The word passion doesn’t begin to describe Aeau Chris Hazelman’s commitment to teaching and education in Samoa – in particular to the Catholic Church Education system.
He was born with a calling to impart knowledge and he has done little else but serve that purpose faithfully for a large part of his life.
And after 13 years of working to improve and change young lives for the better in the Catholic Education system, Aeau is leaving knowing he’s done his best to make Samoa a better place.
And for anyone – let alone a dedicated educator - that is all you can ask for.
For Aeau, his career as a teacher all started at the Catholic Senior School (formerly known as the Combined School) at Moamoa in 1993.
“When I first started I didn’t take the job seriously,” he said.
“It was the late Mrs. Beverly Barlow of Samoa College that really motivated me to take the duties and responsibilities of a teacher seriously.”
“Mrs. Barlow set the bar very high for the students of Samoa College and she not only pushed her students, she demanded her students to work. So I wanted to match Mrs. Barlow and the only way to do that was to make my own students work either just as hard, or harder than the students of Samoa College.”
But Aeau said teachers must lead by example and it’s a lesson he learnt quite early.
“Before I get the students to work, the students must see that it starts with me and I have to work hard, I have to prepare, I have to set the standards.”
Back in the days, one of the biggest movies was “Sound of Music.”
“One day I was marking homework exercises and this movie was on television and then the scene where the song “Do, rei, me” was sung.
“It’s as if I had an epiphany, a vision. The song goes, “do, a deer, a female deer, rei a pocket full of sun……..” and then ends “if you know the notes to sing, you can sing anything!”
“What caught my attention was the creative way of explaining the notes, I never knew that ‘do’ was a female deer and then the last line is so true, if you “know it”, you can do anything.”
“Too often students are taught to remember information yet they do not know it. Teachers have to be creative, innovative, but must also know their students, know their abilities and then push them to work hard.”
“I never judge students on pass and failure rates but rather I place emphasis on their work ethic, pushing themselves to be better and I also demand my students to work.”
“I have had students score the highest marks in Samoa, but I have also been just as proud or prouder for those who started the school year with a 10 over 100 and then scored 40 in the School Certificate.”
“I have said this so many times, ‘I do not care what the students get in the School Certificate or Samoa School Leaving Certificate, but rather I want to see what this student becomes when they enter the workforce.’”
“Are they a person of responsibility, a person of integrity, a person who is innovative, creative, takes initiatives and not wait to be told.”
“The pass and failure rates does not bother me, but rather that they leave my schools and that they will work, work, keep pushing, never give up, finau, finau, finau and become a better person for you, your future and your family. If my students have done this, I have done my job.”
But the demands a lot. And there are many factors to consider.
“I used to coach the Chanel College 1st XV and it was during this time that I came to know teachers and principals from other schools.”
“After the games we would come together for a drink or two and later we began to share our experiences in the classrooms.”
At 25-years-young, Aeau became a Principal.
“Many of the experienced Principals like Fr. Falani from Chanel, Br. Kevin from St. Joseph’s, Dr. Tavana from CCWS, Mrs. Aiga Esera from Avele, Falefata Tuaniu from Leififi, Sitanilei Sitanilei from Vaimauga, Sala Manase from Congregational Senior College (now closed) and many others took me under their wing.
“So did the late Levaopolo Tupae Esera who was the Director of Education Department (as it was known back then) took a liking to me and was always available to answer questions when I needed advice.
“Papali’i Elena and Perenise Sufia from the old Curriculum Development Unit at Malifa who were super thorough, very respectful and would always offer their time for a teacher in need. If you did not perform, Elena would make sure you knew about it and never afraid to give you a telling off.
“There were teachers like Rimoni Reupena, Mrs. Jacobs, and Mrs. Barlow from Samoa College, Mrs. Sue Rasmussen from CCWS who were all very willing to help out when I needed their help.
“My point here is that no teacher, no principal or director can do this job alone.”
Teachers need help too and they should never be afraid to ask.
“Even in my position of Director I always tapped into the minds of our younger teachers who are digital and technology savvy to get their perspectives on how to handle certain issues both in and out of the classroom,” he said.
“In the same way that we (teachers) have to work together, I also took on the position of speaking up when things needed to be said. Teachers are no different from any other position of employment; there are those who will go up and above the call of duty to serve the customer, then there are those who think they are God’s gift to the world yet do nothing but wait for pay day.
“Just like there are priests and ministers who use the pulpit to communicate a message that everyone understands and others who are so boring that even the flowers fall off to sleep.
“In teaching our clients are Samoa’s children and we are judged on scores in literacy, numeracy, discipline and other measures. Yet too often the public turn a blind eye to some of the challenges faced by teachers.
“For example at the Teachers Conference in January this year, the Principal of Tufutafoe Primary School presented a paper where he shared that he has a school roll of over 100-120 students yet there are only two other teachers helping him, which has resulted to him teaching three levels on top of his role as Principal. This is MAD!
“How can you expect three adults to teach this number of children?
“There are some parents who can’t stand five minutes with their own children, take no interests in their children’s homework and learning yet the public has the audacity to demand that the students should leave with a certain level of reading, writing and numeracy?”
“Parents demand good teachers, yet are not willing to pay the school fees which in turn helps pay the teacher salaries (in mission and private schools) or help provide teaching materials.”
“This year I had a parent in my office complaining that her son was sent home for no school fees yet she had a S7 mobile phone in front of me.”
I said to her “the value of your phone can pay your son’s fees for the next three years”. She left my office without saying a word.”
He also said that teacher’s jobs are becoming harder with the addition of social problem starting from the home environment.
“In the last few years I have noticed more incidents of students breaking down at school; little boys and girls crying because Daddy beat up Mommy last night or Daddy has left us as he has a new wife,” said Aeau.
“I once had a case where there was teasing amongst teenage boys where one said, “your sister is my girlfriend”. The boy literally beat the teaser and was yelling and screaming.
“We later learnt that the cause of the boy’s anger was a result of the sister being raped by a relative at home, hence the boy carrying so much hurt and anger that he snapped.
“So when there are issues of discipline at school or in public places too often the general public and the media are very quick to point the finger at the schools and the teachers, yet there is very little mentioned to the real cause of the problem.
“One time there was an incident amongst different schools at the market that was reported by all forms of media yet there was no mention that the boys involved were all from the same family, same village and currently involved in a land dispute in court.”
Can you recall some of your significant personal achievements?
“As I have mentioned before I do not measure success on pass and failure rates, but rather on the work ethic where the student has now improved on their performances,” he said.
“For example, back in 2009 I once had a student who was in the wrong place with the wrong group that led to her expulsion from school.
“She transferred to a different Catholic school where she worked hard, gained a scholarship and two months ago she was admitted to the bar as a lawyer.
“Then there was a student expelled for dealing marijuana, charged and served his time in prison.
“Afterwards he came to me for a reference and at that very moment I felt like the father of the prodigal son in the Bible so I helped him out and he is now studying at the APTC.
“I am very critical of the sporting bodies in Samoa because I have witnessed so many examples of raw talent found in our schools.
“In ’04 the Don Bosco 1st XV’s number 8 caught my attention and I said to Fr. Mosese the Principal, “Patele you should shift that boy to the front row”.
“That boy was Logovi’i Mulipola now a professional rugby player in England and Manu Samoa prop.
“During the school assemblies I have used the old quote “Aim for the moon, even if you miss at least you are with the stars”.
“Then I use Afa Aiono and the boys in the Manu Samoa 7’s as my examples that no matter the result of the tournament, their passports are full of places like Dubai, Las Vegas, Paris, that people like Aeau can only wish they could visit.”
He carried on saying that he felt that his greatest achievement is to be recognized by his peers.
“When I first started teaching it took me years before my school and students began to equal and better Samoa College students. Then one day in 1996 at a meeting at the old CDU, Mrs. Barlow said, “Chris you are doing a fantastic job”.
“When she said this, it had such a profound impact on me because here you have person of the highest calibre in the teaching profession, telling me that I’m doing a good job.
“Now I am involved in all aspects of education in Samoa and one point that I always push to all teachers, academics, administrators, “we are in this together, we are in this for Samoa’s children, they are our children, hence we must give our absolute best. Anything less is unacceptable.”
“There is another group I want to acknowledge; the media and police. Throughout the years the different experiences have built a beautiful, respectful relationship.”
You have been known to all of Samoa as an outspoken person for education and always fight for the teachers but can you tell us more about yourself something that nobody knows about you?
“I love watching and reading articles about sports, athletes, etc. ESPN has a documentary series called 30 for 30 of which I have become a real fan,” he said.
“I have a collection of autobiographies of All Blacks, Mike Tyson, coaches like Phil Jackson, and others. David Baldacci, Lee Child, John Grisham novels also have become favorites.
“I love all types of music. I have music in my car, office, home, etc playing all the time. When Star FM says “Absolute music variety” that’s me. I can go from Jimmy Swaggert to Jimmy Cliff to Jimmi Hendrix together with the Golden Ali’i in one go.
“I not only like the music but will go further wanting to know more about the instruments, the producer, the lyrics, etc.
“As a child of the 70’s and growing up in the 80’s and 90’s I am a real fan of the music of that era like Santana, Earth, Wind and Fire, and our own local groups like Ava, Kukama, the old Samoa Teachers College. I like the new artists like Bruno Mars, Adele, Alicia Keys and Maroon 5 too.”
“I came into this job with a head full of black hair and leave with a mop of grey,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
“If I am to believe the Bible that white hair is a sign of wisdom, then I’m sorry I do not feel wise but I leave with a wealth of experience. I thank the Church for providing me a canvas for me to show my gifts from God to do His work. There are so many pictures (good, bad, ugly, ugliest) that have been drawn over the years and each taught me valuable lessons and experiences.
“I thank everyone who have been part of my journey from MESC, NUS, SQA, the donor agencies, business community, the media and the Police (we have built such a respect for each other), all the schools, principals, parents, teachers, students, ex-students, all of my dear friends and so many more.
“To my parents, sisters, Mama Lydia, and all my family from Lepea, Falealupo, Vailuutai, Afega, Fiji and those abroad; my heart is filled with gratitude for your love and support.
And of course to Mira and my Hazelgirls; Angela and Maselina you are my life and that is all that matters. And so I end in the words of the old Catholic hymn “So I leave my boats behind. Leave them on familiar shores, set my heart upon the deep, Follow you again my Lord!.”