Tokoroa man Peter Rameka is the first Māori tutor to teach welding and fabrication in Mechanical Engineering at Wintec, but when he completed trade courses there 20 years ago, he found it "hard and culturally uncomfortable".
Rameka's father made him push through a pre-trade TIG welding training and trade certificate at Waikato Polytechnic, now Wintec, by telling him "just put your head down and make a change later".
"What kept me going then was whānau, good people around me, and the thought that maybe I could return and make a change one day," Rameka says.
Among the good people he met after his courses were Pam and Les Roa and the wider whānau at Longveld Engineering, where he worked for 11 years as a light fabrication engineer.
Rameka was part of a core group that shaped Longveld's shift to te ao Māori (a Māori world view). Staff took part in kapa haka, Te Ataarangi reo Māori lessons and a range of initiatives that embraced and connected the diverse workforce at Longveld.
Twenty years after his first experience at Wintec, he met Wintec academic Rose Marsters, who is now Wintec strategic Pacific lead, sparking his interest in teaching.
He knew there was no te ao Māori in the engineering curriculum but at the time, Wintec trades and engineering team manager Nigel Jervis said, "Hey Peter, do what you want to do and teach how you want to teach."
Rameka says: "I made it a priority to engage with Wintec's tauira support network, Te Kete Kōnae and Māori Pacific Trade Training (MPTT) before I felt comfortable and supported to share te ao Māori with our tauira [students]."
He is married to Lisa, who is Ngāti Pākehā and credits their relationship for learning the importance of empathy, understanding, patience and getting the mix right when balancing one culture with another.
"Normalising te ao Māori for me is best in a multi-cultural environment. We roll as one whānau, I keep it simple, deliver it in bite-size chunks so they can chew the fat and come back for more."
He says taking a te ao Māori approach means opening mindsets to making connections and relating to people (whakawhanaungatanga), treating others as equal (manaakitanga) and teaching and learning from each other (ako).
"I approach things differently, and I've learnt that it's okay to be vulnerable. By being relatable and by sharing my journey, I gain trust ... Different parts of my journey, the good and the bad, as a young Māori boy growing up in Tokoroa, Hato Paora College, the pre-trade course, and the apprenticeship I did are woven into my teachings where I see fit."
Rameka says sharing scenarios from his past helps his tauira (students) align their own journey with his.
"A teacher once told me that I shouldn't take School Certificate maths because I would fail, 'Ring your mother and tell her', he said. My mother asked me 'Son, what do you want to do?' - 'Sit it', I replied [and] I sat the exam."
Rameka then asked his students: "Guess what happened whānau?" - "You passed Matua (Sir)!" - "Hell no! I got 20 out of 100 but I stand before you teaching crazy trade formulae!"
Rameka says: "I've had some tauira innocently reply, 'So you were dumb too, Matua?' We have a laugh, they put their head down with a smile, complete the activity and get 100 per cent."
To him, te ao Māori is a balancing act. "It's side by side, pastoral style. I guess you'd say my style is next-level pastoral. I don't clock off. It's good to be part of a team where a mātauranga Māori influence is creating and changing the culture within our programme."
His teaching had a great effect on the retention of students: They are staying because they are supported to stay. "We roll as a whānau, we move as one. The whole class, Māori, Pākeha, international students. We learn from each other, and we support each other. It works."
Rameka says he is being relatable through te reo Māori and the students' journeys start from there. "When tauira Māori show up [to Wintec open day], it's good for them to see a brown face, and I talk to them kanohi ki te kanohi, face to face.
"I have had many tauira Māori ask, 'can Māori build that?' or 'matua, do you teach engineering? But you're Māori!' I often have to collect my thoughts, saddened from what I've just heard, smile and reply, 'Ko wai to ingoa, no hea koe? Anei taku purakau' [What is your name, where are you from? Here is my story]."
He teaches a mix of Māori and Pasifika Trade Training (MPTT) tauira and non-MPTT tauira including apprentices.
"Everyone is treated the same. It's kōtahitanga - unity. Now I am seeing something I would never have seen before, our tauira Māori are singing waiata and doing haka in front of their peers. No shyness, just pride. Sharing te ao Māori with the class.
"If you can create an environment where they are comfortable to express themselves, then you are on the right path. We've seen a massive change in our programme and te ao Māori has helped influence that shift. I am excited about the future."