In 1977, at age 21, I was trying to figure out how to get a job that was compatible with my love of surfing – particularly surfing uncrowded waves.  I thought I would give teaching a go because:

  1. it offered job security – there was always going to be children who had to go to school;
  2. teachers were paid even when on school holidays;
  3. teachers had the same holidays as their pupils, so that meant more time for the beach;
  4. student teachers were paid while studying at teachers’ college;

and most importantly at that time in my life

  1. some schools were situated in remote coastal areas – ie. uncrowded waves.

I should make it clear that I didn’t stay in education for nearly four decades for the same reasons that I went into it. I found (luckily!) that I loved many aspects of the job – in particular of course, and in common with most other teachers, I got a lot of fulfillment out of helping children to learn as best I could, and helping to prepare them for their future as best I could. While I think a lot of 21 year old’s might get a job as the means to an ‘extra-curricular’ end, you don’t get a career for the same reasons.

So in 1978 I entered an Auckland teachers’ college and spent the ensuing three years planning my escape from the big city and surfing away from the hordes at Piha. I read the job vacancies in the Education Gazette, sussed out where most schools were located in NZ, and with the help of the NZ Surfing Guide, aligned schools to known surf breaks.

In 1981, a year of great political and social unrest in NZ, a new graduate of the Trained Teachers Certificate, I moved to Napier and spent three years developing my teaching skills, while exploring the coastline of Hawkes Bay. I was unleashed on a boys only class, and my class ran like a well oiled machine. As long as my Progress and Achievement Register and Roll Book were filled in and up to date, the Principal left me alone. There were no appraisal meetings, things like that were left up to the School Inspectors. At staff meetings the merits of differing chalk brands were discussed (my favourite was Vinco as the colours were vibrant), the annual boxing tournament to be organised, rugby teams to be selected and the identification of boys to be named team captains.

But in the late 1980’s the winds of change were blowing through the education sector and parents were just one of the groups being consulted. They were being asked their opinions on schooling and how schools were being administered. The result of the consultation was the Picot Report and the subsequent implementation of Tomorrows Schools which saw schools operate largely independently.

After 35 years I left the teaching profession in April 2016, after service in six NZ primary schools, including two years as a teaching Deputy Principal and 23 years as a teaching Principal.

Most of my teaching career was spent working in the policy called Tomorrow’s Schools.

I taught at all Year Levels in the primary school sector, and had the privilege to teach three of my four children.

In the 12 months since my exit from teaching, I have had time to ponder what the motivating factors were that brought me to that decision.

Firstly, my work/life balance was unbalanced.

When I entered teaching, schools were governed by Education Boards, with an assigned Curriculum Advisory Service and School Inspectorate.  The advisors visited schools and conducted Professional Development in all curriculum areas eg Art, PE, Science, even Drama.  The inspectors would visit the schools in their catchment several times throughout the year, building a relationship with school staff and communities.  While each school had a school committee, the committee did not have the range of powers Boards of Trustees have today. The Principal could talk directly to their Education Board or Inspector and professional development for staff  for example was organised.

When Tomorrow’s Schools was imposed, inspectors were replaced with the Education Review Office (ERO), school committees replaced with Boards of Trustees, along with a host of other changes.

One big alteration I noticed was the withdrawal of the new Ministry of Education from schools. Previously personnel from education boards visited their schools. They were familiar with the Principal, teachers and support staff. They knew the school property as they may have had a role in its development. When I was the Principal of a small rural full primary school for 20 years there were long periods when no Ministry of Education personnel would visit to see how we were going. Some years may have passed for instance before they came visiting. I saw the most action over my school doorstep from the Ministry when a local newspaper highlighted a 30 minute, once a week on a Wednesday supervised pig hunting game that pupils enjoyed playing in their lunchtimes. The boys and girls who played the game brought to school toy guns they had made with their parents at home. No bought Warehouse guns were allowed. “Guns allowed at school” proclaimed the headline and in came the big guns from the Ministry to shut it down. For a week we were on the front page until I was forced to ban the game against my BOT wishes.

And the changes continued.

The once vibrant Advisory Service withered away and was replaced with a User (the school) Pays (operational funding) system. Schools had attached dental clinics. They were closed in rural areas and a mobile clinic was introduced. Now they have been replaced with base clinics usually at a larger town school and students at rural schools have to travel to them. I know of children who have never been to a dental clinic.

Under the policy of population based funding rural communities have been the big losers as services are withdrawn. I have wondered has there been a deliberate ploy to depopulate the rural towns and districts of NZ as providing services to larger groups is more cost efficient.

New curriculums were rolled out and we saw that the curriculum was narrowed down to Numeracy and Literacy (but thankfully schools  have recognised opportunities to creatively apply the curriculum to other areas of learning).

There was an increase in the areas of school administration the Principal was responsible for that had previously been undertaken by an Education Board. These developments enormously impacted on my workload as a teaching principal.

MEETINGS, before school; after school; during lunchtime; evening; even during weekends.  Endless REPORTING on all facets of school life.  Professional Development was usually undertaken in the evening; conferences attended during school holidays.

My original plan of hitting the beach in holidays was a long forgotten dream.

Throughout all the changes there appeared to be one constant – the more teachers did, the more was being asked of them. I felt teachers were being asked to stand in the gap in areas of parental responsibility, eg the diets of children, how to pat a dog.

It appeared to me that every time a report came out highlighting some failure in NZ society, a new programme was developed to be taught in schools, a further responsibility placed upon teachers.

Finally it wasn’t only grappling with NOVOPAY that signalled to me it was time to leave.  I attended a professional development seminar, run by the School Trustees Association, on the Health & Safety at Work Act 2015. I listened to the presenter outline the Act and its implications for schools. All good stuff I thought, just common sense. Until I learned that as the school Principal, I was personally liable for any injury a teacher may incur even if I was not present in the school at the time. You have got to be kidding I thought, but said nothing at the time.

From that point on I began preparing my plan to exit teaching, successfully implemented over a period of 18 months.

With the generous notice period I provided the Board of Trustees, the school was able to appoint a quality candidate, and prepare the school community for the departure of their popular and respected, long serving Principal.

I left teaching and fell into my new role as an Open Space Maintenance person with an international company. The skills I developed as a teacher and Principal are in demand outside of the profession much to my surprise.

Now I’m looking forward to spending more time at the beach, once the weather warms up.


  1. Hi John, i taught with you 30 years ago when u were dp. Interesting to read of your exit and reasons for it. Im now at whangamata area school grant still in forestry but his own consultancy. Come visit when the surf is up. Karin

  2. John – enjoyed your article. A long time ago you looked after me as a beginning teacher and I always appreciated that even if you supported Wellington and thought their’average’ first five was the bees knees. Your support and advice was genuine and considered and something that I am grateful for. Dave

  3. There is a common thread amongst all the changes in our society ie the western world. Its called the ‘the Blame Game’. We let you go and do your thing but we will micro-manage what you do looking for things you do ‘wrong’. Inspections are not there to help – they are there to find fault. That your paperwork is up to scratch. Who loses? Everybody. the students are continually assessed, the teachers are continuously audited (assessed), The BoT are continually audited fro weaknesses……. Aaaah…….the good old days

  4. Hi John,
    Thanks for your article. I have been teaching for 20 years and looking at leaving the profession. I’m at a good school but my passion for teaching is diminishing. I have a young family, mortgage etc. I enjoy hands with my hand. How did you go about planning you exit strategy? Do you have any advice?

  5. Hi John,
    thanks for posting. The problems and nonsense policies you talk of, I agree with 100%. I’ve been teaching for 14 years and , like you I love working with the children and watching them learn and achieve. On the other hand, since beginning my career I have ben diagnosed first with depression, then anxiety. The workload is overwhelming. I am currently researching work life balance and examples of timetables or routines teachers use that allow for work life balance. For example, start and finish times, after hours work expectations etc. Interestingly, I have not been able to find one example of a teacher that can manage their workload and have a life outside of teaching!


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