Tuesday, 15 February 2011

What I do

I realised the other day when I was talking to someone, that I haven't blogged much about my job. At the moment my job is my saviour. Each week I work two days, I feel normal and useful and get such satisfaction. It keeps me hopeful that I can contribute despite feeling pretty messed up a lot of the time.

It is a tricky question "What do you do?", especially when asking women who have kids. Some will say "I am a home manager" in a rather indignant fashion, implying that women who stay home with the kids are not given the respect they deserve. Another may say "I work", as if that is all you need to know because possibly you may think there are only two options - work or stay home. And others may pause and begin "well...". Because life is not simple and we are not what we do, even if it feels like it.

 But I digress. If you asked me that question I would be in the "well..." category. Two days a week I work as a highschool teacher. I have taught for the last 8 years - except for the year or so I had off when pregnant and until Ella was about 7 months old. My current job is as the English teacher in a teen parent unit, attached to a highschool. There are a number of teen parent units in New Zealand and there are four in Auckland. They are funded by the government and set up to provide the opportunity for young parents, both Mums and Dads, to complete their secondary education and gain qualifications. There is usually a childcare facility attached so that parents can study.

At the school I work at the TPU is on the grounds of the school and the students do a mixture of subjects with us in the TPU and in the main school. The students are picked up in the morning and dropped at school. Some of the children who are over 6 months go to the childcare centre across the road and the babies who are younger and still being breastfed stay with their Mum in the TPU. Each parent (we only have Mums at the moment) is on an individual programme working towards completing their qualifications. We help guide the girls to plan for their future careers and for further education. We have a kitchen and most of the students study food technology. We also have a cooked lunch together each day. This is one of my favourite parts of the job! Not just cause the food is delicious, but because it helps the culture of the place develop and it feels like we are a family.

When I talk to people about what I do I often hear comments and questions about whether TPUs glorify teen parents and make it seem glamourous. To be honest, there is nothing glamourous about being a young parent and they would tell you that. Just as they are growing up and struggling with all the fears and issues of being a teenager, they have been thrust into parenthood. They are kids raising kids and they have to learn fast how to be an adult and take responsibility for their life and their child's future. It is tough for them. They are often picked up from home at 7:30am and don't get home till 4:30pm. They work hard all day on their learning while also juggling the needs of their babies. In winter they have to miss school a lot because they or their baby are ill and they also have to struggle often with major issues in their families or with their baby's father.

One of the awesome parts of my job is helping to maintain a vege garden. We use the veges in our cooking and show the students how it is possible to feed your family well and save money too. Another joy is to see each student achieve and their confidence grow. Many have had really negative experiences at school in the past and it is healing for them to succeed and to have positive relationships with their teachers.

The job can be heart wrenching though. Part of the policy for students enrolling is that they have responsible adult with them who commits to supporting them in their education and will be the contact person for the school. Often this is a parent but sometimes an aunt or uncle or another adult will take on the role. Unfortunately, some of these adults let our students down by either not helping them when things are tough or by actually enabling the young parent to avoid school and to continue destructive behaviour. It is easy to think that these young parents need to take responsibility for themselves but you have to remember that they are kids and also that many come from very dysfunctional backgrounds so don't have the lifeskills and knowledge about how to make good choices.

I would say the greatest need is for role models and mentors so that these young women can learn and follow in the footsteps of people who will support them, encourage them and challenge them to strive for a better future for themselves and their children. Many need the opportunity to move into a safe residential environment where they can get their lives on track, learn to care for their children and learn lifeskills such as how to run a home, follow a budget and move towards living independently. However there are very few places which offer that much support over the timeframe it requires. In fact I know of no such place in Auckland.

I think a lot of people think teen parents are a lost cause but I disagree. Teen parents and their children present an opportunity to break generational cycles of poverty and dysfunction. These parents want the best for their children and with the right support and committed people, they can have a future full of promise. I feel privileged to be involved in the process. I wish more people and resources were available for these precious teenagers and their children.


  1. Love it. Kia kaha!

  2. Anonymous1:22 pm

    as a former teen parent, I love what you do!

  3. Wonderful post, thank you. Keen to hear more, maybe interview you on Sacraparental? Xox