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New Zealand Science Teacher

Science Education & Society

A fine balance

Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French is a secondary science teacher, and she balances this work with a passion for dance.

She talks to New Zealand Science Teacher about how these two strands of her life weave into each other.

Earlier this month, Lulu, who teaches science at Auckland’s James Cook High School, was interviewed on the New Zealand creative database The Big Idea about teaching science and making time for her creative work. When asked about balancing her work, she said:

“I love dancing but I also love science, so I have both, I’m not defined nor confined to one or the other, I am a ‘dancing scientist’. Who would have thought that combination could work. But it does."

Can you tell us about your science teaching?

It is my second year as a teacher, teaching science at James Cook High School in Manurewa, Auckland. This year, I was given the opportunity to teach our Puutake (wananga Māori) unit junior (Years 9 & 10) science. I also teach year 10 health.

What led you into the field of science and science teaching?

I went to Otahuhu College for 6th and 7th form in the late 90s. Up until this stage, the subjects I chose were all ‘business’ style subjects. This was mostly due to my family and upbringing in the Cook Islands – I was always encouraged to go into business. To own and manage a business equals success in ‘island’ terms. But at 6th form, I realised I really liked science and so I chose to continue my study in it. Another major influence was that I lost my father at the age of nine to cancer. Prior to this, I did not know anything about cancer, so I wanted to learn more about the disease. This is what I focused my studies on at university. I chose to become a teacher because it was a career that would suit my family life. I am a single mum to a three-and-half-year-old little man, Rene. I have a few family and friends who are teaching, and it was something easy and natural to move in to.

You manage to balance your two loves: science and dancing. What is the most challenging part of doing that?

They actually ‘weave’ into each other. The choreographing work I do on top of the normal performances through Anuanua Dance Troupe (community-based Cook Islands dance group) is what I really need to ‘time-manage’ well. I have tutored the Cook Islands cultural group here at James Cook High School and found that both my ‘teacher’ skills and creative skills are put into play.

Also, in the classroom, your performance skills are also put to good use. The most challenging part of maintaining the balance would be maintaining the energy. It can get pretty draining, and this is when you feed off your students’ and colleagues’ energy.

Please tell us about your dancing work.

The Pacific Muse, which is my first mainstream dance piece, was developed in the Pacific Dance New Zealand choreographic lab in 2011. As a successful applicant, I was given a well-known and awesome mentor, Neil Ieremia of Black Grace (an internationally successful dance company), paid dancers, rehearsal venues, theatre for a showing and marketing. Following excerpts of the piece at Pacific Arts Summit 2012, and En Route 2012, I decided to put together the development and some redevelopment of the piece for Tempo 2013. Performed October 2013.

Through the western colonial gaze, a romanticised and exoticised Pacific is portrayed and the ‘white’ construct of the Pacific as a sexual paradise is challenged. This dance is a mode of political action depicting the clashing of cultures; the coloniser and the colonised. It aims to break through by dispossessing the ‘caging’ and its symbolic restrictions and repressive ideals. Pacific women are able to retake ownership of their bodies, therefore reinterpret and move beyond the stereotypes.

Do your students know about your artistic endeavours? How important do you think it is that students have interesting role models?

Not all my students know about my dancing, but most do. I do share it every now and then. If I share too much, every conversation in class would be about what and where I’ve been for my dancing. However, I do share a lot of my other background with my students. I talk about life as a university student, my upbringing, and where I come from. This year, I teach Māori students, and they are pretty up there with their kapa haka performances, and I like discussing that with them. I have shown them some Cook Islands dancing, they love it! Just as much as I love watching them performing their kapa haka.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

I have had some pretty awesome experiences, both as a science teacher and a dancer/choreographer. The whole experience as a new teacher at an incredibly diverse school such as James Cook High School is the highlight in my career because I, the teacher, became the learner.

You are a very creative person. How do you think this is evident in the way you teach science?

I think teachers are naturally creative people. They do not necessarily need to be actively involved in something ‘creative’ per se, because I believe teaching is an ART. I try to incorporate different aspects into a lesson, which I think most teachers do anyway, and it takes creativity to do that. But I think most importantly, teaching is about performing. I am a performer and so I view classroom teaching as a performance, and that way, it makes it fun, interactive and easy.

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