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Photo by Daniel Wilson

Mr Matthews gets ready for a final wipe of the whiteboard

Sera King - Teacher of Journalism —

As he moves into his last two weeks of life as a teacher, Chris Matthews reflects on the career that was and the plans that are yet to come.

Retiring English teacher Chris Matthews reckons he’ll be able to fill up his post-teaching life quite nicely, what with penning a collection of short stories, working on his oil painting skills and doing some serious globe-trotting.

However, after so many years in the profession, and with 19 of those at Nayland, he says he’ll miss the kids. “Even though I’ve been teaching for 45 years, the kids haven’t really changed. It doesn’t matter whether they’re city kids or rural kids or big kids or little kids, they’re the same,” he says. “The phones and the Internet and social media has changed the surface for them but essentially they respond and react the same way that they always have.”

This year is the first year Mr Matthews has been back in a full-time classroom teacher role, as he spent the last 29 years juggling teaching with deaning. The adjustment hasn’t been without its challenges, even for someone so experienced.  "She's hard yakker," he says.

Though he is a self-professed procrastinator, he’s already drafted some short stories and now wants to finish off a collection for publishing. The way he gets inspiration for his writing is intriguing. “I used to do quite a bit of running and now I walk and I put myself in the frame of mind to listen to characters talking. It’s like I’m eavesdropping on people and their stories unfold… I don’t know how it happens but it’s really cool. Then sometimes I latch onto something and I think ‘okay, I can develop this one myself’.”

Along with growing his oil painting skills with the encouragement of fellow long-time teacher and retiring Head of Art Mike Friend, as well as  the other teachers in the art department, Mr Matthews is also planning a marathon solo bike trip next year from Bordeaux in France to the Black Sea. The trip is about 7000 km and he estimates it will take him 7-8 weeks. “I haven’t got any plan. I’ve got a sort of route but it’s not the Tour de France, it’s just go as you please,” he said.

The end of such a contribution to the education sector seems like the perfect time to ask Chris Matthews for a favourite classroom anecdote and he chooses a recent one to recount. “I was in my Year 9 class the other day and someone asked me for the umpteenth time ‘can I borrow a pen?’ I said ‘Am I wearing a little badge that says Warehouse Stationery manager?’ At the end of the period I asked them to put the chairs up, shut the windows, pick up any rubbish and the same boy said ‘Am I wearing a little badge that says Spotless Cleaning?’ 'I thought ‘oh, that’s lovely’... It sort of reflected the kind of relationship you try and have with the kids because it's all about relationships.