Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Former lawyer's new class action

Law firm partner hopes to make a difference as he swaps multimillion-dollar deals for lessons with 7-year-olds.

Derek Dallow says he will "try to have an impact on young kids and turn some lights on". Photo / Brett Phibbs
Derek Dallow says he will "try to have an impact on young kids and turn some lights on". Photo / Brett Phibbs

After 32 years as a corporate lawyer, Derek Dallow was in a financial position to slow down and ease into the twilight of his career.

Instead, the 55-year-old has changed tack, taken a huge drop in earnings and will spend his days in charge of a classroom of 7-year-olds.

The grandfather of five is in his first week as a teacher at Glenfield Primary School, having beaten 96 other (much younger) applicants to the job.

As a partner at Davenports Harbour Lawyers he helped complete multimillion-dollar deals, but Mr Dallow said his new job is daunting in its own way.

"A lot of parents can't keep their kid still for five minutes. We have to try and get something productive out of them for 5 hours a day."

On a planning day away from his class when he met the Herald yesterday, Mr Dallow said his vision of teaching succumbed to reality on his first morning.

"I was going to get so organised that by 8.30am I'd be sitting there strumming the guitar, playing a few songs.

"They'd come wandering in, we'd chew the fat and everything else, and then get into the day from 9am when the bell goes. I brought the guitar and in two days I haven't strummed it once yet."

Mr Dallow has experience in education, having served on the boards of trustees at his children's old schools, Whangaparaoa Primary School and Rangitoto College.

He was also chairman of a Massey University advisory board for 10 years - the same university where he last year did a one-year graduate diploma in teaching.

One trigger for the change was reading a Herald article about baby boomers moving from "success to significance" in their careers.

"I went, 'Yeah, it's about how you do [make] an impact before you go to the employment graveyard'.

"I've got 10 years left of really going for it, so I'll go and try to have an impact on young kids and turn some lights on and see if I can really make a difference."

At one point in the interview Mr Dallow refers to his students as clients, and he said his past experience would inform his teaching. One thing he had learned over 32 years in business was how to motivate employees.

"You learn over the years to stop doing stuff to people, and just look at them - who they are, see them as unique and of different wiring in the way they think and learn and experience.

"When I did that in the later years of my career ... to make an effort to genuinely know who they are, their response is they stayed with the firm longer, and they engaged."

Asked about his drop in salary, Mr Dallow admitted it had been "rather dramatic".

But the change had energised him. So too the challenge. One boy in his class is a new immigrant who can't speak more than a couple of words of English.

"When you get to my age and stage, and your asset base is pretty settled, it's kind of like, 'What can I do that will add value to the next generation, what can I do that's a bit of a legacy?

"How can I give back, and give some benefit from me being around?"


Want to change career? Here are some things to consider:

Study and training
Check what qualification may be needed and consider the cost and
how you will support yourself.

Salary
It could be that you will take a significant salary reduction for a few years until you gain experience in your new field. Make sure you can afford any change.

Job market
Take the time to research what the job market is like in your new career, what the potential growth is, and where any positions might be located.

Be careful about whom you tell
It can be hard to get up the courage for a big career change. Some people will be supportive but others may offer lots of reasons why the change may not work.

- NZ Herald

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