Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Ag educator wins trans-Tasman teaching award

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Teaching agriculture to hundreds of city kids has earned an Auckland teacher recognition that is a first for the primary sector’s educators.
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Coadette Low’s passion to bring the primary sector to Auckland schoolkids has been recognised with a prestigious trans-Tasman teaching award.

The head of agriculture at Mt Albert Grammar School won a National Excellence in Teaching Awards (NEiTA) Apple Award for her grassroots innovation and expertise and for her extensive mentorship of students.

NEiTA are trans-Tasman Awards honouring the teaching profession that have run for 29 years. Low was one of four New Zealanders to win awards this year and the first agriculture teacher to win.

This year’s awards had 2525 nominations. From there, 50 were shortlisted for video interviews and from those 50, 12 received awards.

Low says winning the award felt surreal.

“Teachers are really terrible at self-acknowledgment – very humbling and absolutely amazed – it’s pretty amazing.”

It was an acknowledgement of the work agriculture teachers across New Zealand are doing every day. These teachers are a closely knit group who support each other, and her success is their success, Low says.

It also helps to raise the profile of teaching agriculture in secondary schools, she says.

“It’s incredible that an agriculture teacher has been acknowledged.

“We do it for the students and we do it for the subject content. It’s one of the key benefits of being an ag teacher, I get to see the teenagers succeed and see those lightbulb moments.”

The classes also have the support of the primary sector, allowing Low to remain connected to the industry while inspiring its next generation.

Low says she has a passion for teaching agriculture with its relevance to real-life applications. 

“My students’ engagement in the taught content is incredibly motivating and rewarding. Seeing their successes and learnings from failure is a privilege. 

“I regularly bring in primary industry leaders … who provoke [the students’] passion for the subject, inspiring them into a world of achievable possibilities.”

Low was nominated for the award by Rathkeale College teacher Victoria Gammie and Queensland teacher Stephanie McQuillian.

McQuillian says Low is an exceptional educator in what is a predominately male sector.

“Coadette is a leading light for other female educators to pursue a career in agriculture. She has expert knowledge in her field. She is passionate, progressive and consistently seeks new ways to improve her practice.

“She really goes above and beyond leading the next generation.”

Low spent seven years teaching agriculture at Rathkeale College in Masterton before shifting to become the head of agriculture at Mt Albert Grammar School at the start of 2023.

Rathkeale College has a large contingent of boarders who have agriculture backgrounds, whereas 95% of Mt Albert Grammar School students are from Auckland.

“It’s pretty awesome, we have over 200 kids and we have an 8 hectare farm, which is a phenomenal resource, and the kids are super keen on anything to do with livestock – that’s the main reason why they take this subject.”

Their lack of experience in agriculture created a learning opportunity because Low can influence their way of thinking, whereas children at Rathkeale could judge what Low was teaching them alongside their own experiences growing up on a farm.

Children in Low’s Mt Albert class do not have those pre-conceived ideas, she says.

Mt Albert Grammar’s ag curriculum teaches years 10-13 a wide range of livestock classes using the school’s farm as much as possible. These range from cattle – meat and dairy – to sheep, horticulture and layer hens, covering genetics, animal health, husbandry, feed and nutrition and soil health.

Outside the farm gate, the school also teaches agribusiness to its students.

Low grew up in Napier, working as a wool handler after school. She completed a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Animal Science and Physiology, at Massey University.

After graduation, Low worked in the meat industry in Australia for five years in an auditing role. 

She remembered a past biology teacher at high school recommending that she should be a teacher, and it was only after working in the abattoir that she considered it.

“After a couple of years, I was training others and conducting more audit work. I decided after taking a group of stock agents through and teaching them the carcase grading system that teaching agriculture would be something I would like to do.”

Low completed a Graduate Diploma of Secondary School Teaching at the

University of Adelaide in South Australia and taught in Australia for four years before taking up the position at Rathkeale in 2016.

The award comes with a $5000 professional development grant, which Low plans to use to travel overseas to look at different farming systems, and bring that knowledge back to her students.

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