Heather Te Huia is an experienced early childhood centre manager, former political lobbyist, and in 1995 was nominated for and accepted a Queens Service Medal for her services to early childhood education.
What was your early life like?
I come from a large family and life was not very good as a child. However, I have good memories of running away daily to a local kindergarten in Gisborne where I lived after I was born, and my mum being phoned and told to come and get me as I was too young for kindergarten. This went on until finally they let me stay.
Both my mum and my older sister were in early childhood education in Tauranga where we moved to when I was a young child and I spent time at both of their early childhood education services.
I had an abusive childhood and I grew up determined I wanted to make a difference in children’s lives. As a child during playtime I always took on the role of a teacher or mother who made her home or school a fun place and a safe place.
Describe your career path and jobs held
While in my early teens, I worked at local dairies or supermarkets in Mt Maunganui and Gisborne, then went into several retail outlets to work full- time until I was 16 years old. I soon moved to Wellington and worked as a bank teller at the Post Office until the age of 20. As a young adult I was employed at our local ‘preschool’ in Porirua as a ‘mother helper’. Also, by working at the preschool I was exempted from paying fees. Some of my friends at the preschool persuaded me to enrol for the NZCA training programme for a certificate in early childhood education.
I did and by the time I completed it (three years) I had two school-aged children and a toddler. I studied at night, worked during the day and attended training one day a week. During my training I learned about quality early childhood education but felt that what I was being asked to provide in my work was far from quality. I decided then I wanted to manage my own centre where I could put everything I learned into practice.
At the end of my training I was co-opted to the NZCA executive and a year later was elected by the members. Two years later I stood for National President of NZCA and was elected to the position – a position I held for eleven years. During this time I worked daily in two different early childhood education services - one as an assistant supervisor and the other as director of a new early childhood education full-day service. It was at this centre that I put all I had learned in training, ensuring the service my team and I provided was of high quality. My past ‘bad’ experiences as an employee also guided me to become a good employer.
As NZCA National President I lobbied the Government on behalf of the members. I was able to speak from a grassroots point of view and help persuade the Ministry of Education to see what effect their policies were having on us in the field. And with input from other professionals in our executive, I was able to lobby from a position of experiences and knowledge. I, personally, was very effective in making changes to the way qualifications were seen especially for providers outside the university delivery system of the then Diploma in Teaching. I worked closely with the NZQA, Teaching Council, ERO, WINZ, the MOE, unions, universities, teacher colleges and other training providers.
My driving passion was quality early childhood education, so I travelled the country visiting ECE services to promote our policies and get feedback from members.
While at NZCA I taught subjects in the stage three Diploma programme and wrote a management handbook for employers and supervisors. I worked 11 years at NZCA - during days, nights and at the weekends furthering the quality in ECE services, while still working as the Director of an early childhood education service. There was also some work for the MOE - contract work giving advice and support to centres that had been identified as ‘at risk’.
In 1995 I was nominated for and accepted a Queens Service Medal by the Ministry of Education for my services to early childhood education. I was grand-parented to a Dip Teaching and in 1999 I upgraded my qualifications with a Bachelor of Education, continued on to a Post Grad Diploma and am currently studying for my Masters.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I am now the manager of an early childhood education service – The Griffin School -which is attached to a teenage parent school, He Huarahi Tamariki, in Porirua. It was the first established teenage parent school in the country. My role is running the service while supporting the young mums with parenting advice. I also offer free advice and support to other local early childhood education services.
As manager/licensee I look after administration, ensuring all regulated requirements are met. I operate a distributive leadership model and train my staff in leadership roles, challenging their thinking and updating their knowledge. My work with children continues, both to keep a hands-on approach and to role model good practice. I write learning stories and assessments and liaise with parents and teachers of the teenage schooling unit. I am also on the governing body of the He Huarahi Trust which is a charitable Trust that governs the centre and supports young people in education with grants and other forms of support.
Who or what put you on the path to your profession or career choice?
The passion for children’s welfare and the drive to ensure early childhood education services support kids’ healthy development as holistic beings. An abusive childhood background has thrust my passion to make sure that children I come in contact with have a better life than mine. There have been women in my life that I have met through NZCA who inspired, encouraged, moulded and taught me along the way - Mary Alice, Maureen Locke, Helen May, Margaret Carr, Sonia Davies, Helen Baxter, Rose Pere and many more.
What is the most interesting aspect about what you do?
In my current role my main interest is training other teachers, students and parents in upgrading knowledge to support the children in their learning development.
Have you found that there are times when it gets very stressful in your job?
Yes, my role can be very stressful as managing people comes with a lot of raru raru or personal problems. Working with teenagers can be very unnerving at times as they tend to put their own needs ahead of their children’s health and welfare, which leads to lots of family meetings and work with CYFS and WINZ. I have a special group of staff (and in many ways they collectively are also my strength) that I fall back on when I need support. As I believe a problem shared is a problem halved, I like to make all decisions affecting staff together with them. Also, my husband and my older sister have been my strength, my sounding boards and givers of advice, throughout my career.
What would you say would be your biggest achievement?
Having early childhood education recognised as a valuable part of education and that qualified teachers are one of the main keys to providing high quality care and education to children and their families. My best and most rewarding moments were when I received my teacher registration and then later when my Bachelor of Education was hung on my wall - I felt for the first time validated as a professional teacher.
And what would be your biggest regret?
I don’t think I have any regrets because I have lived my life to the fullest and I know many young adults now who began their walk in education at an early childhood education service I worked in or managed who are wonderful people, strong and confident in their lives. I know families I have supported that made it through some horrific times while I stood next to them. I gained my own confidence through tough experiences but I am who I am today because of all the good and bad I have experienced in my life. It has been a long and at times hard road but one I would walk again.
For anyone considering a similar career as yours – what gems of advice might you suggest to them?
Be passionate about what you do and know why you do it. Be confident that you can achieve anything you dream about doing.
Keep learning all the time, there is always new research to be tried, hence I am still training at 54 years of age.
Would you ever consider changing careers or your role from your current one?
No, I am in this for life. Money is not what it is all about - job satisfaction, waking up each day, knowing I make a difference in the lives of women and children takes me forward in huge strides every day.
Published 29 June 2012