Hutt at Heart
Eddie Forster Naenae Stories

23 years teaching at Rata Street School

Naenae has amazing, passionate people in its community doing great things! Follow the #NaenaeStories series so you can hear about just a few of them. 

While Eddie Forster’s first few weeks at Rata Street School were a bit of a culture shock, 23 years later, he’s now teaching the children of children he taught in those earlier years.

Eddie and his wife Katherine, who is a teacher at Naenae College, are now well embedded in the community. But in the early days Eddie wasn’t so sure about his decision when one day he had to break up nine fights by lunchtime.

Rata Street School has always been a special place and Eddie says former pupils come back to see photographs lining the hallway which go back to the 1950s. “The school nurtures kids and we have kids coming back all the time and they bring their kids. I have taught a boy whose dad and grandad went to the school.”

In the early days, the kids were ‘hard out’ but also had a lot of heart and pride in the school. “They were all into whatever we were doing, whether it was sport, culture group or choir. You just knew they were going to give everything their best if they signed up for it. So we probably concentrated on making sure there were more than academic things for them to come to school for.

“The school still has heart and richness but it’s different. Parents are time deprived and not so many of them get involved with school and sport anymore.”

Each day in Eddie’s class starts with a run around the courts and then the children have about 10 minutes independent time where their teacher can gauge where they’re at. “You want to make sure your classroom is a safe place so children can focus on their learning. If it’s going to help your class, you create a whanau environment and you try not to recognise the anti-social behaviours.”

The school’s ERO report shows it’s doing well compared to similar Decile 2 schools. “If we have a child who comes in at what we consider a three year old level of achievement and leaves with an 11 year level; that’s still an eight year improvement in six years. We are interested in the work ethic and the richness they are going to be able to get in life.”

Rata Street School works hard to have an inclusive culture and now has access to support systems such as social workers and medical professionals so teachers can focus on teaching. But the school is realistic about bad behaviour. “We acknowledge that children need to be able to express themselves and feel supported if they feel they are being bullied.

“Transient kids can be an issue in our school. I have quite a few challenging kids and one of the things they respond to best is knowing where they stand. The good thing about being new at a school is you have an opportunity for a new start.”

A sport lover who coaches school hockey through to college and women’s teams in Naenae, Eddie has always used sport as a tool. “Sport is about self organisation, responsibility, communication. It also helps to break down walls. When I was first at Rata Street School, I started a girls 11-a-side team and we were sending them to rep trials. The benefit for our kids is they can see that if they achieve well and contribute, no-one’s going to care where you live.”

Eddie doesn’t speak Te Reo but his Ngāti Porou mother was fluent. “There were definitely two cultures at home but when I was young and suggested to Mum that I do Māori at school, she said ‘why would you learn, you won’t get anywhere’. If it wasn’t for some of the things that happened in the 1980s like kohanga reo, the language probably would have died out.”

He first became interested in teaching as a teenager involved in Christian camps. “I was quite shy at college but at El Rancho, I would lead more than 200 kids and I got the hardcase kids. It was my strength and I still feel this is where God wants me to be.

Eddie is proud of his former pupils such as the bright girl who has become a scientist, the rugby mad kid now playing for Wellington or the guy who sees him on the street and says ‘hey Mr Forster, I’ve got an apprenticeship’.

And yes, he does get frustrated by negative stereotypes about the suburb where he has raised a family and worked for 23 years. “People from outside Naenae say ‘gee you must be tough if you live in Naenae’. But it’s not like that when you live here. There are some cultural misunderstandings like our kids might be loud and boisterous, or there may be differences in language.  But it all depends on what lense you look through.

“Some of the people here are doing amazing stuff and they are happy being where they are. People don’t talk about wanting to get out!”

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