’s happened?”, and we’d talk to mum. And it got to the point that even the kids who came and lived with us, they’re not related to my mum. They’re all family of my dad, but even they could go to her and talk to her, and even when things happened at school, mum was always like, “Don’t let anyone push you around.” It doesn’t mean you go and be violent, mum’s like “That’s not what I mean”, mum’s like “You stand up for yourself, you let them know that you are someone important and that you don’t let them put you down.” And that’s what my mum would always say to us.
And if we went home and we said, “Oh, mum, this person said this to me.” And mum said, “What did you say?” And be like, “Well, I just said to them that they can’t talk to me like that.” And mum was like, “Good. You don’t let anyone talk down to you because you are someone important and you are somebody and you will do good things and great things.” So I think it was having mum at home that kind of helped keep the peace within the house all the time. And mum always being a person that was like, “No, no, know your worth, know your value, don’t let anyone put you down because you are somebody” and that helped even at home. So I think living in such a big family and also having extra people at home, nothing really phases me anymore because, I remember being at school one time and there was a review happening and saying, “Oh, there’s so many different personalities and different little cliques or groups.”
And they’re saying this and it’s getting a bit toxic, the atmosphere at school and the principal asked me how I felt. And I was like, “It doesn’t phase me really.” And she’s like, “What?” And I was like, “Well, I grew up in a big family and I had lots and lots of other cousins and friends who moved in with us to go to school and things like this happened. But I’ve just learnt its water off a duck’s back. You just keep moving forward.” So mum was very much, she was very big on perseverance and resilience. And I think that’s one thing that mum instilled in us was that perseverance and resilience because we had such a big family and had so many people with us. There was so many issues and problems and hardships, but we got through it all because we were together, and we could talk about it. And I think that’s the priceless thing with mum was that we could talk to her about it.
Oh, I just get that. I think you just hit the nail on the head with that one because often communication’s a huge thing too, in terms of, and you would know too very often with a lot of our families there’s no communication at all. So I just love what you say in terms of, always talking to your mum because very similar to my upbringing with my sisters, but we spent our whole lives just talking to her. And I think that really helped us. It’s really helped to help us deal with a lot of things; I totally relate to that point. in terms of where you are now Betty, what’s the next step for you or where can you see yourself in the, say the next phase of your career and what does that look like?
Well, I always thought that I’d never want to be anything other than just a teacher. There are different levels of leadership in teaching, and I was the person who was like, no, don’t want any of that. I’m in it for the kids and I just want to teach. But last year I was lucky, last year or the year before I was lucky enough to do a Bastow course, so it was local leaders and in it I heard a principal. We had all these principals come in and talk to us about being a leader in the school and I was like, I don’t know why the principal put my name down for this because I already told her, I just want to be a teacher, a classroom teacher and that’s it. But there was a principal who went in and said, “When I go to the unis and I talk to our pre-service teachers just before they graduate, I say to them, teaching is the best job ever, because it is so rewarding in so many different ways.
It has its challenges, but it’s so rewarding.” She goes, “But I lied”, and I was like, “Oh, that’s what I feel like, that’s why I’m teaching.” And she’s like, “No”, she goes, “I lied. Being in leadership is the most rewarding thing because that’s where you make the most difference. It’s where you deal with the students who need the most attention and help and you make the decisions to help change the school to ensure that all kids, all students are being catered to and that all those students are at the centre of everything that you do.” And I think that changed my perspective on things. And last year I was given the opportunity to be a member of leadership but had to give that up because I’ll be on maternity leave soon. But I feel like yeah, I do prefer to go towards the wellbeing side of things.
I do volunteer for the wellbeing positions at school, I’m in a team there about the school-wide team and wellbeing dealing with our special needs kids and with our struggling kids. That’s where my passion is more towards. I love teaching that’s my main passion, but I do like to head towards like, okay, these are our wellbeing students, here are our kids who are less fortunate and need that extra bit of help to help bridge that gap. That’s where I tend to lean towards. So I think maybe after generally that’s where I’ll be focusing most of my attention on.
Advice for Pasifika Youth
Just in terms of your experience and what you know, what are three things that you would impart on people that are looking to you for inspiration? What are your top three tips that you would give to Pasifika kids and other kids just in general that could potentially go through their journey and do what you’re doing?
I would say one of the most important things is the communication between parents and students. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and my parents knew that from a very young age that I wanted to be a teacher. And even though one stage, my business skills were better than well, my business skills were my best subject. And dad was like, “Maybe you should go in business.” Even though dad was like, “Oh, that’s your best subject maybe you should go in the business field.” And I was just like, “But I want to be a teacher.” They were like, okay, we’ll step back. She wants to be a teacher. She can just be a teacher. That’s what she wants to be. And I think it’s that communication being able to talk to my parents. So to other Pasifika students out there talk to your parents, I know it’s hard.
I’m telling you I found it really hard at the time, even though it was instilled in us to talk to mum and dad. I always told mum and dad issues that were happening because I didn’t want to get in trouble. So that’s why I spoke up. But talk to your parents about what it is that you want to do, know that there are different avenues to go through. Like I had to go to uni because I wanted to be a teacher, but there are different avenues out there and research. Do your research, look into it. My parents would have been happy if we wanted to do VCAL, if we wanted to just finish year 12 and go into a job, and that was going to be a stable job, mum and dad would have been happy with that. That’s what my brothers have done. They’ve trialled different things and each time my parents are still there just encouraging them, saying, that’s what you want. That’s what you want. My brother wanted to quit his job.
Dad said, think about it carefully, because if you continue in that where you’re at right now that will help your resume and that will help you get more stable job in the future, think long-term. And for our students, I think for our kids, think long-term not short-term. I know that we get caught up on, if I get this job, it’s like, I can make the money now. But a little bit of sacrifice and time saves you in the future, I can’t tell you how relaxed I am right now because where I’m at, I can go on maternity leave and I can take off as much time as I want but know that I can go back to my job at any time that I want to. I remember my dad laughing and saying, “Oh, how great is Betty? She doesn’t have to work during the holidays, and she still gets paid.” It’s just that security. So talk to your parents, do research and know your worth, know that you’re amazing and that you’re somebody so you could be anything you want to be. That’s my three.
Love it, love it all Betty. What does success look like for you? And it can be anything.
I think happy. To me success just means that you’re happy and you’re content with life. Yeah, you’ll have your worries, you’ll worry about tomorrow but as long as you’re happy doing what you’re doing, that’s success to me. So I love teaching, I love being around children and that’s what makes me happy. And it has its challenges and there are days I come home with a thumping headache, but I talk to my husband about it and he’s like, “I don’t why you do this.” And he gets angry, but I’m like, underneath it all, under all of those emotions and feeling sick and being all upset about what’s happened, I’m happy because I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. And I am what I wanted to be. And that to me is success.
Support during primary and high school
- Peers and friends as a source of support at school
- Support from parents during schooling (Part 1 & Part 2)
- Support from teachers and schools
- Transition from school to post-school education (Part 1 & Part 2)
Experiences of post-secondary education and training
- Experiences of university
- University journeys: Interruptions and finding one’s direction
- Diverse pathways towards university
- Experiences of TAFE
- Short courses and on-the-job training
- Early aspirations and current occupation
- Talking about future aspirations with family members
- Networks of family and friends
- Be proactive and seize unexpected opportunities
- Creating opportunities: Volunteering
Experiences of Work
- Benefits of being a Pacific Islander at work
- Engaging with Pacific community members through work (Part 1 & Part 2)
- Navigating family and career
- Future aspirations
Reflections and advice to young Pacific People
- ‘Akesa – Community Facilitator
- Ama – Lashing Business Administrator & Marketing Coach
- Annie – International & Community Development Specialist
- Ashirah – University student
- Cass – English Teacher, Writer, Project Manager, & President of the Victorian Kiribati Association
- Chris – Field Officer (HR)
- Christopher – Carpenter & Stonemason
- Crofton – Visual Effects & Animation Specialist
- David – App company CEO
- Elisabeth – Teacher
- Elvina – Building Services Mechanical Engineer
- Fipe – Cacao Products Manufacturing Business Owner
- Grace – Airline Customer Service Agent
- Leki – Physiotherapist
- Luisa – Registered Nurse
- Malelega – Legal Assistant
- Marita – Writer
- Rose – Workplace Consultant
- Sefita – Community Engagement Officer
- Semisi – Lawyer
- Talei – Lawyer & Community Engagement + Government Relations Consultant
- Teisa – Medical Doctor
- Tevita – IT Professional
- Thom – Make-up Artist
- Venna – Lashing Business Owner & Trainer