Having authored, directed and produced theatre plays and live performances for a long time and putting literature directly into secondary school curricula, I have been reflecting on what would have helped me at school, not only academically but acknowledging the often alien and incredibly pa’epa’e/white school system that privileges questioning, interruption, confidence and ostensible eagerness. These last four traits are as a Samoan woman, definitely NOT encouraged or even entertained as a child, sometimes not even as an adult.
If you’re teaching Pasefika kids in a school setting, consider the following PLEASE:
1) Learn how to pronounce their first and surname properly. I spent a year in Italy after finishing 7th form in New Zealand and the Italians were the first white people to pronounce my surname properly. I didn’t tell them how. They use a similar alphabet to fa’aSamoa and as my parents would say in Samoan, used their brains. People pronounce French cheeses with more respect than Pasefika or indigenous sports players names. Please, please learn how to do this, no matter how many students you teach or how much of a tongue twister their names appear to be. Your respect in pronouncing or making the effort to pronounce the name that their aiga/family gifted them, will go a long way to having a professional, academic and enjoyable relationship with your Pasefika students.
2) Just because a lot of your Pasefika students don’t say anything in class, whether you ask them a question overtly, doesn’t mean they don’t understand the subject material or don’t get it. We are largely brought up to respect/completely obey the teacher, told what to do and when and show this obedience in our complete silence, often to our academic detriment. Also, we don’t want to look like a fiapoto/smart alec/white person with no manners who asks too many questions. One strategy is to activate the tauva/competitive nature of a lot of Pasefika kids, by making learning and academic learning a game. I’ll let you work out which ways to do this but suffice to say to make sure the competitiveness enables everyone to learn and succeed at their own pace.
3) Don’t embarass us negatively when we get something wrong, especially in a crowd setting like class. In fa’aSamoa, there is a concept called, “mata fiafia”. (Hell, there’s millions of concepts but this one is easy and literal). It translates to, “happy eyes” and means if you see someone you despise or a situation, which is largely displeasing, you never show your true feelings. What you do is ataata or smile. Both of my parents grew up in Samoa, came over to Niu Sila, worked hard as labourers to earn money and were in a lot of awkward situations i.e. random cousins, asking for money, people who had lied to them, etc (fill in your incredibly complex Pasefika scenario here). Whenever these unsavoury people or situations occurred, my parents transformed into unofficial Academy Award winning actors in their entire demeanour. Drama schools couldn’t produce this level of character development. My jaw dropped many times at how credible they were and for how long they could sustain this. Please exercise some of this and speak to your student privately if possible.
School starts next week so revise your cultural lessons here #therecoveringsamoan