I thought I was dumb. That university and a ‘dream job’ with a salary was for other people but not for me. Until I learned about Mahatma Gandhi. A peaceful man who believed in freedom and equal rights. He lived a long time ago. Just an ordinary man who changed his world.

He said:

We must be the change we want to see in the world

And I realised – it’s up to me. I have to make school work for me and I can have success at school.

Why Bother?

Getting NCEA is not just about making your parents proud. It’s about creating the life you want. School is about creating the plan. The plan around how to build the life you want. Then building that dream – Step by step towards

  • A well paid job.
  • Decent hours of work.
  • Going to a job you enjoy getting up for.

The life everyone deserves.

Use school to build the life you want.

  • What would you really like to do when you leave school?
  • What is your dream job?
  • What do you like to do?
  • What is fun to you?

Imagine yourself living a life doing the things you like to do and how good it feels. Everyone can live their dreams. Every journey starts with the first step. The first step is the dream.

TIPS: Go to the Careers Department and ask for an appointment:


  • Can you help me to find work where I can do the things I like?
  • How do I get into that kind of work?
  • What qualifications will I need?
  • What subjects will I need to take?
  • Where will I go when I leave school?
  • Can you write this down for me?

success at school

The Plan

Make your dream real. Write it down. Look at it every day:

This is The Plan I wrote.

Name: Jax

Goal:  To be a History teacher

How: Get the information from a Careers teacher.

  1. Get NCEA level 1,2,3
  2. Apply to University at the end of Year 13
  3. Get a student loan and go to Uni , get a degree in history
  4. Teach in Auckland


  1. I can’t read easily
  2. Family wants me to be a doctor
  3. Failing Maths
  4. Never do homework
  5. Miss too much school

Help: Little changes are steps towards the dream.   Find people at school who can help.

  1. Tell my Dean I need help with my reading.
  2.  Meet the careers teacher for information on teaching to show family.
  3. Ask form teacher for a peer tutor in maths; go to math’s tuition at school.Go to homework Centre at school on weekdays.
  4. Talk to the school counsellor about how to get to school every day.

Hint:  Keep reading to find how school can help with the plan.

Get to know your teacher

Get know to know teachers and they get to know you too. Maybe your teacher doesn’t know about your family or your culture? Put yourself out there! Be proud of who you are!

Shine your light on you and and tell the teacher about your family , your culture , the things you do. Teach the teacher a few things and they’ll teach you.

Tip: Teachers who know you teach you better

  1. Greet the teacher in your first language
  2. Treat them how you like to be treated
  3. Talk with them before or after class  – not when they’re teaching
  4. You can ask about their lives too – the sort of questions you might ask your mum’s friends.
  5. Build a working relationship so they know you want to do well in their class.

Ask and listen

If English is not your first language it can be hard having to work in English all the time.


  •  Ask the teacher what a word means
  • Tell them when you don’t understand what to do.
  • Be nice and polite about it and treat your teachers with respect.

Tip:  Good teachers want to help you learn:

  1. Put your hand up and wait patiently
  2. Say: “Can you please help me Miss / Mr. I don’t know what to do?”
  3. Listen carefully. It’s ok if you still don’t know what to do.
  4. Say thank you when they have explained.
  5. But, ask for help again if you don’t get it – asks the teacher to show you what to do instead. Say: “Can you show me how you do it?”

Be brave enough to make mistakes.

  • At school you have to work just as hard as the teacher.
  • You need to listen to the teacher
  • Sit where you can hear.
  • Try to do the work.
  • When you are learning you make mistakes all the time.
  • Learning is making heaps of mistakes but having another go.
  • Mistakes happen when you learn new things.
  • Don’t get down hearted and stop working because you make a mistake.
  • Keep asking for help and trying again.

“I can’t do it” can become: “I get it.”

Tips: Everyone who is learning something new makes mistakes (and feels stupid).

  1. Need help? Ask teachers , mates, someone who always knows what to do.
  2. Tell yourself that making mistakes is what all learners do.
  3. Help other’s learners if they need help too.
  4. Do your homework with a friend who knows what to do.

Still too hard? See the Learning Support teacher and tell them: “I can’t do this, I need help.”

Get organised

There is a lot to remember at school. A diary can change your life. You think you’ll remember everything but no head is that big.

You need to know:

  • What day your homework has to be handed in.
  • When assessments are due.
  • What you are being tested on and when.
  • Who you hand your work into.
  • How many words you need to write.

Every day is a new beginning and this is the beginning of a big change for you. You’re getting organised. You’re changing your life. Little changes bring new beginnings.

Tips: Ask your teacher when the work is due and where you hand it in

  1. Write it in a diary – buy one or ask your Dean or counsellor if they can give you one.
  2. Write work down before you leave class. Write in when it is due.
  3. Have a homework buddy – someone you can ring or text if you don’t know how to do the work.
  4. Put the due dates for work in your phone. Set an alarm to remind you.
  5. Got a computer?  Use the monthly planner.


Assignments can feel like being asked to run a marathon. A whole handout of stuff to do over the term and then handed in.

Where do you start?

Help is everywhere at school and you just need to ask for it.

You can:

  • Keep handouts on the assignment in a file or folder.
  • Have a different coloured folder for each subject.
  • Keep your notes together
  • Keep asking for help when you need it.
  • Make an appointment with learning support if you need it

Tips: Break down the big assignment into small chunks of work.

  1. Make a time to go through the assignment with a teacher. Write in your diary what you need to do when.
  2. Ask the teacher to read your work as you go. Ask them Is this how to do it?
  3. Or “ Could you show me how to do it please?”
  4. Read each question slowly with a friend – what is the question asking you?
  5. Work on the assignment with a group of people. Don’t copy each other though. It has to be your own work.
  6. Go onto the school’s intranet. Read all the examples that the teacher has put online and follow the way the teacher has done it.

The Homework challenge

Here are a few things I learnt about homework the hard way. If I do it:

  • I get a chance to practice new skills
  • My teacher can see I am trying and is happy to help me in class.
  • I feel like I know what’s going on in class.
  • I am part of the days learning.

Homework is like a training session – you train to get better at a new skill.

Write each subject in the diary and next to it:

  • what you need to do and
  • when it is due

Plan to spend at least 30 –60 minutes a weeknight getting subject work done or reading over notes.

Work out the homework time for each day and put a study timetable on the wall.

Ask the family to help you stick to it.

TIPS:  Organise yourself a time that is just homework time.

  1. Find a space that you can work in at home, the library, a homework Centre – anywhere!
  2. Get the phone number of someone you can ring if you need help or
  3. Do your homework with a group of buddies and you can all help each other.
  4. Read the questions carefully.  Exactly what information do they want in your answer?
  5. Ask if your school has Peer tutors – an older student that can help and maybe give you a few of the answers too.


School is a lot about reading and a lot about reading in English. Some kids love it , some kids think it’s boring and some kids find it really hard. English might not even be your first language or how you talk at home. Reading is harder for some people: they learn better in other ways. Maybe you watch and listen and that’s how you know things.

Lots of clever and brainy people have trouble reading – it’s ok. Brains are all wired up differently. Your teacher needs to know if you can’t read the work in class so they can give you the work in a way that makes sense to you.


  1. Tell the Dean or Learning Support teacher or someone at school if you are having trouble reading. Say: “I can’t read the work we are doing.”
  2. Ask the school nurse if you can have your ears and eyes checked.
  3. Ask the learning support teacher to help you find out more about the way you learn.
  4. Talk to the Dean: “I can’t do the work in class, can you help me?”
  5. Talk to the school counsellor: “Can you help me find ways to do the work in class?”
  6. Talk to family and friends. Ask them to talk to your teachers about the help you need in class.


You write and type a lot in school. I used to write stories about aliens and finish with “then I woke up”. One day I did wake up. I noticed good writers write about what they know about. About the things that happen in their lives, the people they know, the way they feel and think. It’s like being an artist. You draw with words.

Now I write the way I talk, about the things I do and how I think about them. It is from my cultural point of view and sometimes it’s in my language too.

The teacher helps me with the stuff like speech marks and paragraphs but this writing is the stories of my life and my people and my world. This writing comes from inside of me. It’s the world I live in right there on paper ( without the swear words – this is school right!)

TIP: Write about what you know about; use your personal voice.

  1. If you can’t get started ask the teacher to help you plan out an idea. Say: “I don’t know how to do this – can you show me?”
  2. Write about your experiences – big or small – the things that happen in your world.
  3. The details you put in show the reader what you are thinking about. Use words so the reader can picture in their head what you are saying.
  4. Some people have real trouble getting the ideas in their head into writing. Talk to your teacher or Dean or Learning support if that is what is happening for you. Say, I can’t write the ideas in my head in words. Can you help me?
  5. If writing or copying is hard for you ask for help. I find writing really hard, can you help me?

Speak Up

Big stuff happens in everyone’s lives. Sometimes you can’t listen in class because of what’s in your head. Maybe it’s bullying, or there’s stuff happening at home or with friends or family that’s hard to talk about or even think about. Maybe you feel sad or you feel nothing at all. Or really scared or angry all the time and getting into fights. Or someone you love doesn’t even like you. You need to get help.

Go and see the school counsellor – make an appointment and tell them what’s happening for you. They won’t laugh or gossip about your personal stuff. They know how to help you deal with what’s going on so you can stay on track at school. This is your life we’re talking about here and nothing is more important.

Be strong and make that appointment.

TIPS: The counsellor will help you get your life on track and your head in a better space to learn.

  1. Take a mate with you if you’re shy to go alone.
  2. Be open and honest – they won’t be shocked.
  3. Draw a picture and take that if it’s hard to talk.
  4. Everyone has challenges – that’s ok, it’s what life is all about.
  5. It’s not what happens to you in life – it’s what you do about it.


The best way to get good friends is to be one. Being a good friend means treating people the way you like to be treated. A good mate leaves you feeling good about yourself just the way you are. At school you need to choose friends who want the best for you. Who believe in your dreams too. Be with people who let you shine. Let them shine too.

Tips: If I’m being bullied think: “There’s no way am I putting up with this.”

  1. Turn what they say into a joke and make everyone laugh.
  2. Name what they’re doing – That’s sad that you have to bully people to feel good about yourself.
  3. Say something like I wouldn’t say that to you.
  4. Imagine them surrounded in puffy pink clouds and have a bit of a giggle to yourself.
  5. Go and see the school counsellor or a trusted adult and come up with a plan to keep yourself safe and happy.

Choices and Challenges

Every day , every hour , every minute we make choices. Those choices often start with what we tell ourselves. What you tell yourself is important. You can change a sad day to a happy day by what you say to yourself. Tell yourself what a great job you’re doing – cheer yourself on. Nothing is impossible; believe in you.

YOU can do this! Yes you CAN.

Everyone has something wonderful to share with the world – That includes you.

Life is also about challenges and this is your challenge right now;

To get the most out of school that you can.

Whatever comes up for you it is your challenge to find a way around it.

And you will.

Even when you make mistakes or make a bad choice;

Just pick yourself up and keep on moving forward.

Whatever size , shape, color or culture you are,

You bring something wonderful to the world.

Maybe think of someone you love watching over you and cheering you on

Be your own best friend and when things are tough

Tips:  think positive thoughts like

I’ll just go and ask for some help if I need it– I’ll be ok

I can do this

Mistakes are fine, I’ll remember from that.

I’ll get there

“I’m doing fine – one step at a time”


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Julie Mulcahy is married to Peter, a Primary School Principal and is descended from a long line of teachers. She has taught Years 4 through to Year 13, moved from country schools in Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Northland and spent the past 10 years in Auckland where works in a high school.

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