Building our future through teaching

For recent Wellington Faculty of Education Diploma of Teaching graduate Jenn Perkin (Ngāti Tama), retraining as a teacher was more of a calling than a career decision.

“The idea of becoming a teacher had been with me for many years and simply would not go away,” she says.

Jenn grew up in Zimbabwe and attended University in the Republic of South Africa—the first in her family to do so. She then spent a long and varied career in chemistry and pharmaceuticals, first as a researcher and then in customer service, marketing, and education, as well as in project management and sales roles.

Jenn lived and worked in Aotearoa, New Zealand, for several years while also raising her three children. Then, several years ago, Jenn and her family faced a traumatic challenge—her son was diagnosed with life-threatening bone cancer.

“Life changed dramatically in every way,” Jenn says. “We spent almost 18 months in an isolation unit at Starship Hospital while he underwent gruelling chemotherapy. I had to give up my career and family home to support my family.

“Through this whole ordeal, our school community became our whānau. They helped us through many tough times.

“I realised first-hand the difference caring teachers can have on the mental and social wellbeing of our tamariki during tough circumstances. The opportunity to be at the coal face of empowering children drew me back to study and become a teacher.”

Jenn started with papers in Education and Māori Studies in 2020, and after enjoying and succeeding at these papers, she committed to pursuing her Graduate Diploma of Teaching (Primary) in 2021.

Jenn says juggling studying, teaching, assignment deadlines, and her son’s health needs was a true challenge, but her passion for teaching and the awhina of her mentors encouraged her to keep going.

“Teaching reflects my passion for lifelong learning, empowering tamariki, and contributing meaningfully to my community.”

Jenn graduated with her teaching qualification at the beginning of 2022 and was recognised as one of the top graduates in her year with a Teacher Education Excellence Award.

“Teaching is incredibly enriching—you get to connect with your community, be part of building the future through shaping the next generation’s minds, affirming their identity, and seeing students switch on to their potential and worth.”

Jenn has been relief teaching and is now on a fixed-term contract at Levin East Primary School until year-end. She hopes to move into a permanent position soon. She would like to pursue further education at some stage.

“For anyone thinking about pursuing teaching, my advice is to follow your heart—don’t wait as long as I did. Aotearoa needs a diverse group of passionate teachers.

“Know yourself and your reasons for wanting to teach—it will help you stay committed and overcome challenges. Then, establish sound support systems, practice self-care and balance in your life, and have fun!

“You will love it if you enjoy learning, working collaboratively, and empowering others. Teachers can enable our tamariki to become active participants and agents of change in their world.”