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Allan Smith will keep on enjoying riding his Yamaha XJR1300.
Photo by photo supplied

Science teacher reflects on gravity of teaching

Sera King —

Science teacher Allan Smith (no relation to Pauline) is retiring from his 46 year career in teaching next week. Here he looks back on his time in the classroom and shares with us what’s next.

Mr Smith joined Nayland College in 2002. He’s taught here pretty much ever since, apart from a sojourn in Stockholm, Sweden that was motivated by his desire to better acquaint himself with the culture of his Swedish wife.

Mr Smith is a biology specialist, however he has thoroughly enjoyed the level two physics classes he took over teaching a few years ago. Though he said the first year was “hell” as he had to get all his mathematics back, Mr Smith says the physics classes were particularly rewarding because the students were so motivated and eager to learn. 

 “It was an epiphany,” he said. “ (...) When I looked at my kids preparing for their exams and they’re all sitting there with their heads down doing all these old exam papers and working so hard and asking really real questions, I thought ‘it doesn’t get any better than this, this is as good as it can get.’”

The massive technological changes that have happened over Allan Smith’s teaching career have brought both positives and negatives, he says. While acknowledging the power that comes with having access to instant knowledge at one’s fingertips, he also thinks that students now are more disconnected with reality and have a tendency to judge themselves based on what they see on their phones.

He sees the real skill in teaching students to make sense of the information they are bombarded with. “Knowledge is instant, it’s right there. The difficulty is, it’s the use of the knowledge. It’s being selective about information and using it to answer your questions and solve problems.”

His advice to students, delivered previously in his speech to a group of award winners, is four-fold: “Be a real person. Have an adventure. Find something to believe in. Fall in love with reading.”

Top of the list for things he’ll miss about Nayland are his colleagues. “This place is a powerful community of totally committed people who just work their asses off for the kids. This place is such a dynamic professional environment to work in, that that’s what I’ll miss,” he said.

Saying goodbye to his career as a teacher isn’t the only milestone Allan Smith is approaching. He’s also got a significant birthday coming up and is looking forward to celebrating this with his family in Kerikeri.  

Mr Smith says he's a firm believer in not making oneself too busy during one's retirement.  However, he is looking forward to having more time for the garden and getting back into his music, a hobby that was once a vocation when he was a folk singer in Wellington coffee bars during the time of the Vietnam War. “12 and 6 for 20 minutes in 1966,” he said. “Singing Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary and Donovan and everyone knew the words. You’d start up some folk song over a cup of coffee and suddenly the whole bloody place is singing and they all know five verses!”

Though Mr Smith retired from the school band when Nigel Weeks took over and they got “too good”, he may well find himself working with Nayland's head of music in the future. “Nigel’s already put the hard word on me. He’s said he wants me for the men’s choir, so we’ll see.”