Art teacher Nikki Rakete joined us as at ACG Parnell College at the beginning of this year. With a blended family of five children, she says she aims to be the sort of teacher she’d like her own kids to have at school.
What have been your first impressions of the school?
I’ve only been here a term but I’m blown away by the amount of care and kindness that the staff are treated with. Senior staff reciprocate hard work with support, and so teachers put their heart and soul into what they do. I’ve been at schools where that’s not the case. It’s also very noticeable in the way students are dealt with – there’s a lot of care for their wellbeing. It’s a big point of difference here.
How did you become an art teacher?
I did well in art when I was at school, then went on to Palmerston North College of Education where I completed my teacher training, majoring in Art and Social Sciences. When I finished my teacher training I was offered a job as a new entrants teacher, but my lecturer sat me down and asked if that was really what I wanted. I realised I actually wanted to teach art. My first teaching job was at Awatapu College in Palmerston North which was where I went to school. It took me a while not to call my colleagues Mr and Mrs.
What is your philosophy as an art teacher?
I believe that you can teach processes and skills, but you need to get to know your students well, understand their personal experiences and help them find and use their own voice in their work. That’s been my main aim this year. All my students might be working on the same skill, but the subject matter is personal to them.
Art work is a form of communication – using your knowledge, experience and feelings to create something that communicates your knowledge and understanding of the world. Art is a form of literacy that can go untapped in schools. For me, it’s about observing, recording, making connections, and using authentic ideas to inform work.
What are some of the hallmarks of your teaching?
I use a lot of digital technology. I notice that with some students, their motor skills may not be well developed so they find themselves with a concept that’s difficult to get onto paper. This can result in frustration as they might know exactly how they wish something to look but can’t get that idea onto paper. So in Photography, for example, we will use technology like Photoshop to create really aesthetic artworks, and the kids love it as they feel like they have been successful.
What are you currently working on?
My Year 10 students are doing a project about personally significant objects and places. I’m hoping the artworks they create will reflect the cultural diversity in our school. Some of our Kiwi students struggle initially to articulate what their culture is – they can find it difficult to articulate aspects of their identity or answer the question ‘where do you come from’? But just asking that question gets them thinking about who they are, who they belong to and it’s amazing what they end up discovering and revealing about themselves.
What makes a good teacher?
Genuinely wanting to make an impact on a student’s life. Having knowledge and skills is great, but you need to have a genuine concern with students’ emotional and social wellbeing, too. I want to be the type of teacher I want my own kids to have.
You are an artist yourself, what informs your work?
I was brought up in an area similar to Mangere or Otara by a single mother. I had so much nurturing in the Maori community. That has inspired my love for Maori culture, which informs a lot of my work.
Tupu: Created for The Cancer Society’s Daffodil Day. ‘Tupu’ (verb) to grow, increase, spring, develop, prosper, sprout, originate. This work is a reflection of Ms Rakete’s beginnings in the world and how my childhood in Highbury, Palmerston North planted a seed of love of Maori Art, Te Reo, tikanga maori, waiata, wairua and whanau. In a time of vulnerability the music, language and sense of belonging provided safety and strength.
‘Kia a noho te ihi ki a koe’ (may the force be with you) is a commissioned work Ms Rakete completed last year for Khylee Quince’s leaving gift from The University of Auckland. Ms Quince was a senior lecturer in criminal law and youth justice, a lover of Star Wars and Dr Who, and a well-respected advocate for Maori Youth justice.