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School's out

Gisborne Girls’ High School is losing a century worth of teaching experience at the end of the term with three teachers retiring. Jack Marshall caught up with the educating trio.

Head of geography Mike Tallott has racked up 48 years at Girls' High. Guidance counsellor and head of student services Sue Andrew has been there for 34 years. Head of health and physical education Shelley Hunt has been on staff for 21 years. Doing the maths, the three departing teachers boast 103 years between them teaching at Gisborne Girls' High School.

All three have seen family through the school. Sue has had three generations of her family through the gates. Her daughter was both a student and teacher at the Girls' High.

Now Sue's granddaughter is in Year 13 at the school, due to finish this year, and colleague Shelley is her form teacher. Shelley has had two daughters come through the school.

Mike, surprisingly, has taught his son at Girls' High as well.

“He studied over at Boys' High but had a clash so did geography with me.”

Even with 48 years behind him Mike said he did not want to leave.

“I'm so committed to this school. This has been my life,” he said.

He planned to teach for a couple more years until he became unwell earlier this year.

“I played golf one day and two days later I couldn't bloody walk.”

Although he's back to good health he thought he had better take the hint.

“Someone's telling me something, so maybe I'd better stop teaching.”

Mike has been on the school's board of trustees for over 20 years and has held numerous roles.

“I love it. I don't really want to stop.”

“I'm going to be a big cry baby when I leave because I probably don't want to go. I love teaching.”

Mike grew up in Christchurch and attended Cashmere High School. In his final years, his old primary school teacher visited the school as part of a recruiting drive for teachers.

“At the time I quite liked the geography I was doing at school and thought, ‘I could be like him'.”

He applied for a studentship, where he received an allowance while he studied with the caveat he had to actually take up teaching once he was qualified.

“I got $22 a fortnight, but that was enough for my bus fare from Christchurch and to buy my lunch, to put a couple of bets on a racehorse and buy a couple of beers — $11 takes you quite a long way when you could buy a jug of beer for about 34 cents.”

He finished his studies at Canterbury University in 1973 and was offered two jobs, one in Christchurch and one in Gisborne.

“There was a girl I quite fancied in teachers college who got a job in Hastings. I thought, ‘that's just down the road', and so I accepted the job. I think I saw her twice in my first term and never saw her again.”

Now Mike is more of a Gisbornite than a southerner.

“My brother and my parents have all died while I've been here. I got married here. I've had all my kids here and now I have a grandchild here.

“Everything is linked to the school in different times of my life and I've met thousands of kids who are now doing great things.”

Because he started teaching when he was 22, those first students he taught now look more like his peers than his pupils.

He said 65-year-olds come up to him in the supermarket saying, “You used to teach me in high school.”

Sue Andrew moved to Gisborne from Tīrau in the Waikato when she was 15 years old. She attended Lytton High School.

“We shifted here because of soil types. My dad was a farmer and was experimenting with growing soya beans.

Keen to leave high school as soon as possible, 16-year-old Sue left at the end of the sixth form (as Year 12 was known then) to go to teachers college, “because that would be one thing my parents would agree to”.

Sue went off to Papakura and studied at Ardmore Teachers College, being in the last cohort to go through that institution.

Once she was qualified she worked as a general teacher at Ilminster Intermediate, and three years as an art teacher.

Around 1985 she applied for a job in Riverton and was quickly employed. However, she had thought the school was just out of Christchurch, when instead she found herself 30 kilometres west of Invercargill.

“It was like a whole new world — a beautiful place though,” she said.

She came back to Gisborne in 1988 and started work at Gisborne Girls'. By now, Mike had already been at the school for 14 years.

Head of physical education and health faculty Shelley Hunt calls herself the “youngster” of the bunch, only starting at Girls' High in 2000, clocking up 21 years at the school. When she first started at Girls' High she had four children so only worked two hours a week.

Shelley studied physical education after enjoying the subject and having good teachers while she was at school in Matamata.

“We were encouraged to be teachers, nurses or secretaries, maybe a dental nurse.

“I thought I'd be a teacher and go a long, long way away from Matamata.”

Shelley went to Otago University in 1977 and once she finished went to Auckland Teachers College.

She taught around New Zealand and for three years in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands off the west coast of France.

She came to Gisborne because her partner had lived in Mahia and was a keen surfer.

All three have plans to keep busy, rather than reclining into retirement.

Shelley is settling in for a sweet life running her shop Village Berries on Ormond Road.

“We sell berries and fruit ice creams, and now we've got an orchard, so we're going to have stone fruit and nashi.”

Mike says he will be playing as much golf as possible and spending time with the grandchild.

“I had my first game of golf in a while last week which is quite surprising considering I couldn't walk about eight weeks ago.”

“I'll find things to do, I'm not going to sit around and vegetate. That wouldn't be me.”

All three said teaching as a profession had seen massive changes over the decades.

“When I first came here there were no computers. No photocopier,” said Mike

Teachers had to make a master document and print copies by hand for classes.

Shelley said there has been a move from rote learning to critical thinking.

“It's gone from remembering things to understanding. There's so much access to information all of the time, there's less reliance on that memorising part. It's about thinking about the material and making sense of it.”

Mike believes education used to be harder back in the day in geography while Shelley says education now requires different skills than rote learning.

Classroom management and expectations of students have also changed, said Sue.

“When I left teachers' training college we were given a strap. It was regulation size and you weren't allowed to use anything else. Girls over 10 weren't allowed to be strapped. I'm not sure exactly why.”

This was about 1975.

“I never used mine and it wasn't because of higher feelings of what was correct or not, it was simply because I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of the class.

“What would happen is children would pull their hands back and it would just be too embarrassing if you did it wrong.”

The teaching style of the past was far more authoritarian.

“We were told not to smile in the first term because you were ‘setting the standards',” said Sue.

These days student-teacher relationships are critical for teaching, especially in her work as a guidance counsellor.

“Getting to know families means we know who mum and dad are and the extended family,” said Sue.

“Relationships are really, really important. Teachers keep in contact with families much more than they ever did. It used to be just the student they would get to know,” said Sue.

Mike agreed, saying connecting with students is critical.

“It's about developing relationships and building rapport with kids. You'll know if you're doing it wrong and you can change it,” said Mike.

Mike says the key is to find your style of teaching and work on that.

“I do things other teachers don't do. I've sung songs and I climb on desks and under desks. I've done a whole lot of mad things but it's kept them happy.”

Shelley says it's about knowing the students on a personal level.

“And letting them know to a certain extent, that you're not just a teacher but you're a person as well.”

She said modern teaching lets children ask questions, even if they are sometimes off-topic.

“If I can make kids curious and continue on that path, I think I've succeeded.

“I don't do what Mike does, but teaching is fun and can be really rewarding.”

Girls' High principal Jan Kumar said the three will be sorely missed.

“The experience and wisdom within these three people will be a huge loss to our school. I thank them for all their incredible service and wish them well for their next adventures.”

MOVING ON: From left, Shelley Hunt, Mike Tallott and Sue Andrew are departing Gisborne Girls' High after dedicating a total of 103 years to educating the next generation. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell
NO SCHOOL LIKE THE OLD SCHOOl: Mike Tallott in 1975 with his first ever class at Gisborne Girls' High School Picture supplied

  1. Jessica Emms says:

    You know you’ve succeeded when you make a kid curious enough to actually stay on that path. Thank you three for all you have done for many students, including myself.

  2. Adrianne Maule, Christchurch says:

    All the best Mr Tallot, loved geography class. From Adrianne Maule (nee Jones)