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Graduate takes passion for te reo Māori into the classroom

27 March 2023

Isla didn’t grow up with te reo Māori. Now, with a Master of Teaching and Learning, she’s inspiring the next generation.


Isla Reeves has received a Master’s of Teaching and Learning with Distinction from the University of Canterbury.

At high school, Isla (Ngāti Uenuku) yearned to take classes in te reo Māori but none were available.

Her great-grandmother had grown up speaking te reo Māori only a few generations back, but no-one in Isla’s whānau could speak the language by the time she came along. Isla’s journey to reclaim what had been lost began the hard way, learning te reo Māori at night classes.

SDG 4 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 - Quality Education

“From that point on, I knew te reo Māori would be a big part of whatever I ended up doing. I’d always been interested in it and was keen to get my family speaking it again.”

Isla furthered her studies at Te Pūkenga Ara Institute of Canterbury, graduating with a Bachelor of Māori Language and Indigenous Studies. Her decision to pursue teaching came after more than five years working as a teacher aide and realising that teaching was where she wanted to make a career.

Enrolling in the Master's of Teaching and Learning programme at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) gave Isla the skills needed to start treading that path with te reo Māori as her specialist teaching subject.

“I was impressed at the focus I found at UC on the values of teaching and biculturalism, and the emphasis on thinking about what kind of teacher you wanted to be for the next generation. In my intake, I was the only campus-based master’s student specialising in te reo Māori but I felt very well supported by my lecturers. I would recommend the Master's of Teaching and Learning to others thinking about pursuing a similar course.”

Isla says the practical and applied focus of the programme, including placements and observations at four different schools, played an invaluable part in equipping her for the realities of teaching.

Having successfully completed her Master's with Distinction, Isla is looking forward to graduating and is excited to have started working at Avonside Girls’ High School as a specialist te reo Māori and Māori performing arts teacher, as well as a Kaitiaki Māori.

“I think I can be a role model, especially for those learning te reo Māori. There are so many people who don’t speak the language anymore. I often say to my students you can now grow up with te reo Māori in your life and be a person who uses it every day.

“I want to be the kind of teacher who is actively involved with what the students are learning and build strong, positive relationships. I’m always glad when they come to me and ask a question, even if it’s just to get help with their timetable!”

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