Dixon Middle School recently hosted its first College Day, with Dixon's school halls becoming a...
“I want my students to be good to each other,” shared Waru Ngatai, a College and Career Awareness (CCA) and Career and Technical Education (CTE) Teacher at Centennial Middle School, “Getting kids into good jobs and learning career skills matters, but citizenship matters, too.”
“Be good people. Be good to your neighbors, be good to your teachers, be good to your family.”
In a rapidly evolving workspace, it is easy for youth to feel overwhelmed and aimless. Luckily, we have teachers like Waru Ngatai, who’ve worked from the ground up in the tech space, continued to stay savvy through professional development experiences, and, more importantly, know that career readiness means more than a certification.
He’s a teacher who knows from experience that one good teacher can make a difference– learned firsthand through his academic career.
“I had a math teacher– and he was a student teacher– that made a difference. I was never good at math, but with them, it clicked.” Ngatai said.
“They moved me up to another math class, but I was struggling again without him, so they brought this student teacher back for me. My grades started improving. It was the same in college. I struggled with math, too, but I ended up with a great professor who made it make sense– but that student-teacher made a difference for me. I try to be like that for my students– to be the difference.”
Ngatai initially started in Computer Science at BYU Hawaii with no computer experience. His experience was the norm across colleges nationwide; computer science was a new field, and students were pioneers plowing over foreign terrain.
With his newfound degree and tech experience, Ngatai moved to Utah in the 1990s, starting here at Provo City School District’s now defunct Farrer Middle School as tech support. Hired by a well-connected principal (Principal Sam Ray, who worked in Farrer Middle and Provo High Principal during his tenured career), The principal suggested he certify for teaching and apply at Slate Canyon Youth Center; they knew that Slate Canyon required excellent teachers for students in need, and Ngatai was the man for the job.
Immediately, Ngatai built a community of tech-based learners. Students earned career-worthy certifications from Microsoft Office to Excel Spreadsheets while in their correctional facility. He even introduced film and broadcasting experiences; students were writing, directing, and editing videos in the form of television advertisements. The ads were so popular that his class would eventually play them for the whole school during assemblies.
Here, Ngatai made a palpable difference for many students, with one student sticking out in his recent memory.
“I had one kid in Youth Corrections– I taught him certifications, Microsoft, and Spreadsheets. He constantly complained in class: “This is a waste of time. I’ll never use this.” He fought it every day.
“But he got his certifications. And five years later, he returned to me, saying, “Thank you. Because of you and those certifications, I got a job as a network engineer.” And he was making more money than I was! It was cool– he’d gone five years from lock-up into mechanical engineering.”
Nowadays, he’s making a difference at Centennial Middle School, developing contemporary learning experiences for an evolving student base.
“The world is constantly changing. If you don’t keep up with the times, the world can leave you behind. There are videos on AI learning on YouTube– they’re all free. There are jobs that haven’t even been invented yet. I make sure I stay up on that stuff– and that the kids are, too.”
Ngatai remembers a Professional Development trip to Adobe Headquarters, where CTE teachers spoke to their coders and engineers about preparing students for future careers. Their answer is one he agrees with, and the sentiment pilots a lot of his classwork, too.
“They said it’s essential for students to build a base knowledge while they’re young and start gaining experience in college– but more importantly, they said more and more applicants are missing a core skill. This core skill is the ability to work with others.
“I make sure my kids collaborate all of the time. You need to work with others and get along.”
In Waru Ngatai’s classroom, citizenship and kindness are mutual skills alongside academic achievement and mastery-based learning. To quote Ngatai once more:
“More than anything, I want my students to be good. Be good people. Be good to your neighbors, be good to your teachers, be good to your family.”