11 Dec 2022

How a young country-school teacher is using farm lessons in her classroom

8:48 pm on 11 December 2022
Eden Warrender


Teaching wasn't always the plan for Eden Warrender, 26, and nor was returning to her old primary school 17 years after leaving. But being the oldest of four children raised on a dairy farm in Southland's Colac Bay, service to others has always been part of who she is. She talked to Shepherdess about how she found herself teaching in Southland. Her story is republished with permission.

I'm currently in my third year of teaching at Limehills School, a rural primary nestled among limestone-streaked hills about a ten-minute drive north of Winton. Some things at the country school have changed a lot since I was a student here, others not so much. The building has received a bit of love, and some teachers that I was taught by are now my colleagues. There's still a mural on the PE shed that I remember painting as a child!

I had to grow up super quick, but in a good way. Mum and Dad worked so hard to give us the life we had, and they still do. But that also meant I picked up a lot of the jobs at home. The resilience I developed from my childhood helps me relate to the children now, and is one of my strengths as a teacher. Some students do long hours on the tractor, or have been shifting the sheep before school, and I know how they feel when they come to class a bit tired because growing up, I did the same. That's the cool thing about working at a country school though, the children are all so well-rounded and they have great values.

I couldn't imagine myself teaching anywhere else. The alignment of my values with what Limehills is striving to achieve is why I love it here so much. My parents are still the sole workers on their farm; they're the ultimate team, always working so hard for us and they've done it all from scratch. That's where I've learnt how important team work and service is, and this filters down through my teaching. There's a big focus on real-life things at the school, and that's not to say academics isn't important because it definitely is, but the real focus is on the kids. It's about their mana, their interests and qualities. It's about building their self-image and learning how to combat things when life isn't going so great. I've learnt that from my parents and on the farm, so now I'm trying to pass that message on.

I teach the Year 8 class at Limehills, and we have around 170 pupils in total. The school has a rural take on the curriculum, and this means no two days are ever the same. A local farmer donated some bush land about a kilometre away, so the kids wander down there to make rope courses or cook their lunch on a camp fire. There are four paddocks around the school that we own; today I had the kids shifting fences and we'll be tailing the lambs over the next few days.

In a way the school is much like my own childhood, where I balanced school and real-life tasks. When the bell rings on a Thursday afternoon, senior students split off and attend their 'jobs,' which range from teaching younger kids te reo Māori, to cooking and donating food to Invercargill's Ronald McDonald House. It's part of the school's Student Volunteer Army effort, and it's a project I'm really passionate about. I love seeing different strengths being brought out in kids, having them seen in another light. It doesn't matter if it's not streamlined, if you're not the best academic or the best sportsperson. The four walls of the classroom aren't for everyone - it can sometimes be quite constricting. We have the opportunity and the privilege to get out of the four walls and learn crucial things as part of our schooling.

Having been part of the rural community for 150 years, Limehills is more than just a school, it's a hub - a place for people to get together. Farmers get off the farm at 3pm to come get their kids, have a chat.

I think it's important to get the balance right between keeping tradition alive and bringing about generational change. Tradition is important, and it has its place. But things like my big focus on the children's mental health and te reo Māori - which is new to some people - have their own place alongside tradition.

This story is part of THREAD, a year-long project by Shepherdess made possible thanks to the Public Interest Journalism Fund through NZ On Air. It is republished with permission.

- Sherpherdess