In a distinguished career as a top corporate lawyer Derek Dallow was involved in his fair share of multi-million-dollar projects.

But after surviving his first term as a teacher at Glenfield Primary School, he says taking charge of a classroom of 7-year-olds has been his greatest challenge.

"Because it's so intimate and personal. It's emotional-level stuff, as opposed to business and corporate and money stuff ... there are millions of little challenges every day."

After 32 years as a corporate lawyer, Mr Dallow, 55, changed tack, deciding he had about 10 years of work left to try to make a difference in education.


He had experience in education, having served on the boards of trustees at his children's old schools, and chaired Massey University's advisory board for 10 years.

But nothing prepared him for the juggling act of teaching - creating an individual action plan for each child, loading data constantly, paperwork and one-on-one student testing every five weeks.

Then there were the extra events at night and fundraising and organising for school trips.

Mr Dallow also uploads photos and content to a class blog for parents to access. He felt technology was fine, "but you could do it in an old tin shed, really, if you have a good teacher who makes learning fun".

He agreed with the NZCER report's highlighting of a tension between trying to teach all areas and subjects of the New Zealand Curriculum and the need to focus on literacy and maths.

His class recently completed a simple science experiment to create a bouncing egg which - although failed - had them humming.

"You put one egg in a glass of vinegar, and over a few days the vinegar one starts frothing and carrying on, and they'd check that every day, they'd run in and check in and poke it. The kids wrote about it, they talked about it, told their parents about it. They ask intelligent questions and they are buzzing with it."

Glenfield has a large number of students for whom English is their second language, and Mr Dallow said the challenges that resulted from that was the biggest eye-opener for him.

He backed the Finnish approach of giving schools 1000 ($1613) a year for each student that has lived in the country for fewer than four years.

"I've got one boy who spoke four words of English when he walked in the door and that's a challenge."